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Spotify vs Beats Music vs Slacker vs Rdio vs Google Play Music: On-demand streaming music service showdown!

Looking for the best streaming music service for your iPhone, iPod, or iPad? Here's your ultimate Spotify vs Beats Music vs Rdio vs Slacker vs Google Play Music showdown!

On-demand music streaming services are made for the hardcore music lovers and audiophiles. Not only should they get to know our tastes and preferences over time, on-demand services are also tasked with letting us have more control over what we listen to, when we listen to it. Streaming radio may be fine for some but if you want to listen to an entire album all the way through or be able to play music offline, you want on-demand streaming.

Spotify, Rdio, Beats Music, Google Play All Access, and Slacker are the best on-demand services currently available with full iPhone support. Now the question becomes, which one is the best if any? And more importantly, which one is right for you?

I'm going to preface this by saying that I only looked at true on-demand streaming services for this comparison. That means services like iTunes Radio, Pandora, and Songza can't be compared since they don't support offline playback of any kind. I'll take a look at those services in another comparison.

Quick comparison

ServiceMonthly priceDesktop appsWeb appOffline storageSports channelsComedy channelsRegional availabilityAudio quality
Beats Music$9.99NoYesUnlimitedNoNoUS only320kbps
Google Play All Access$9.99NoYesUnlimitedNoYes21 countries320kbps
Rdio$9.99Mac, WindowsYesUnlimitedNoNo51 countries192kbps
Slacker$3.99-$9.99NoYesUnlimitedYesYesUS & Canada128kbps
Spotify$9.99Mac, WindowsYes10,000 songs per accountNoNo55 countries320kbps

The above chart isn't meant to cover all points but it gives you a fairly good idea of what you can expect with each service at a quick glance. I only compared what you get as a paying subscriber. Free offerings vary from time to time and from service to service so I saw little value in comparing them. If you want on-demand streaming, you're most likely going to pay for it.

Design

Streaming music services compared: Spotify vs Beats Music vs Slacker vs Rdio vs Google Play Music!

When it comes to design, none of them are created equal. I'll start off with the two apps I take issue with. First is Slacker. The layout is confusing at times and the tiles used to represent stations are cheesy. If you can get past that, the actual song information screens aren't terrible. It's just getting there that makes your eyes bleed. Second is Spotify. I've just never been okay with making lime green a themed color. Buttons are also overly large and create a lot of wasted space. The layout has gotten better over time but the design is still not very appealing. Play Music will be familiar to anyone who has used any other Google app for iOS. And if you like that style, you'll like Play Music. If you don't, you won't.

That leaves Beats Music and Rdio. Beats Music is easy on the eyes and makes good use of darker colors. This makes it rather enjoyable to use in the dark even if your screen brightness isn't all the way down. Navigation also makes sense and it easy for anyone to just pick up and use. Rdio is designed equally as well but very different. It exuded iOS 7 before iOS 7 even existed. They may have taken a little longer than I would have liked to update basic design elements like the keyboard, but I dealt with it mainly becasue the design was already so great.

Rdio does design better than the rest with a gorgeous yet simple design that has controls that are smart and intuitive. What more could you ask for?

Offline listening

Streaming music services compared: Spotify vs Beats Music vs Slacker vs Rdio vs Google Play Music!

All five services feature offline listening options. Where they differ is how they restrict those options. All are on an even playing field in regards to price as you'll need the highest offerings to have access to it. Slacker's $3.99 plan lets you store playlists but not specific albums and tracks. For that, you need the $9.99 version.

When it comes to limitations, all services but Spotify give you unlimited offline downloads. As long as you've got the storage space, you can keep downloading albums and tracks as long as you're a paying subscriber. Spotify however taps you at 10,000 songs per account. If you have the max of 3 devices on your plan, that's 3,333 songs each. That doesn't sound like a bad deal if you're only mobile, but what about on your Mac or PC? That may become an issue if you want to build a solid collection.

Play Music pulls ahead as on top of unlimited downloads, you can also upload up to 20,000 songs (300MB limit each) to your own storage locker at no additional cost. That means you save device storage space and can either stream that music or download what you want on demand. It's very similar to how iTunes Match works.

When it comes to offline listening, Play Music All Access wins.

Curation

If you like to listen to playlists created for you in radio style, curation is super important. You don't want New Kids on the Block randomly thrown into a playlist based on Black Sabbath. In my time with all four services, I've found that Slacker doesn't have a ton to choose from, especially when you get into more obscure genres. I also didn't find that disliking tracks kept them completely away. Unfortunately I had some of the same results with Spotify when it came to preferences. They had a much better selection of stations but there were songs thrown in that I felt were out of place. I also didn't feel like they were particularly catered to my tastes even though I'd given the service an ample amount of data to go off.

Rdio does a decent job with curation but it took a while to get there. Since Rdio has been one of my personal choices for a long time, I've spent the most time with it. It took a good month or so before I felt as if Rdio really started to cater to my tastes and even then, it still mixed up dance and electronic music regularly. For that I just gave up and started curating my own playlists. Play Music never wants to give me good recommendations. It took me adding several things to my library before it would even suggest anything. That to me was a turnoff.

Last but definitely not least is Beats Music. Given how new the service is, I've been blown away by how good the curation is. In less than 2 weeks, Beats Music gets me. Every time I launch it I can't wait to see what playlists it has picked out just for me.

Beats Music wins the curation war, hands down.

Specialty stations

Streaming music services compared: Spotify vs Beats Music vs Slacker vs Rdio vs Google Play Music!

Comedy and sports is the one thing Slacker does exceptionally well. None of the others hold a candle to it. Honestly, it's what Slacker does best. Spotify supposedly has a service called Comedify but I couldn't find much on it. I'll give it a point for that but I couldn't find any radio offerings, which is what most people want. Play Music has a comedy genre but again, Slacker does better.

If you want comedy or sports, there's only Slacker.

Catalog size and selection

Streaming music services compared: Spotify vs Beats Music vs Slacker vs Rdio vs Google Play Music!

None of the services in this comparison give exact numbers but some do give roundabout figures. Some of this probably has to do with licensing in different countries. Each service as of this writing claims the follow when it comes to the size of their song library:

  • Spotify - 20 million
  • Beats Music - 20 million
  • Rdio - 20 million
  • Play Music - 18 million
  • Slacker - 13 million

One other thing you have to consider is whether or not a service has the music you actually listen to. I have a hard time finding a reason to use Spotify while our own Richard Devine swears by it due to the music he prefers. For example, Spotify has Metallica, Rdio and other services do not.

Even though you should check into catalog selection before you make a final decision, it's a pretty close war between Beats Music, Spotify, and Rdio. Spotify gets the win by a slight margin due to some of their exclusive deals.

Availability

Streaming music services compared: Spotify vs Beats Music vs Slacker vs Rdio vs Google Play Music!

In terms of availability, Rdio and Spotify are available in the largest amount of countries. Rdio comes in just under Spotify but by a very narrow margin. You can hit the links below to see complete lists of countries on each respective site. Slacker and Beats Music both have very limited audiences. While Beats may expand that over time, Slacker probably won't at this point. Beats Music is US only and Slacker is only available in the US and Canada. Play Music does a lot better at over 20 countries, but still doesn't touch Rdio and Spotify.

Tie between Rdio and Spotify.

Pricing

If we're talking true on-demand, pricing is a wash since all three services offer the same exact thing. $9.99 per month. That includes offline listening and complete control over what you listen to and when you listen to it. All services offer free web streaming and some content via their mobile apps without paying, but if you've read this far, you already know that's not what you're after. You can however get away with $3.99 through Slacker if you're okay with just on demand playlists and not whole albums and specific songs.

Slacker gets the win for having a cheaper scaled down version of on-demand. But if you want no compromises, you'll pay the same across all five services.

Which one deserves your cash?

Unfortunately, no one service is the clear winner. They each kick ass in some ways and frustrate in others. So, which is best for you will depend on what's most important to you. Here's the breakdown:

  • Slacker: The best options for sports and comedy, poor sound quality isn't great.
  • Rdio: Best experience, international availability, okay sound quality isn't great.
  • Spotify: International availability, exclusive rights with certain artists, and good sound quality,
  • Google Play Music: Combines music locker storage and all the Google things in one place and good sound quality,
  • Beats Music: Best for playlist and music discovery, good sound quality,

Figure out what's most important to you, what frustrations you can live with, and then you'll know which is the best streaming music service for you.

What service did you pick?

Now that we've given you some data to think about, be sure to hop in the comments and let us know what service, if any, you went with. What ultimately brought you to that decision? And does any of the above information have you contemplating switching streaming music services? Be sure to let us know that too!

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

155 Comments
  • Allison, I'm a user of streaming services, but no expert. So why in your opinion do Pandora and iTunes Radio not even merit consideration?
  • Pandora and iTunes Radio are not "on demand" services -- you can't choose a specific song or album to listen to in them.
  • ahh, ok. I didn't know that's what "on-demand" meant. I'd love one service that blends Rdio's on-demand with iTunes Radio-type streaming.
  • I use Spotify and it offers both. You can also create stations which you can optimize over time. The Android App for spotify is a bit better then the iOS one though. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • All the services reviewed here allow On-Demand with Radio station like streaming. I use Google All Access myself since I had it when I was on Android. Spotify would be a good test since they have a free option now yet it doesn't allow offline saving and you have to shuffle play all on-demand choices.
  • I have subscribed to Rdio for a long time now, I have tried Google and Spotify as well and it's a toss up between Rdio and Spotify. The only thing I liked about google play music was the fact that I could upload my own library to stream when i'm on the road. Overall RDio is my choice but Spotify just became available in Canada today so I am back to using that and evaluating on whether or not it will replace my Rdio subscription.
  • She mentioned she only reviewed true on demand services. You can't choose which songs you want to hear on iTunes Radio, Pandora, etc. Sent from the iMore App
  • Probably because Pandora falls into a different category. Pandora only does internet radio, you cannot save for offline or choose songs to listen to on demand.
  • Her name is spelled Allyson.
  • The article mentions that the writer did not review Pandora or itunes Radio because they are not true on demand services and they do not allow offline play of music.
  • Where did the stat that Rdio uses 128kbps come from? Because I'm pretty sure they're 320kbps.
  • That was actually a typo, going to fix it. But they aren't 320 from what I can find online. Rdio does not openly discuss their bit rate. All I could find was people saying it was less than 256 when they tested it. It should have said unknown. I can definitely tell a difference with good headphones between Spotify/Beats Music and Rdio, not in Rdio's favor, so I would have a hard time believing it's 320. Sorry for the typo in the chart though, fixing it now.
  • Curious. I had a friend of mine who manages a network check out usage while streaming from Rdio and he was getting ~320kbps. Not having access to Spotify, I can't say anything about that. But I do notice differences between stuff I buy off of iTunes (256kbps) and Rdio. I always figured it was because Rdio streamed MP3 vs. iTunes' AAC.
  • I think you're right on the MP3 vs AAC. I just know online I've seen lots of bashing of Rdio's compression rate. If someone can provide solid data I'll update but they don't give data like the others do. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's right on their website as being 192 kbps
  • Please provide a link Sent from the iMore App
  • On faq page, about 2/3 way down. Trying to paste in link... http://help.rdio.com/customer/portal/articles/58964-faq-
  • Another citation, http://help.rdio.com/customer/portal/articles/1434741-streaming-quality
  • Thanks! Will update!
  • Rdio just announced they are upgrading to 320Kbps AAC:
    http://blog.rdio.com/us/2014/04/artist-for-quality-rdio-the-grateful-dea...
  • Liberal use of the word 'typo'. I think if you write '128kb' and you later realized it should have said 'unknown', that wasn't a typo, it was called a 'mistake'. I know nowadays nobody likes to use these sorts of negative words, but then maybe these nobodies should invent a new word, instead of using one that already has a meaning which is not the same as 'mistake''s. But thanks a lot for the great comparison!
  • Actually it was a typo. I removed lines from the chart, added and deleted services many times. I mixed up an entire line. I caught most of it before flipping it live but the bit rates were a little funny. Someone pointed it out rather quickly, I still missed one. I had N/A for Rdio previously as they never disclosed their bit rate but as you can tell from the comments above, someone else found it a few days later, and I updated. As a side note - if you check out my profile page and many comments I've left back and forth with our readers, I have zero problem admitting when I make a mistake. Many readers (and staff) around here could tell you I'm extremely receptive to constructive criticism and/or feedback. What I'm not receptive to is someone judging my character. Thank you for the kind words at the end though. Those are always appreciated.
  • I am reviewing comments on offline playing so I can make an appropriate decision. I LOVE THE RESPONSE YOU GAVE TO THE NEGATIVE REPLY. It shows great finesse and reveals your spiritual nature to an extent. What a beautiful and empowered woman you are. It set me back to think about my own responses when my character has been attacked. DEFINITELY, you've made an impact on me and the way I will choose to respond from this point on. Thanks Allyson & God bless you. - rieann;
    For those who wonder:
    www.merriam-webster.com/.../finesse
    *skill and cleverness that is shown in the way someone deals with a situation, problem, etc.*
  • I am reviewing comments on offline playing so I can make an appropriate decision. I LOVE THE RESPONSE YOU GAVE TO THE NEGATIVE REPLY. It shows great finesse and reveals your spiritual nature to an extent. What a beautiful and empowered woman you are. It set me back to think about my own responses when my character has been attacked. DEFINITELY, you've made an impact on me and the way I will choose to respond from this point on. Thanks Allyson & God bless you. - rieann;
    For those who wonder:
    www.merriam-webster.com/.../finesse
    *skill and cleverness that is shown in the way someone deals with a situation, problem, etc.*
  • MOG is my favorite out of all of them, but of course it is being phased out on April 15th for Beats. I've been enjoying the Beats trial so far, but there are several things in MOG I'm going to miss that Beats doesn't have (hopefully I can add "yet" to that.)
  • After being a loyal MOG subscriber since their beginning, I hated when they were bought out by Beats. The user interface is far inferior, at least to me. I miss MOG. I end up using the free Spotify to find new albums, then search for them in Beats, to play them. Not a very elegant solution. Makes me think about switching to the paid version of Spotify or even switch to Google Play which several of my friends really like (and has apparently better over all streaming quality).
  • Ally, can you add details about family pricing? They're all equal for one user, but I know a few of them have family options (or AT&T family pricing for Beats Music). $14.99 for 5 users is fantastic. Rdio also has family discounts.
  • They've all changed the details in the past so it's more for us to keep up with. I figure one user pricing gives people an idea. And honestly, it's always within $3 of each other for monthly. I just didn't want to throw too much data out and it be out of date as fast as i wrote it, if that makes sense.
  • Ally, great article. Well done. I am a Spotify user. But I love what Songza can serve up quickly with music. I wish the two merged. Anyway, I started using Beats for their 7 day trial and It got confusing to me. I just wish there was a service with an easy to use interface that can allow me to do two things: have it play a playlist based on my needs (like concierge in Songza does) and have an easy to use service that allows me to play music on demand. Spotify is closest to that, but still lacks for me.
  • In my country (Bulgaria) only Spotify is available for less than 2 months.. But since they made it "FREE" it's horrible to listen to it if you don't pay for premium.. After every 1 or 2 songs there are 1 minute ads.. I've used Rdio with Vpn, and I think i like it more.. Music library is bigger. Hope they come here soon.. At least Web is free and there are not so much ads like Spotify.
  • You forgot Rhapsody!
  • I didn't forget it, I've just never thought it was one of the best available. Obviously opinions vary. It's not one very many of our readers ever ask about either.
  • I'm also a Raphsody user. If anyone wants to compare just read this, but it's probably not the best one out there. I enjoy these features for $15/mo:
    *Unlimited downloads to 3 mobile devices and 3 computers (My wife, my daughter, and me)
    *Unlimited streaming from any browser on any computer
    *The iOS7 app works GREAT on both iPhone and iPad and it's very nice as well CONS:
    -No curation that I know of
    -Windows 7 PC version always crashes and it's ugly, but who really needs music on their computer now-a-days?
  • No curation? They've got the best curation in the business. Long articles about each genre and band. Many "genre stations". Many "similar artists" that actually make sense. I've often wished the other services would catch up with Rhapsody.
  • Been using Spotify since more or less the start for mobile use only,not found a reason to migrate to others yet,with iTunes and the likes of YouTube as well I've all bases covered. Sent from the iMore App
  • I really like beats. I will test an app by searching for non mainstream artist. Beats has a good selection. I just wish they would address the battery issue. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have the battery issue too. And my phone gets hot. Sent from the iMore App
  • In another iMore forum thread and in their own support forum, Beats reps have said they are aware of the battery issue and will be submitting an update soon. Hopefully the update comes before their big Super Bowl ad. I prefer Beats over the others. Spotify doesn't allow you to have a library or collection, just play lists. Rdio has a great app, but the sound quality is not as good as Spotify or Beats. As for family plans, the $15 buck Beats family plan on AT&T allows 5 users. Not a bad deal for families. Spotify doesn't offer a family plan and Rdio's $17.99 family plan only includes 2 users. Great comparison.
  • I thought it was just my iphone, I hope this issue gets resolved soon. The battery was getting eaten up too, even over wifi. Also thanks for replying to the comments, i dont believe ive ever seen as many replies by staff.
  • No love for Grooveshark? I know there is only a mobile version from cydia (you need to jailbreak) but there is a html5 version for the iPhone, what I like about Grooveshark is that you can find almost any song, even obscure songs
  • Including a jailbreak only app wouldn't be logical. I only took into consideration apps that actually have support for iPhone. Sent from the iMore App
  • It is a shame that Apple removed Grooveshark from the App Store, BTW great review!
  • As an AT&T family of music lovers with much different tastes - I mainly like classic rock/80's-90s/alternative, wife likes classical/easy listening, son enjoys hip hop and daughter swoons over her boy bands/female divas - we've been playing with Beats since it announced the AT&T family plan. I'm pretty sure that once our free 90-day trial is up, we'll be sticking with it. I like it much better than I ever liked Spotify and it's moved ahead of the Rdio in the short time I've been using it as well. They really seem to have something good going with Beats and the AT&T family price is the icing on the proverbial cake.
  • I happily pay Rdio $9.99/mo. The couple things I don't like about it are minimal.
  • Another great review! After the launch of Beats Music (and your excellent review of it) I've pretty much switched over from Spotify. Although my free subscription isn't up yet (I think I have like 6 days left) I'll more than likely be opting-in for the $9.99/month subscription. I LOVE the interface and like you said the curation is top-notch, especially for new app. I honestly wasn't expecting much seeing as I HATE their headphones (just seem silly and a fad to me, and I'm apart of the younger crowd they cater to haha) but their app has simply blown me away. I'm going to utilize Spotify's free mobile service in par with Beats Music, but hopefully we will get a native desktop app from the team to make me fully convert. I can't necessarily get behind Google Play due to lack of functionality when "matching" my music (they generally get album artwork wrong, and most of my music, though purchased from the iTunes Store is only uploaded). I get that they are a new service but I'll have to check back with them later. I do like their UI though. Again, great review!
  • I hate Beats headphones too. Bose all the way. But glad you like the service. Only thing I want them to add is more radio type discover options. I know sentence and genre options do this but I just want easier more obvious radio options. Then it'd be perfect. Sent from the iMore App
  • Ahhh agreed. I think the sentence option is pretty awesome though. Definitely a cooler option to discovering new music. Random side note: do you know how to work the volume controls?? I see that there is the wheel (white, transparent color) inside of the now-playing wheel (pink circle) but I can't change the volume unless I use my iPhone's volume up/down switches. Or maybe I'm just missing something..
  • I think it's just a reference. Not a control. Sent from the iMore App
  • Allyson, I believe in music curation- this has more to do with the type of music you have rather than what can be offered to you. I have over 11k sings from 55 genres. Most of my music is excellent with dance leading the pack of great mixes because all my songs are hits. I don't have duds or album cuts. Maybe that works for you but for most people, what makes radio and music a better experience is the hit music from a genre. Play music is where I use to create instant mixes that really pop and never disappoint. Your thoughts?
  • Well then what's the fun in discovery? I agree that radio will allow a larger audience to all jam out to the "hottest" tracks of the time, but curation is just a great way to not only discover new music based on your already awesome mix of "hits". So why not give it a try, you may be able to create an even more awesome playlist to pop more since it will have music that most people may or may not have heard. Plus, who doesn't want to be that guy who can say "I liked ______ before they were popular.." :-p
  • Good review. I'm a Spotify user and have been trying Beats. The curation is good though, with heavy listening it's gotten repetitive and stopped 'getting me' about 7 days in. One feature I don't see really mentioned that, for me, puts Spotify ahead is the ability to add local files and sync them to mobile. So, anything not in the catalog but owned on my computer can be part of my Spotify library. I know Google Play has that but I don't believe Beats or Rdio do.
  • The integration-your-own-collection feature is huge. It's one reason many people moved to Spotify.
  • Thanks for the article. I've been using Spotify for quite some time, but I'm currently thinking of switching to Beats. Here are my impressions of Spotify vs Beats on my iPhone 5S: - Spotify has been my "go to" streaming service because it seems to have the best catalog, and seems to get new releases very quickly. I also like the desktop app and the ability to find a plethora of playlists on just about anything you want. - In my extensive time with the Beats Music app since it launch, I've had mixed results, but I'm still thinking of switching from Spotify to Beats. First of all, the initial few days with Beats Music was a disaster: the app would constantly reset itself and there were plenty of connection errors. Those have all been correctly quickly, thankfully. They did the right think by limiting new signups in order to straighten out these issues. - Secondly, as a few others have mentioned, the Beats app seems to have heavy CPU and/or network drain. The phone gets hot and the battery drains quickly when streaming music. I'm not sure if it's the decompression of the music, the DRM, or just something amiss in the app's coding. But nonetheless, it doesn't happen with Spotify and it's something they would need to correct before I could make the full switch. - The app's interface is awesome, imo. It's smooth as butter, organized very well, and visually appealing. Spotify's interface on iOS is serviceable, but not at all appealing. Spotify still runs well, but it doesn't feel as intuitive as Beats nor as organized. I like how Beats handles the Likes, the playlists, and the library. - The curation on Beats Music is awesome. I've never found Spotify to be good at this at all, so I've usually relied on other services or user playlists for curation. However, the Beats app is definitely surprising how quickly it picks up my interests and curated playlists based on artists I like and genre's I listen to. It seems very modern and personalized. Definitely the best feature of the service, perhaps even a "killer feature". - Sound quality seems very similar on both apps, although the default playback volume on Beats is noticeably quicker. So I need to turn up the master volume on my phone or Bluetooth device to get a good listening volume with Beats. I don't know if this is just an equalization issue within the app or if it's Beats' library just having a lower normalized sound level? At any rate, I'd prefer it if the Beats default volume was a bit louder. Both apps do a very good job of starting to play immediately, though this wasn't the case at first with Beats. But since they've worked out the connection issues, music starts right away and I've had no issues with cutting out of buffering. - Family Plans. Alas, neither of these