For years music streaming services have dominated the scene. Some let you listen for free, others charge a premium price. Some, both. A major factor in choosing a music streaming service is the available content. We've got a list of the best music streaming services for the iPhone and why each one matters.
- Apple Music
- YouTube Red and Google Play Music
- Amazon Music with Amazon Prime
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Apple launched its own streaming music service, Apple Music, in June of 2015. With a monthly subscription of $9.99 ($14.99 for the family plan), you can stream a massive amount of music from the company's long-standing artist catalog and download content for offline listening. Plus, you'll get custom playlists that are curated to your personal tastes based on your past listening activities. You'll also get access to Beats 1, which is a 24-hour per day worldwide radio station with celebrity deejays spinning their favorite hits. It's got everything you'd want in a music service and looks great, too.
If you are deeply integrated with the Apple ecosystem, that is you've got an iPhone, iPad, Mac computer, and Apple TV (or some combination of the like), then Apple Music is the best choice for you. Apple Music is $10 per month for an individual subscription or $15 per month for a family plan (free during the 3-month trial). It's in your Music app. Here's how to sign up for it.
There's no separate download—Apple Music is integrated right in the iOS Music app.
Spotify is one of the largest music streaming services around and is arguably the biggest competitor for Apple Music. With a monthly subscription of $10 a month (or $15 a month for a family membership), you can stream music from the company's huge catalog and download content for offline listening. One benefit of Spotify is that there is a free tier that allows you to listen to anything in shuffle mode on iPhone and iPad without having to pay for it. It now also includes podcasts, so you can even get your favorite shows right in Spotify without the need for another app.
If you don't want Apple Music, but still want all the music and then some, your best choice is Spotify.
YouTube Music and Google Play Music
Google's recent changes to YouTube Red turns its service into multiple tiers. The first, YouTube Music, includes official, albums, and thousands of playlists and artist radio. There are also hundreds of live performances, covers, and official music videos available right at your fingertips.
You can take advantage of the ad-supported version of YouTube Music for free. Or, for $10 per month, you can upgrade to YouTube Music Premium, which includes background listening (you don't have to keep the app open to continue playing videos), and offline downloads. Plus, no advertisements, of course.
Google Play Music subscribers will already know that YouTube Red comes included with their subscription. As YouTube Red transitions to YouTube Music, Google Play Music subscribers will automatically get access to YouTube Music Premium. Google will eventually replace Google Play Music with YouTube Music Premium, but not before the company has figured out how to include the ability for subscribers to upload their personal music collection, which is expected sometime in 2019.
If you're also a fan of YouTube's original content, you can drop an extra $2 on top of the normal subscription price to upgrade to YouTube Premium, which includes everything you get with YouTube Music Premium, plus those original movies and TV shows.
If you have Amazon Prime, the Amazon Music app is amazing. You have your pick of songs from the company's vast catalog. You can stream music online from a variety of genres. Music is recommended to you based on your past listening activities and there are playlists for all manner of activities, like reading books, dinner parties, and more. You can listen to stations based on such themes as "All '80s," "Classic Rock," "Baroque," and stations with artists like The Beatles and Bruno Mars. Amazon Music provides an incredibly broad selection of music, although it doesn't quite go deep enough into some sub-genres. You get an unlimited number of skips as well, and it has Alexa integration for hands-free listening.
If you have Amazon Prime, you definitely want this app. Even if you pay for another music service, it's worth having around simply because it is included with the cost of your membership.
Amazon Music Unlimited is the premium version of the streaming music service. You have access to more than 10 million songs (five times as much as a Prime membership basic plan), you can download music for offline listening, and have Alexa play you specific songs through your Echo or Dot. Tiers range in price from $8 to $15 per month.
Remember when Kanye West said his new album, "Life of Pablo," would never never never be on Apple? That's because it is an exclusive release on Jay-Z's music streaming service, TIDAL. This relatively new service is making a name for itself in the world of streaming media with exclusive content, playlists curated by superstars, and artist-first compensation. It is also full of new and popular music video content. You can stream MP3 quality tracks for $10 per month, or upgrade to the High-Fidelity tier for slightly more for CD-quality songs. The curated content is heavily focused on hip-hop, R&B, and soul music, but TIDAL has access to a wide variety of genres. It isn't quite a robust as Apple Music or Spotify but has potential. Some fun celebrity playlists include favorites from Jay Z, Beyoncé, Macklemore, and others.
Even though it covers many genres, if hip-hop, R&B, and soul are your favorite sounds, you will love TIDAL. Tiers range in price from $5 to $30 per month (free for first 30-days).
Pandora is all about music discovery and does it better than most. It aggregates content based on the Music Genome Project's attribute algorithm. You may prefer personally crafted playlists by real people, but Pandora's lack of human interaction produces content you didn't even know you liked. The key is to hit the "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" on every song so that you can hone your station to fit your style. Pandora offers radio-style streaming. You can skip a few songs per day for free, or get unlimited skips with a Plus or Premium subscription. The joy is in sitting back and listening to hours of music without having to stop and find a new station.
With a subscription to Pandora Plus, you can create personalized stations, skip songs, and listen to your favorite stations offline. Pandora's Premium tier focuses more on the streaming music side of things, letting you download anything you want, create playlists, and enjoy high-quality playback. Both paid tiers are ad-free.
If you like the idea of letting a complex algorithm set your day's tone so you don't have to do any of the work finding something to listen to, let Pandora take you on a musical exploration. It's free with ads, $5 per month for Pandora Plus, or $10 per month for Pandora Premium. There is also a Premium Family plan for $15 a month. On top of having Premium features, the family plan also has an Our Soundtrack feature, which selects certain tunes based on each family member's listening habits.
SoundCloud is a great way to discover new independent artists, listen to new tracks from popular musicians, and connect with other music fans. It is also a way for musicians to get their songs out to the world without needing a record contract. It is heavily structured with a social aspect. SoundCloud is everything Apple Music wishes it could be when it comes to connecting artists with fans. You can follow your friends and bands, add songs to your favorites, and create playlists. Your followers can also listen to a stream of music you have reposted or uploaded yourself. The key to getting the most out of SoundCloud is building up a healthy social feed.
SoundCloud offers two premium tiers for musicians looking to get their songs out to the world. The Go level for $6 a month offers over 120 million tracks from up and coming emerging artists, offline access, and no ads. The Go+ for $13 a month offers everything the Go subscription has, but with over 180 million songs, including superstars from major labels as well as indies, no more 30-second previews (you get full access), and more.
If you are a musician, a friend of a musician, a lover of independent music, or the kind of person that likes to talk about music at parties, get SoundCloud.
Deezer has a catalog of more than 53 million songs. It is designed to provide you with a customized music listening experience. Your "Flow" is a playlist of songs based on the music you like and gets better the more you Like tracks. It also has a fantastic lyric feature so you can read those mush-mouthed verses and impress your friends with how well you know your favorite songs. Speaking of friends, you can also send cool tracks to your friends in the Messages app.
Deezer is free with ad support or $10 per month for a single plan and $15 per month for a family plan.
What's your favorite?
Didn't see your favorite music streaming service on this list? Let us know which one keeps you moving all day and why it is the best for you.
May 2019: Updated information with some services. These are still the best options for music streaming on iPhone.
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Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books. If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).