July 25, 2024

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Buzz The Music

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which music streamer is best?

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which music streamer is best?

As a music enthusiast, it’s no easy feat to choose between Spotify and Apple Music. Spotify currently has over 515 million users and 210 million Premium subscribers worldwide. Spotify offers a free tier option as well as a popular music-sharing experience. Apple Music was once the leader in all things digital music, but is currently behind Spotify with more than 98 million users worldwide. Apple’s Music is known for its high-profile exclusives, robust library, curated radio, and seamless integration with iOS.

The competition between these two services has helped the recording industry reach record heights for digital revenue, and the question of which music streaming service is better has become increasingly tough to answer. We’re here to settle the score. Join us below to see which of these juggernaut music-streaming services is right for you.

Spotify Music

Apple Music

Music library

A person holds an iPhone 11 with the Apple Music app open.

Spotify is home to more than 100 million songs and 5 million podcasts, more music than your ears would even know what to do with. The Swedish streaming service also brings all the latest releases, exclusive live sessions, and various new singles right to its New Releases tab each Friday, as well as the Release Radar playlist.

Apple’s service also touts more than 100 million songs, with this size of library becoming more common among streaming services these days. However, Apple has taken steps to secure many more exclusives than the competition, largely because it doesn’t offer a free tier.

There’s another area where Apple Music has a leg up on its competition: integration of the iTunes library. Any music you have — whether previously purchased via the iTunes Store, ripped from a physical CD, or uploaded to iTunes Match — will appear in your Apple Music library, giving you the option to freely browse your own music alongside Apple’s standard catalog. Spotify offers a similar function, relegating your local music files to a separate tab, but you can’t access your local music via broad searches as you can with Apple Music.

Section winner: Apple Music

Apple Music

Audio quality

Man wearing Apple AirPods Pro 2.

Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

We also need to discuss the audio quality that comes with streaming songs on both services. For Spotify, the free version of the software streams at AAC 128Kbps via the web player. Download the Spotify app for desktop, mobile, or tablet and it will adjust streaming quality based on your connection, anywhere from 24Kbps to 160Kbps.

Upgrade to Premium, and that boosts quality up to AAC 256Kbps on the web player, and on the apps you’ll get four quality levels maxing out at 320Kbps. Spotify’s promised lossless tier of service is still nowhere to be found.

Apple, on the other hand, is making significant strides in providing free audio quality upgrades for all subscribers. The entire 100 million Apple Music songs are now available in lossless audio. Apple uses ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), so the music stays true to the original audio file. There are several tiers of lossless audio available, starting with CD quality, 16-bit at 44.1kHz, and going up to 24-bit at 48kHz. There is also a hi-resolution lossless format all the way up to 24-bit at 192kHz. Additionally, last year, Apple made a wide range of its library available in its surround-sound spatial audio format. Enabled by Dolby Atmos coding, spatial audio gives music additional depth, extra compatibility with dynamic head-tracking, and other advantages that have come with the latest iOS updates, including personalized spatial audio with iOS 16 (and a newer iPhone). It’s also really great through your Apple TV.

Section winner: Apple Music

Apple Music

Music discovery

An iPhone with the Search section of the Spotify app on it.

Derek Malcolm/Digital Trends

With so many songs at the ready, streaming libraries can seem daunting for those who want to find new music. Let’s take a look at how the big players do it.

Spotify

Spotify provides a lot of useful tools for finding new songs to suit your taste. Personalized playlists like Discover Weekly provide fantastic opportunities for subscribers to latch on to new music from artists they never stumbled across on their own. The deep well of base genres to choose from makes new music ripe for the picking, and listeners can personalize playlists simply by liking specific songs as they listen. While Spotify recommends ongoing playlists and channels to new users, including editor-curated playlists for specific tastes, these features are much more limited for free users.

Discover Weekly, in particular, deserves high praise in the streaming world. Added to your feed every Monday morning, the feature delivers a two-hour playlist of personalized music recommendations based on your listening habits, as well as the habits of those who listen to similar artists.

Spotify also gives you the chance to create, share, and follow playlists of any kind — including those shared by friends — with a simple click, along with expertly curated playlists for any mood or genre you’re into to keep things fresh. There’s even a Collaborative Playlist feature that lets you create playlists with your friends that you can all add to and edit.

Spotify is always adding new features to help with discovery, including its new DJ feature, which is an AI-generated radio station based on your listening habits that is hosted by a virtual DJ voiced by Xavier “X” Jernigan, Spotify’s head of cultural partnerships.

Apple Music

As for Apple Music, upon creating an account, users are prompted to select some of their favorite artists so the service can get a sense of their tastes. A Listen Now section recommends a variety of music based on your listening history and other activities, including music sent to you from your friends via the Messages app, all organized in the Shared With You tab. These features and more make Apple Music a great option for getting recommendations.

Thankfully, once the process is complete, Apple Music does a great job of curating playlists to appeal to your preferences, so you can vibe out through your headphones. Playlists might be based on genre, artist, or even a particular activity like driving. Apple claims the playlists are curated by a “team of experts.” This cabal of tastemakers — whoever they are — do a good job creating varied playlists that are at once familiar yet fresh, like a mixtape you might get from a friend.

Apple Music’s Apple Music 1 function, which offers live radio 24 hours a day, also plays a major role when it comes to music discovery. It’s refreshing to see Apple move beyond sophisticated algorithms for a human approach to facilitating true music discovery.

New to Apple Music this year has been the launch of its Apple Music Classical service. Available at no cost to Apple Music subscribers (except to those on the Voice plan), it’s a separate app you can download that Apple says offers “the world’s largest classical music catalog” of more than 5 million classical tracks.

Still, Spotify’s hands-off playlists and curated playlists, along with its fantastic Discover Weekly and Release Radar segment, give it the edge. Until Apple Music can compete with this algorithm-based approach, we will give Spotify the win.

Section winner: Spotify Music

Spotify Music

Radio

The Apple Music 1 page.

In the app, Spotify did away with the Radio tab of the past but now has an option to create a radio mode for any specific artist, album, playlist, or song. Simply go to the Three-dot menu icon, and choose Go to radio to create one. These radio “stations” can also be saved in the library as playlists.

There’s also assisted playlist creation for a more personalized option than full radio mode. Say, for example, you wanted to create a playlist to accompany you on your morning workouts. Using assisted playlisting, Spotify will use the title you’ve given the playlist (like “Workout”) and pull from suggestions based on your past listening history, as well as recommendations based on songs others have added to their own similar playlists. You can continue to fill your playlists with tracks, or Spotify can autofill them once you’ve chosen a few to start with. Users are also able to search and preview songs before adding them to a playlist.

In an age that prioritizes automation, Apple Music’s preference for the human touch helps with radio-style programming. This philosophy is embodied in Apple Music 1, Apple Music’s premier radio station that runs nonstop music mixed by DJs on live radio shows.

The most intriguing shows on Apple Music 1 are those hosted by notable musicians such as Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Haim, and Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest). These shows provide listeners with a unique look into the tastes of artists they admire.

Beyond Apple Music 1, Apple Music has some more generic radio stations for those who simply want to listen to, say, classic rock, jazz, or Top 40 hits. There are also non-music stations, such as BBC News and ESPN, creating a menagerie of options that are hard to beat.

Section winner: Apple Music

Apple Music

User interface and mobile experience

An iPhone with Spotify open showing how to add a song to a playlist.

Apple Music’s mobile interface is minimalist and easy to use. The Library contains all the music you own and can be accessed in this tab, and you can easily filter by Playlists, Artists, Albums, Songs, and Downloaded music, just in case you don’t want to waste your precious mobile data.

Tapping on the Listen Now tab now brings up several different personalized options. The Top Picks and the daily themed playlists provide even more ways to discover new tunes, while the Browse tab gives you an avenue to explore popular music, videos, and Apple exclusives. The Radio tab gives users access to hundreds of Apple-curated music stations, broken up by genre, artist, and host. Those looking for something specific can use the Search tab, which allows you to quickly search through either your personal library or the Apple Music library.

Apple has also integrated Siri with Apple Music, allowing subscribers to issue voice commands through their Apple TV, iPhone, or Mac. It’s a cool feature that Android users won’t get, as they don’t have access to Siri. Additionally, Apple’s new Sing feature adds some fun to the app, allowing users to turn their devices into a veritable karaoke machine that strips the vocals out of select tracks so you can sing over it.

The Android version of Apple Music is pretty much the same as the iOS version, although it works best on iOS, especially with the added Siri functionality.

Spotify, on the other hand, is more device-agnostic and has long been the industry leader in terms of sheer usability. The mobile and desktop applications provide users with an easy way to browse music, access playlists, listen to internet radio, and discover new music.

On mobile, all your bidding is done within three tabs — Home, Search, and Your Library. Each section features its own set of straightforward subcategories, which gives users easy access to the service’s many features. The search window actively populates the results field, much like Google’s search engine, often providing exactly what you’re looking for after typing just a few characters. Spotify also has middling support for voice activation through devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home.

Recently, Spotify carried out its first redesign in a decade, adding new discovery features and a new scrolling, image-heavy, interactive visual look reminiscent of TikTok and Instagram.

For those allergic to apps, Spotify has long offered a web player that, while not quite as intuitive as the native desktop app, offers quick, lightweight access. Apple has followed suit with a web player of its own in beta. Both have the option to display the lyrics of the song playing.

Apple Music offers one of the most impressive music services around, but you have to be all-in on Apple’s smartphones, tablets, computers, and streaming boxes to get the most out of it. We give Spotify the edge here for its clean and easy user experience, ubiquity, and increased availability of third-party integrations.

Section winner: Spotify Music

Spotify Music

Full Specs

Spotify Music

Apple Music

Duo $13 per month N/A
Family $16 per month $17 per month
Individual $10 per month $11 per month
Student $5 per month $6 per month

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