Picking a music streaming service isn't easy.
With at least six major platforms available in the US, there's more choice than ever if you're looking for a service that hits the sweet spot between price, catalog and personalized recommendations.
We're comparing two of the biggest names to help decide which one's right for you.
Spotify vs. Apple Music
|Price||$10 a month or $5 a month for students||$10 a month or $5 a month for students|
|Family plan||Yes, up to 6 people||Yes, up to 6 people|
|Free tier||Yes, ad-supported||No, only Beats1 radio|
|Free trial||30 days||3 months|
|Stream quality||Up to 320kbps Ogg Vorbis, or AAC (see section below)||256kbps AAC|
|Music library||Over 35 million songs||45 million songs|
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Price and subscription options
Both Spotify and Apple Music offer a free trial period for their premium services, which normally cost $10, £10 or AU$12 a month. It costs $5 for students or $15 for family plans. With the premium version, you can stream any song from the catalog on demand, plus listen to songs offline.
Spotify is the only one that also has a free, ad-supported tier, so even if you don't want to pay for the premium version you can still listen. But many albums and playlists require you to listen in shuffle mode rather than sequential play and there's a limit of six skips per hour.
Apple Music only lets free users stream Beats1 Radio, or you can listen to songs from your iTunes library.
In terms of stream quality, Spotify uses the Ogg Vorbis format. On mobile you can choose what bitrate to stream, in increments up to 320kbps, which is handy especially if you're worried about using up too much mobile data. Desktop playback is at 160kbps or 320kbps for premium users.
If you listen on Spotify's web player or via Chromecast, it streams in AAC at 128kbps for free users or 256kbps for premium.
Apple Music streams 256kbps AAC files.
To find out more about bitrate and audio quality, read this in-depth comparison of sound quality between Apple Music and Spotify.
You can also adjust the equalizer in both to suit your preferences (although you'll find Apple Music's EQ setting outside of the app, within the Settings > Music section on the iPhone).
Unless you're a serious audiophile, you probably won't notice much difference between the highest-quality Spotify and Apple Music streams of the same song. If the highest audio fidelity is really important to you, consider another service that supports lossless streaming like Tidal.
Library and music selection
Apple Music has a larger library for tunes, topping 45 million vs. Spotify's 35 million. Both offer early access to certain albums from time to time and Apple Music sometimes offers exclusives for certain music videos.
On top of music, Spotify has a dedicated podcast section. Both also let you watch music videos and if you like something you hear in Apple Music, you can always buy the song or video direct through the iTunes Store.
If you turn on iCloud Music Library within Apple Music, you can access your personal library of tunes across all your devices (from the PC to the phone). This feature "matches" songs in your library with those in the iTunes catalog, or uploads them if the song isn't available, so you can listen to your music wherever you're signed in with your Apple ID. You can store up to 100,000 songs.
Note that iTunes Match is also available even without an Apple Music subscription for $25 a year.
Spotify also lets you play music from your device in the Spotify app, but it only works for local files (so they aren't stored in the cloud).
Winner: Apple Music
Interface and navigation
Apple Music features a clean white look on mobile, while Spotify paints it black across its apps. Both are pretty easy to navigate on mobile, with the main tabs (radio, search, your library and so on) found at the bottom of the interface.
Depending on the song, Spotify has animations and short videos that play full screen while you're listening. Both let you look at lyrics on screen if they're available for particular songs. But only Apple Music lets you search by typing a stream of lyrics to find songs you don't know the name of.
Google Maps lets you listen to and control Spotify or Apple Music playback within the navigation interface in iOS and Android. Waze also offers a similar feature for Spotify users.
On top of CarPlay support, Apple Music for Android now works with Android Auto, so you can control playback through the infotainment system.
Where can you listen?
Both Apple Music and Spotify are available on iOS and Android. Both have a standalone desktop apps for Windows and Mac, so you aren't limited to listening on mobile. In the case of Apple Music, that's iTunes.
And you can also stream any audio to a Bluetooth wireless speaker, to an AirPlay speaker from an iOS device, or to a Chromecast speaker from an Android device (you can also cast from iOS if you have Spotify).
When it comes to smart speakers that support services natively -- with voice control, and without a source device -- it's a totally different story. Apple Music with Siri voice control is limited to the HomePod. Apple Music is also available on other Apple devices like the Apple Watch and Apple TV.
Spotify, meanwhile, is available on Amazon Alexa speakers and Google smart speakers. And, if a device is certified as Spotify Connect compatible, it means you can use the Spotify app as a remote to control playback. Spotify is also available across a wide range of other devices like Xbox and PlayStation.
Music discovery tools
One of the top reasons to use a streaming service is to discover new music. Both Spotify and Apple Music expose you to new tunes based on what you already like.
Spotify has tailored playlists like Discover Weekly and Release Radar that are automatically populated each week with new songs. Apple Music has similar playlists, including New Music Mix.
When you first sign up for each service, both ask you for your favorite genres and artists to get a baseline reading. Once you start listening more, each gets a clearer picture of your likes and dislikes to help tailor recommendations even further.
Spotify and Apple Music also have radio stations based around your favorite artists, tracks or genres. Apple Music also has a separate station called Beats1 Radio which is curated and hosted by actual DJs, so you can listen to it in real time like you would a traditional radio station.
In our experience, Spotify's algorithmic recommendations for new music based on our listening habits is the most on-point. But Apple Music's human-curated radio station often uncovers new or unreleased tracks that also appeal.
Both services let you follow your favorite artists to keep up to date with their posts and latest releases.
You can also follow friends. On Spotify, you can see what song your pals are listening to in real-time (if they choose to share this detail) on the desktop app.
Spotify Codes are a way to share tracks, albums and playlists among friends. It's kind of like a custom QR code that you can scan with the camera in Spotify if you're listening in the same location, or share through messages if you're apart.
Many popular musicians seem to be more active in posting updates on Apple Music and it's easier to find that content than it is on Spotify.
Naturally, you can also follow your friends and see what they're up to across both platforms. While it's much easier to find profiles on Apple Music than it is on Spotify, you do have to already have your friends in your contacts list (or on Facebook) to follow them.
Winner: Apple Music
Which one is right for you?
If you want a free service, Spotify is the clear winner. But if you are looking to pay for a service, your decision may be a little more complicated.
Apple Music plays well with other Apple devices. If you want voice control on the HomePod, for example, Apple Music is your only option. Spotify, on the other hand, has greater cross-compatibility across lots of different devices, from game consoles to smart speakers.
It takes time to train each of these services to really get to know your taste. For our money, Spotify does a better job in uncovering and tailoring playlists and recommendations to us through its custom playlists and discovery features. But Apple Music gives you the most flexibility in mixing songs from your own library (that might not even be on streaming services) with new tunes you can stream on demand.
Of course, Spotify and Apple Music aren't your only options. To see how they stack up against services such as Tidal and Amazon, click here to read our comparison.
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Editors' note: This article was originally published on Sept. 10, 2018, and is continually updated with new information.
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