Music is good for you. Marley was on to something when he said, “One good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
One of the best things about the smartphone revolution is that we all now have the means to listen to music wherever we happen to be. Streaming services, playlist curation, and automagically created radio stations are changing the way we listen to and discover new music. This space is extremely competitive right now and that can only be a good thing for us, but how do you decide which service is going to provide the soundtrack to your life?
We compare some of the top competitors and weigh up their pros and cons.
The original, and quite possibly still the best, is Spotify. With well over 20 million songs on offer, a huge range of curated playlists, the ability to create radio stations, a powerful search function, and some handy add-ons like scrolling karaoke lyrics, there really isn’t anything else quite as well-rounded.
If you can tolerate ads then the free version of Spotify can be used as a desktop client, through a browser, or as an Android app on tablets and smartphones. The limitation with the smartphone app is that you can’t play any song whenever you want; you can only “shuffle play” playlists. That still allows you to make a playlist you like and listen to it on your mobile for free, you can even pick a few songs you like and have Spotify fill the rest in. There are no restrictions on the tablet or desktop versions, just an advert every five songs or so.
For $10 per month you get the premium service which lifts the restriction on choosing specific songs on mobile, gets rid of the adverts, and allows you to download music for offline listening.
Google Play Music All Access
The basic Play Music app lets you upload up to 20,000 of your own songs and stream them for free. If you’re willing to spend $10 per month then you can get access to over 18 million songs via the All Access service. Choose whatever you want on any device and play it without any limitations. You’ll also find radio station functionality and smart recommendations.
One cool feature on All Access worth mentioning is the ability to choose a playlist and delete the songs you don’t like out of it before you start listening, instead of having to skip.
Sony Music Unlimited
With more than 22 million songs Sony’s offering is huge, but there’s no free component. For $10 per month you get free, unlimited access to the library with no ads or limitations. You’ll find curated playlists, a recommendation engine, and full playlist support. You can also create or listen to pre-made channels, which are much like radio stations. It ties into Sony’s Entertainment Network, so if you have a lot of Sony devices it might represent the easiest choice.
On Android, the app is a bit of a weak link compared to some of the competition. It’s not as well designed or robust as Spotify.
There are more than 25 million tracks on Rdio. You can choose individual songs, listen to stations to discover new music, and save anything you like to your collection or a playlist. You can also sync your music for offline listening. It costs $10 per month on mobile (there’s a 14 day free trial). If you just use it on your desktop browser then you can enjoy a six month free trial. The free versions of Rdio are currently limited to the US and Australia and they offer ad-supported free listening on desktop and free stations on Android.
The remote control feature is a winner on Rdio. If you have music playing on your laptop you can fire up the smartphone app and use your phone as a remote control, or switch devices seamlessly. This works both ways and it can be quite handy.
This is a feature-rich service with over 30 million tracks in its library. You can listen in to more than 30,000 radio stations or create your own, there’s full playlist support, unlimited uploads of your own tracks, and a discovery engine. The free version has adverts and some limitations which you can remove for $5 per month.
If you want to go Premium + for $7 per month then you’ll also gain the ability to download tracks for offline listening and get access to a range of extra features. Both premium versions allow you to continue to use the service wherever you go, even if you travel abroad. The downside for Deezer is the fact that the Android app can be a little flaky.
Slacker Radio is a somewhat underrated selection in music streaming. It features over 10 million songs along with a healthy selection of talk radio stations. You can use one of the 200 or more curated playlists or create your own as you so choose. It also includes not one, but three different subscription options. The free version gives you unlimited listening but limited skips, no offline play, and you’ll have to listen to some advertisements. For $3.99 per month you get no ads and unlimited skips. For $9.99 per month you get offline listening and a very Spotify-like ability to play music on demand.
The Android app is free to use and it’s fairly competent at accessing all of Slacker’s features. It’s been known to have crash and buffer issues. The interface has been updated in the near recent past and it’s actually rather functional and pleasant to use. Slacker is one of the few services to combine music and talk radio services into a single app so those who enjoy both forms of entertainment can kill two birds with one stone.
Songza is a really cool app that allows you to choose music based on your mood or activity and it’s packed with curated playlists, but it’s only available in the US and Canada right now. If you’re not put off by Apple’s acquisition and you live in the States then Beats Music offers more than 20 million songs for $10 per month with plenty of recommendations and handy features.
Pandora is another good option for free radio stations. The version is ad supported and the mobile version has a skip limit on iOS and Android. Users can subscribe to Pandora One for $4.99 per month. This gives them more skips, no ads, less time outs, and more. The only real downside is their lackluster 800,000 song library which is far below average.
If you’re already using doubleTwist, and you’re in the US, then you should check out the Magic Radio service within it for 13 million tracks, infinite playlists, and personalized stations for $25 per year.
The bottom line
If you’re looking for a free service, and you can put up with ads, then there’s nothing better than Spotify. Deezer comes a close second and Rdio is a good choice for Americans and Australians. If you’re willing to pay a monthly fee then Spotify still tops the charts, but Google’s Play Music All Access is a good option. The fact that Spotify has been around for so long makes it hard to compete with, it has more features and add-ons and an active community, and there’s very little that it’s lacking compared to the competition. It’s worth checking each service to see if your favorites are included, because licensing deals are complex and the catalogues of available music change frequently. Having tried them all, Spotify definitely tops the list as the best all-rounder right now.
What gets your vote? Is your favorite missing from the list? Tell us about it.