Stream Wars: An A-Z of the top music streaming services

Headphones. Image: Gustav Soderstrom, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Headphones. Image: Gustav Soderstrom, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

If you use an iPhone, you may have noticed the major update that launched last weekend. Apple Music promised to create, “One complete thought around music.” This thought includes a new design and new features that emphasize streaming music, rather than relying on downloaded mp3 files.

With online music sales at an all time low; sales are down thirteen percent compared to last year, Apple has decided to join a growing market for streaming music. Today’s market requires a new approach in order to attract a younger audience. Listeners want a service that offers customization, mobility, social networking features, and on top of all of that, ease of use.

Apple Music joins an already saturated market of streaming services including, Spotify, Amazon Prime Music, Google Play Music, iHeart Radio, Rdio, Tidal, Soundcloud, Pandora, and many others. With all these choices, how can listeners decide which service is best? In truth there really isn’t one. It is up to the listener to decide which service/services best fit their needs.

Here’s a little A-Z of some of the best services and their features.


Amazon Prime Music

Cost: $99 a year

Sound Quality: 256 kpbs Mp3

Compatibility: iOS devices, Android, Windows, all Amazon devices, and Web

Catalog: Over 1 million songs

Royalty info: $0.00012 per stream

Social Networking Features: None

Radio: Prime Stations, with Prime access are ad free, and offer unlimited skips.

Prime Music looks pretty weak when compared to these other giants. Its catalogue is limited and radio playlists are created by algorithms. On top of that, Amazon doesn’t allow artists to negotiate royalty rates. So what does Prime Music offer? Well, it’s free to paying members of Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime also includes instant video and free two day shipping. Prime Music is great if you already subscribe to Amazon Prime.

Apple Music

Cost: $9.99 a month for personal use, or $14.99 for a family of up to six.

Sound Quality: 256 kbps AAC

Compatibility: iOS devices, Windows, and eventually Android

Catalog: 26 Million songs

Royalty info: $0.0013 per stream

Social Networking Features: @Connect, allows the user to follow the fan similar to a twitter feed. Listen to songs in progress, view photos, comment, share through Messenger, Mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Radio: Beats 1 radio streams 24/7. Includes a variety of stations based on Artist, Genre, and Songs.

Overall, Apple Music feels good. The For You feature creates custom playlists designed to your tastes. The new look allows you to customize song order on the spot. These playlists are created by real people, not algorithms. However, it’s hard to navigate certain parts of the application, unlike Spotify, there is no”Go To Artist” feature.

Google Play

Cost: Free with ads, $9.99 a month for all access

Sound Quality: 320 kbps Mp3

Compatibility: iOS devices, Windows, Android, and Web

Catalog: 30 million songs

Royalty info: $0.04 per stream

Social Networking features: Linked with Google Plus, and Youtube

Radio: Stations based on genre, mood, artists, songs and your tastes.

Google Plus is another force in the streaming era. Not only does the service offer a great looking service, but it is also easy to use. The app allows you to upload up to 50,000 songs for free, plus more with a premium subscription. Google also has a special card in its hand: YouTube. Play Music is working on introducing “Music Key,”, YouTube function which removes ads from music videos. Google’s problem is that the social networking aspect is weak; not many people use Google Plus.



Cost: Free ad based programing

Sound Quality: 128 kbps Mp3

Compatibly: iOS devices, Windows, Android, Web

Catalog: 20 million songs

Royalty info: $0.0022 per stream

Social Networking features: Share your stations via Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus

Radio: Connect to live stations across the country that play songs based on a particular genre, or create your own stations.

With over 50 million registered listeners, iHeartRadio is the largest online radio network. Creating an account is easy, either enter use your email or link with Facebook or Google Plus. The “Perfect For” feature allows the user to automatically generate a playlist based on an event. For example, you can create a “Perfect For Summer” or a “Perfect for Kids” playlist.  iHeartRadio does not offer any On-Demand access.


Cost: Free radio with Ads, $3.99 for streaming and storage of 25 songs, $9.99 for full access

Sound Quality: 320 kbps N2K

Compatibility: iOS, Android, Windows, Roku, Sonos, and Chromecast

Catalog: 32 million songs

Royalty Info: $0.00692 per stream

Social Networking Features: Follow anyone via Twitter, Facebook, Spin, Pitchfork, etc.

Radio: Radio based on 10 different characteristics, and You FM, Radio designed to your music taste. You FM draws from tracks you listen to, your radio likes, Facebook likes and Twitter follows.

Rdio is a revolutionary way to stream music. Rdio stands out in a couple of different ways. Its social networking capabilities are unparalleled, it is compatible with a variety of devices, and its mobile app is sleek, and refined. Unfortunately, Rdio’s search function is weak; users cannot search by genre or year.


Cost: Free to listeners 3 hours of upload space, $59 a year for 6 hours, $145 a year for unlimited storage

Sound Quality: 128 kbps Mp3

Compatibility: iOS, Android, Windows, Web

Catalog: 10 million artists

Royalty Info: Managed by Artists

Social Networking Features: Link Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. to your profile

Radio: Stream, a constantly playback of all artist, and genre’s you follow

Soundcloud is geared towards independent artists who are looking for a space to store and share sound files. Soundcloud’s media player looks great. Not only does it show the listener the shape of the sound file in wave form, but it allows listeners to comment directly on the wave. The cloud is also constantly growing; 12 hours of music are uploaded every minute. Unfortunately for listeners, Soundcloud doesn’t offer a wide selection of music, and many mainstream artists don’t use the site at all.


Cost: Free with Ads and limited skips, $9.99 for premium access

Sound Quality: 320 kbps Ogg Vorbis

Compatibility: iOS, Android, Windows, Sony, and anything with an internet connection

Catalog: Over 30 million songs, with 20,000 added a day

Royalty Info: $0.0052 a stream

Social Networking Features: Link with Facebook, and view a live feed of what your friends are listening to.

Radio: Stations based on genre, mood, artist, playlists, songs, and top charts

Spotify works very well. Not only does it provide the user with a great looking interface, but it works really well. Users can easily navigate the app and search the site for albums, artists, and even user-generated playlists. Spotify also features a connect feature which allows users to control their audio devices from any device connected to Spotify. Connect allows you to hook your laptop up to speakers and use your smart phone as a controller. Spotify has had some trouble with artists and royalties. Taylor Swift even had her whole collection removed from the site.


Cost: $9.99 for Premium, $19.99 for HiFi

Quality: 320 kbps AAC with Premium, or 1411 kbps Lossless with HiFi

Compatibility: iOS, Android, Web, and with some speakers

Catalog: 30 million songs

Royalty info: $0.012 per stream

Social Networking Features: Link account with Facebook, ability to share URL’s

Radio: Based on Genre, Artist, or Song.

Tidal is partly owned by Rapper Jay-Z. The service has several unique features, such as the highest audio quality in the game. The service also boasts the highest royalty rates in the business since artists own it. A more recent feature is integration with Ticket Master, connecting the user to live concerts. Tidal is not making waves in the streaming market, in fact the company has been delisted from Nasdaq Stockholm. Tidal’s search function is weak. A misspelled word and your search will turn out nothing. Even though artists own Tidal, it is only owned by the wealthiest artists, less popular artists don’t get much say in policy.


Cost: Free Ad based programing with limited skips, or $4.99 for premium with no ads, and more skips

Sound Quality: 64 kpbs AAC with standard, 192 kbps AAC with Premium

Quality: iOS, Android, Windows, Xbox, Roku, and more

Catalog: 1 Million Songs

Royalty Info: $0.0015 per stream

Social Networking Features: Create a User profile, Share with Facebook, Twitter, etc., via URL

Radio: Create 100 unique stations based on genre, artist, songs, generated by the Music Genome project.

Pandora was the first service to open the box of online streaming. Since then it’s maintained a strong presence in this growing market. Pandora’s Music Genome project is truly unique; the project analyzes songs based on 450 musical characteristics. Experts with degrees in music theory orchestrate Music Genome. This project is allows Pandora to create one of the smartest online radio stations in the world. Pandora is limited in the fact that it doesn’t offer any on-demand functions or the ability to skip multiple songs without penalty.

1 Comment on “Stream Wars: An A-Z of the top music streaming services”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Very incomplete list considering there are thousands of radio stations, FM and AM, where you can listed to music for free.

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