Music Streaming Services | SoftwareInsider

With apologies to Google Play Music and Rdio, the streaming music space is all about four big brands: Pandora, Spotify, TIDAL, and now, Apple Music. Let’s break down each service, with a recommended customer for each.

Pandora logo

Pandora logo

Pandora is the music streaming pioneer, a radio service that has amassed over 80 million users since its launch in 2000. The concept will be familiar to most web users: type a band, genre or theme, and get an ongoing stream of music that perfectly matches your mood. In our experience, Pandora’s smart playlist technology is still the best in the business, with an uncanny ability to pick just the right list of songs.

That said, some would argue that Pandora is living in the past. While the rest of the industry moves to “on demand” music (read: pick the exact songs you want, not just a theme), Pandora has stuck to the automated playlist approach. You can’t find a simpler music service, but you can find a lot more features elsewhere.

Cost: free with commercials, $4.99 per month with no ads and unlimited skips

Best for: users who value simplicity or enjoy passive listening

Spotify logo

Spotify logo

Spotify is the on-demand standard—the first widely publicized service to let users pick exactly the tracks they want. Where it stands, Spotify has several attractive features: a large song catalog (24 million tracks), a slick mobile app and a clean user interface.

But more than all the shiny features, Spotify’s single biggest advantage is brand awareness. As the first big mover in the space, Spotify has the press, name and customer interest to trump every rival besides Pandora.

Spotify’s strong brand will help it continue to land deals with labels and subscriptions from new customers, all of which will contribute to a constantly improving user experience. Overall, Spotify is a solid, reliable pick. However, it lacks the artist-first philosophy of TIDAL and the iOS integration of Apple Music, which we’ll get into below.

Best for: users who’d rather bank on Spotify’s strong brand and track record, rather than taking a chance on its upstart rivals

Cost: free on desktop with ads, $9.99 per month for no ads and full features across all devices

Tidal logo

Tidal logo

Purchased by Jay-Z (and other artists) shortly after its launch, TIDAL in an on-demand Spotify rival with two distinct selling points. First, the service promises high-fidelity sound at its pricey premium tier ($19.99 per month), a “lossless” audio format that allegedly sounds much better than the compressed mp3s you’ll find on Spotify or Pandora. Second, TIDAL claims that the service gives a higher percentage of the proceeds straight to the artists—a nifty bit of marketing that puts rivals in a stingier, more corporate light.

Before you ride the wave, keep in mind that TIDAL is the most untested of all four options. It’s the flashy pick today, but can it compete with Spotify’s staying power? Or Apple’s hundred billion in cash? TIDAL has the highest ceiling—rumor has it the services might eventually get exclusive rights to some high-profile artists—but it’s also the least proven of the big four.

Best for: music fanatics with a passion for great sound and a respect for the artists

Cost: $9.99 per month for TIDAL Premium, $19.99 for TIDAL HiFi (both include full access to the catalog, HiFi gets you the higher quality sound)

Apple Music logo

Apple Music logo

If TIDAL is the glitzy, celebrity choice, Apple wants to be the family-friendly alternative. Naturally, Apple Music is best for iOS device owners, a service built to work seamlessly between iPhones, MacBooks and iPads. The company has also hired “music experts” to curate playlists, likely in an effort to win over longtime Pandora customers.

But the best feature of all might just be the $14.99 family rate, which allows up to six family members to share the same account. Compared to sharing Spotify logins, the affordable convenience of a single plan is hard to pass up.

If there’s anything working against the tech titan, it’s the growing stigma that Apple is “past its prime” in the music business. The iPod and iTunes might have been revolutionary, but the last time both were truly relevant was around the launch of the iPhone, in 2007.

Since then, Apple’s forays into music have ranged from so-so (iTunes Radio) to utterly forgettable (iTunes Ping, the ill-fated social network) to bizarre (the unwanted U2 album giveaway). Can Apple climb back to the top of the industry? Time—and about 100 million undecided customers—will tell.

Cost: $9.99 per month, $14.99 for a family account with up to six users

Best for: families, households full of iOS devices

Read more: