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The Best Music Streaming Apps

Aug. 16, 2016
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The Best Music Streaming Apps
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Music apps are a great way to listen to your favorite songs and learn about unfamiliar acts or genres. But the list goes far beyond Spotify and Pandora. There are dozens of music apps with varying focuses and features, so it can be tough to figure out which ones are a fit for you.

We rounded up our favorite music apps and categorized them by their main functions:

It doesn’t matter if you’re a casual listener or an aficionado: There are several streaming services to meet your needs.

Large catalogs

Streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal are often considered the go-to apps for good reason: Their large catalogs and personal library functionalities nearly eliminate the need to own digital music. Most of these services offer free and paid subscriptions, so you can decide whether you want to shell out for music.

 Apple MusicSpotifyTidalYouTube Music
Monthly fee$9.99$12.99$9.99 for Tidal Premium, $19.99 for Tidal Hi-Fi$9.99 via YouTube Red
Free optionYes, with limited featuresYes, with limited features and adsNoYes, with limited features and ads
Free trial period3 months30 days30 days14 days via YouTube Red
Library size30 millionMore than 30 million30 millionN/A
Offline listeningYes, with paid subscriptionYes, with paid subscriptionYes, with paid subscriptionYes, with paid subscription
Exclusive contentYesYesYesYes

APPLEApple Music:
Apple Music offers subscribers access to its vast catalog via iTunes, but there’s no need to purchase the music. It has also become a hub for new music and content. Its partnership with Dr. Dre gave rise to Beats Radio 1 programming, which delivers shows hosted by some of modern music’s elite debuting the latest releases.

SPOTIFYSpotify: Spotify is the most popular of the bunch, and it’s tough to compete with its library. Users can dig through its extensive catalog, find new artists, subscribe to playlists and make their own. The mobile app is available for free, but users are subject to ads every 30 minutes and can play only individual tracks. A premium subscription relieves all of those annoyances.

TIDALTidal: Tidal is similar to Spotify and Apple Music in terms of catalog size, but it differentiates itself by offering exclusive content. Its appeal is that the new album releases, music videos and more come directly from the artists themselves. Audiophiles might want to opt for Tidal Hi-Fi, which delivers music in lossless format, the highest-quality audio compression available.

YOUTUBEYouTube Music: YouTube is a platform for videos, but it has become an unlikely host for music, too. It’s impossible to say how vast its library is; its catalog is essentially all the videos uploaded by users, which run the gamut from modern mainstream and independent tracks to rare remixes and performance footage from older generations. The best part of the YouTube Music app? Music continues to play even when you exit, unlike the regular YouTube application. Answer emails, browse the internet and check the weather, all without interrupting your listening session.

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Smart playlists

Finding music to fit your mood shouldn’t take too much time or effort. That’s why algorithm-driven music selection apps Google Play Music and Pandora have become popular. They save you the trouble of constantly switching tracks or browsing catalogs to find the right tunes.

 Google Play MusicPandora
Monthly feeNone$4.99
Free optionYesYes, with ads and limited skips
Curated playlistsYes, via mood or activityYes, via similar artists and genre
Library size 35 million1 million
Exclusive contentNoYes

GOOGLEPLAYGoogle Play Music: Similar to Apple Music and Spotify, Google Play Music is supported by a huge log of tunes that anyone with a Gmail account can browse. But back in 2014, Google Play absorbed Songza, an app that curated playlists for specific occasions. Google Play listeners can now find a soundtrack for any activity, including cleaning the house, working out or getting ready to party.

PANDORAPandora: Pandora was one of the first music apps to curate via algorithm, and it’s still a go-to for easy streaming. Users simply select an artist they like and Pandora finds similar artists or genres. You can listen continuously without having to search for a song that fits your mood. You can also adjust the variety setting to make sure Pandora doesn’t wander too far from your music preferences.

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Music discovery

We used to discover new music on radio shows, but as major record labels have tightened their grips on who gets exposed, they’ve left many new artists in the dust. Now apps such as SoundCloud and Bandcamp provide a platform for up-and-coming acts to share their music with fans. In Shazam’s case, it’s the opposite. The app lets fans identify music they hear while out and about and can lead them to similar tunes. And the newest app of this bunch, Radiooooo, helps users discover music from the past.

Monthly feeNoneNoneNoneNone
Free optionYes, with a Bandcamp fan accountYesYesYes, with ads
Library size17.8 million tracks, 2.7 million albumsN/A15 billion, as of 2014N/A
Direct music purchasingYesNoYesNo
Personal libraryYesNoYesYes

BANDCAMPBandcamp: Bandcamp is a great way for serious fans to find new artists and music. Users can browse its catalog and purchase whole albums to create personal collections, then download them into iTunes.

RADIOOOOORadiooooo: Pick a country, then pick a decade. That’s all you have to do to jumpstart Radiooooo’s music service, which calls itself the “Music Time Machine.” Radiooooo’s library is built and curated by its users and offers a wide-ranging catalog with songs from all over the globe and throughout music history. The only downside is that you can’t build a personal library through the app.

SHAZAMShazam: Want to know what track you’re hearing right now? Just open Shazam, push the “Shazam This” button and let it “tag” the song to reveal its artist and title. The app saves users’ tags and then takes it a step further, offering suggestions of similar songs. It’s pretty accurate and continues to get better at recognizing songs, though it can’t read songs that are performed live.

SOUNDCLOUDSoundCloud: SoundCloud is a universal hosting platform used by major labels, independent artists and home musicians alike. In this sense, its impossible to quantify its library because users have free rein to upload their own music — which can be both good and bad for listeners. Browsing can easily turn into a black hole, but the “like” and “repost” features make it easy for listeners to build a library of music they enjoy.

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Curator approved

Technology and algorithms are impressive and all, but there’s no denying the appeal of hand-picked music. And while AM/FM radio isn’t completely obsolete, apps such as KCRW and NPR Music are more likely to debut hip, avant garde tunes than your local station. Mixcloud plays home to mixes and playlists from DJs across the world, and 8Tracks’ human selectors have a playlist no matter the situation.

 KCRWMixcloudNPR Music8Tracks
Monthly feeNone$6.99 for listener accountNone$25/6 months
Free optionNoneYes, with adsNoneYes, with ads
Content typeRadio showsDJ mixes and playlistsMusic news, reviews and premieresMood playlists
CuratorsShow hostsUsersShow hosts, journalistsHired selectors
Direct music purchasingYesNoYesNo
Personal libraryNoYesNoYes

KCRWKCRW: Los Angeles radio station KCRW has a catalog and expertise that run deep, all thanks to its radio hosts and disc jockeys. Via their shows, the app debuts new artists, explores new sounds, revisits old classics and rediscovers forgotten and overlooked gems. Users can listen live or on-demand and check out the show tracklists.

MIXCLOUDMixcloud: Mixcloud hosts podcasts and radio shows, but it’s primarily a platform for DJs and radio hosts to share mixes. Users can sift through different genres and categories to find a mix that suits them and save in their personal collections or follow the uploads from their favorite DJs. The free service is great for casual listeners, but paid subscriptions offer more advanced customization and early access to new features.

NPRMNPR Music: NPR Music is the ultimate hub for avant garde music from across the globe. Users have access to new albums and exclusive content such as live performances, studio sessions and interviews. The app also hosts its own radio programming and blog posts featuring music in genres such as jazz, folk and world music.

8TRACKS8Tracks: Very similar to Google Play Music, 8Tracks uses human beings to curate its thousands of playlists. It’s great if you’re looking for music that fits specific moods or activities or want to discover new tunes.

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Nina Tabios is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected].