On the surface, the field of music streaming is full of services that allow you to perform similar basic functions. You launch an app, hit play, then enjoy the music. Simple, right? However, a close analysis reveals that there are many music streaming apps that offer great features that make selecting a service a little more difficult than you might think. This guide will help you select a service among the many competitors.
Music streaming quality and other features
Most music streaming services have some basic commonalities, such as the ability to create customizable channels, but a handful stand out from the heavily crowded pack due to their unique feature sets. For example, Amazon Music Unlimited, Primephonic, Qobuz, and Tidal pride themselves on sound quality, delivering premium, high-resolution audio tracks that deliver uncompressed sound that outperforms your typical music stream. Considering that most online music service streams fall in the compressed range of 128Kbps to 320Kbps, this trend is impressive. You will need audiophile-grade headphones or high-end speakers to truly appreciate the richness of music.
Some services, such as LiveXLive Powered by Slacker and Spotify, have free options that let you try before you subscribe, while others, like Apple Music, are strictly premium experiences (typically starting at $ 10 per month. ). Many services also have lyrics, so you can sing along to your favorite song verbatim. Additionally, Family Plans, a relatively new feature in the industry, allow six household members to sign up for a shared premium account for $ 14.99 per month.
There are many differences between the levels of free and paid streaming music in most services. Free accounts usually limit your ability to skip songs to just six per hour, and they feed you ads in audio or video form. The free levels are for more casual listeners or people who don’t find it worth spending a dime on music. Premium accounts, however, offer unlimited song skipping, on-demand playback, and other perks. Paid service levels are for customers who are serious about exploring the depths of what a music streaming service has to offer.
Additionally, each of the services reviewed offers mobile apps, so you don’t need to be tied to your PC to enjoy music. A valuable feature that you will find in the mobile apps of these services is the ability to cache music for offline playback, a feature usually only available to premium subscribers. This is a technological boon for commuters or people who are frequently in places with spotty signal coverage.
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You’ll find even more streaming audio diversity if you dig deeper into space. LiveXLive, for example, differentiates itself with Stories, a hosted program that features interesting stories ranging from love to horror. Tidal sells concert and sports tickets and has an expert editorial team that produces feature-length articles. Amazon Music Unlimited lets you upload your own audio files and stream them along with songs from the company’s catalog. Most services have a solid selection of comedy albums.
There is a lot of content to explore beyond just music. These platforms are rapidly transforming from music streaming services to global streaming audio services.
Unfortunately, all is not well in this musical Wild West. Thanks to the money, you guessed it, some platforms have gained or lost content. Taylor Swift, Prince and other artists have seen their catalogs disappear from streaming platforms (and reappear later) due to low royalties. The question of artist remuneration has always haunted the recording industry, and it did not go away with the advent of music streaming – quite the contrary, in fact.
Tidal aimed to stand out from the crowd, as a platform built on the idea of paying artists well. It was also the only service to host Prince’s catalog for a hot minute (although it is no longer the case). In some cases, you cannot play specific songs on demand; these tracks are only available as part of a thematic channel. Content restrictions and missing artists and tracks are still an issue in the space, however, despite Swift, the situation has improved markedly in recent years. And Google sent another service to the graveyard by replacing Google Play Music with YouTube Music.
Trying to figure out where things live and how you can access them can be quite annoying for the uninitiated. This is one of the entertainment challenges we face in the digital age.
It’s your movement
Fortunately, you don’t have to browse through the many services to find the one that best suits your listening needs. PCMag has reviewed popular and niche music streaming services to separate the musical wheat from the auditory chaff. Check out the reviews and supplemental table to find out which music streaming services are best suited to your music listening tastes.
If you’re curious why some music streaming services aren’t in this story, here’s the skinny one. It is very likely that they were overtaken by the top 10 services highlighted here, absorbed by a rival, or went bankrupt. For example, AOL Radio no longer exists and Rdio sold its technology to Pandora. We expect to see more upheaval in the space over the next few years, as there are so many players offering broadly similar services.
If you want to stream your favorite tunes over, say, a Starbucks Wi-Fi signal, you need to get yourself a VPN. A virtual private network protects your mobile devices from snoopers and, depending on the location of the VPN server, may allow you to access licensed music in other regions. Using a VPN to bypass licensing restrictions likely violates Spotify’s terms of service, so be careful.