Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which music streamer is best?

As a music enthusiast, it’s no easy feat to choose between Spotify and Apple Music. Spotify currently has over 433 million users and 188 million Premium subscribers worldwide. Spotify offers a free tier option as well as a popular music-sharing experience. Apple Music was once the leader in all things digital music but is currently behind Spotify with 98 million users. Apple’s Music is known for its high-profile exclusives, robust library, curated radio, and seamless integration with iOS.

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The competition between these two has helped the recording industry reach record heights for digital revenue, and the question of which music streaming service is better has become increasingly tough to answer. We’re here to settle the score. Join us below to see which of these juggernaut music-streaming services is right for you.

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Spotify Music

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Apple Music

Music library

a person holds an iphone 11 with the apple music app open.

Spotify first took its dominant position on the strength of its impressive 82 million-plus song catalog and 4 million podcasts. Couple this with the fact that it adds more than 60,000 new songs each day, and it’s clear that the service offers more music than your ears would even know what to do with. The Swedish streaming service also brings all the latest releases, exclusive live sessions, and various new singles right to its New Releases tab each Friday, as well as the Release Radar playlist.

Apple’s service, on the other hand, touts more than 90 million songs, which is higher than Spotify’s current figures (although Spotify has been steadily catching up) and also outdoes newer contenders like Amazon Prime Music and Jay-Z’s Tidal. Moreover, Apple has taken steps to secure many more exclusives than the competition, largely because it doesn’t offer a free tier. Spotify isn’t too happy with artists signing exclusivity deals with Apple, either — Spotify reportedly has a history of altering search rankings for artists who release their music through Apple first.

There’s another area where Apple Music has a leg up on its competition: integration of the iTunes library. Any music you have — whether previously purchased via the iTunes Store, ripped from a physical CD, or uploaded to iTunes Match — will appear in your Apple Music library, giving you the option to freely browse your own music alongside Apple’s standard catalog. Spotify offers a similar function, relegating your local music files to a separate tab, but you can’t access your local music via broad searches as you can with Apple Music.

Section winner: Apple Music

apple music

Audio quality

glow-in-the-dark powerbeats 4

Beats by Dr. Dre

We also need to discuss the audio quality that comes with streaming songs on both services. For Spotify, the free version of the software streams at AAC 128Kbps via the web player. Download the Spotify app, and it will adjust streaming quality based on your connection, anywhere from 24Kbps to 160Kbps. Upgrade to Premium, and that boosts quality up to AAC 256Kbps. Spotify’s promised lossless tier of service is still nowhere to be found.

Apple, on the other hand, is making significant strides in providing free audio quality upgrades for all subscribers. The entire 90 million Apple Music songs are now available in lossless audio. Apple uses ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) so the music stays true to the original audio file. There are several tiers of lossless audio available starting with CD quality, 16-bit at 44.1kHz, and going up to 24-bit at 48kHz. There is also a hi-resolution lossless format all the way up to 24-bit at 192kHz. Additionally, last year, Apple made a wide range of its library available in its surround-sound spatial audio format. Enabled by Dolby Atmos coding, spatial audio gives music additional depth, extra compatibility with dynamic head-tracking, and other advantages that came with iOS 15.

Section winner: Apple Music

apple music

Music discovery

apple music vs spotify discover weekly desktop app

With so many songs at the ready, streaming libraries can seem daunting for those who want to find new music, but Spotify provides a lot of useful tools for finding new songs to suit your taste. Personalized playlists like Discover Weekly provide fantastic opportunities for subscribers to latch on to new music from artists they never stumbled across on their own. The deep well of base genres to choose from makes new music ripe for the picking, and listeners can personalize playlists simply by liking specific songs as they listen. While Spotify recommends ongoing playlists and channels to new users, including editor-curated playlists for specific tastes, these features are much more limited for free users.

Discover Weekly, in particular, deserves high praise in the streaming world. Added to your feed every Monday morning, the feature delivers a two-hour playlist of personalized music recommendations based on your listening habits, as well as the habits of those who listen to similar artists. Playlists are often chock-full of tracks you haven’t heard before, as well as deep cuts from some of your favorite artists. Listen to a lot of Billy Eilish? Your weekly playlist might include her brother Finneas. The feature is not always on point, but it’s often impressive.

Spotify also gives you the chance to create, share, and follow playlists of any kind — including those shared by friends — with a simple click, along with expertly curated playlists for any mood or genre you’re into to keep things fresh. There’s even a Collaborative Playlist feature that lets you create playlists with your friends that you can all add to and edit. There’s also an option called Group Session — two or more Premium users can control the same playback from their individual apps in a sort of party mode.

As for Apple Music, upon creating an account, users are prompted to select some of their favorite artists so the service can get a sense of their tastes. The interface for this is a digital ball pit, with each ball representing an artist. Users simply tap particular balls to indicate artists they like (one tap) or love (two). Recent upgrades changed the previous For You starting place to a more comprehensive Listen Now section that recommends a variety of music based on your listening history and other activities, including music sent to you from your friends via the Messages app, all organized in the Shared With You tab as part of the iOS 15 update. These features and more make Apple Music a great option for getting recommendations.

Thankfully, once the process is complete, Apple Music does a great job of curating playlists to appeal to your preferences. Playlists might be based on genre, artist, or even a particular activity like driving. Apple claims the playlists are curated by a “team of experts.” This cabal of tastemakers — whoever they are — do a good job creating varied playlists that are at once familiar yet fresh, like a mixtape you might get from a friend.

The level of individual curation is impressive, with one DT staffer quick to highlight a Behind the Boards playlist that encompasses music from audio engineers who have helped create some of the best music of their time from the studio control room. Spotify also offers “expertly curated” playlists, but Apple Music’s playlist selections come from individual DJs on the Apple payroll.

Apple Music’s Apple Music 1 function, which offers live radio 24 hours a day, also plays a major role when it comes to music discovery. It’s refreshing to see Apple move beyond sophisticated algorithms for a human approach to facilitating true music discovery — but Spotify has its own magic at work, and its personalized playlists are only growing.

Having proven a knack for the human element, Apple seems intent on beefing up its algorithmic recommendations with new features like Replay, which resurfaces your most-played tracks throughout the year to keep you jamming. All the while, the company has remained committed to timely recommendations to match or distract from world events and trends to lift your mood.

Still, Spotify’s hands-off playlists and curated playlists, along with its fantastic Discover Weekly and Release Radar segment, give it the edge. Until Apple Music can compete with this algorithm-based approach, we will give Spotify the win.

Section winner: Spotify Music

spotify music

Radio

the apple music 1 page.

In the app, Spotify did away with the Radio tab of the past but now has an option to create a radio mode for any specific artist, album, playlist, or song. Simply go to the Three-dot menu icon, and choose Go to radio to create one. These radio “stations” can also be saved in the library as playlists.

There’s also assisted playlist creation for a more personalized option than full radio mode. Say, for example, you wanted to create a playlist to accompany you on your morning workouts. Using assisted playlisting, Spotify will use the title you’ve given the playlist (like “Workout”) and pull from suggestions based on your past listening history, as well as recommendations based on songs others have added to their own, similar contextual playlists. You can continue to fill your playlists with tracks, or Spotify can autofill them once you’ve chosen a few to start with. Users are also able to search and preview songs before adding them to a playlist.

This feature complements the previously discussed free tier playlists option, which gives free users over 40 hours of music across 15 playlists generated from their musical tastes that they can listen to for up to 24 hours.

The experience differs from radio-style listening. While it gives you more control over discovery and personalization, it’s no longer the simple channel-based approach.

In an age that prioritizes automation, Apple Music’s preference for the human touch helps with radio-style programming. This philosophy is embodied in Apple Music 1, Apple Music’s premier radio station that runs nonstop music mixed by DJs on live radio shows.

While in-house DJs like Zane Lowe do an admirable job, especially when it comes to premieres, the most intriguing shows on Apple Music 1 are those hosted by notable musicians such as Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Haim, and Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest). These shows provide listeners with a unique look into the tastes of artists they admire. Some of them also have interesting formats, such as St. Vincent’s Mixtape Delivery Service, in which Clark solicits fans to tell her what is going on in their lives and assembles playlists to suit them.

Beyond Apple Music 1, Apple Music has some more generic radio stations for those who simply want to listen to, say, classic rock, jazz, or Top 40 hits. There are also non-music stations such as BBC News and ESPN, creating a menagerie of options that are hard to beat.

Section winner: Apple Music

apple music

Podcasts

Although Apple Music and Spotify are primarily music apps, podcasts have a natural home on audio platforms. Spotify has been the fastest-growing podcast destination since launching the feature in 2015. In fact, Spotify currently boasts the most podcasts of any service, offering 4 million as of March 2022.

You’ll find tons of popular programs, and there are enough compelling originals that podcasts alone may entice you to stay. The Spotify app handles the task beautifully, with timers and playback speed controls available to assist your binge-listening sessions.

Apple Music doesn’t have any such functionality built-in. Podcasts were split off into their own app right around the time Apple started breaking iTunes into little bits and pieces, and that’s where they’ll stay for the foreseeable future.

Section winner: Spotify Music

spotify music

Subscription fees

spotify on an iphone with the buy spotify premium page.

Apple Music costs the industry-standard $10 per month, as does the Spotify Premium Individual service, Tidal Premium, Pandora’s on-demand service, and just about every other on-demand subscription service on the block (Amazon Music Unlimited costs $10 per month for existing users or $8 for new users and those with an Amazon Prime subscription). Right now, new subscribers get Apple Music free for one month. Apple Music also offers a Family plan for $15 with access for up to six people. Spotify also has a Duo plan for $13 for a couple subscribing together and a Family plan for $16 that offers up to six accounts along with Spotify Kids and parental controls.

There’s another way to save some cash on both services — student plans. New users with an applicable student email can get a discounted monthly subscription of just $5. Both add a bit more for that bargain, with Spotify offering students ad-supported Hulu access with Showtime, while Apple will hook the studious up with Apple TV+.

Apple Music subscribers can also get a year’s worth of service for $99 if you know where to look. You’ll first need to be subscribed to Apple Music (it doesn’t matter which subscription you have). Head to your Subscriptions in the App Store (accessed through your Apple ID at the bottom of the Featured tab), and select Apple Music. You should see an Individual (one-year) option for $99 — select it, and you can save nearly 20% over a year. Or, you know, you can always subscribe to Verizon Unlimited and bag a six-month membership for free. AT&T Unlimited & More customers, on the other hand, have the option to redeem a free Spotify Premium subscription, which will run right through the end of the contract.

Apple does not have a free, ad-based tier like Spotify. The majority of Spotify’s users listen for free, and they can still play songs on-demand as long as they are willing to put up with ads (unskippable on the app but can be muted on the web app) – with some extra limitations for mobile devices. Not to mention, new Spotify users can currently nab one month of Premium for free.

Section winner: Spotify Music

spotify music

User interface and mobile experience

an iphone with spotify open showing how to add a song to a playlist.

Despite Apple’s penchant for minimalist design, Apple Music’s mobile interface was less than intuitive out of the gate. But with improvements that came with the iOS 14 and 15 updates, Apple Music is much smoother. The library is now on the homepage of the Music app — all the music you own can be accessed in this tab, and you can easily filter by Playlists, Artists, Albums, Songs, and Downloaded music, just in case you don’t want to waste your precious mobile data.

Tapping on the Listen Now tab now brings up several different personalized options. The Top Picks and the daily themed playlists provide even more ways to discover new tunes, while the Browse tab gives you an avenue to explore popular music, videos, and Apple exclusives. The Radio tab gives users access to hundreds of Apple-curated music stations, broken up by genre, artist, and host. Those looking for something specific can use the Search tab, which allows you to quickly search through either your personal library or the Apple Music library.

Apple has also integrated Siri with Apple Music, allowing subscribers to issue voice commands through their Apple TV, iPhone, or Mac. It’s a cool feature that Android users won’t get, as they don’t have access to Siri.

The Android version of Apple Music is aesthetically different from the iOS version in that it hides its menu to the left side of the screen, as many Android apps do. If users need to navigate, they can pull the menu into view like a drawer. This keeps the layout clean and makes good use of your phone’s limited real estate. Though Apple Music is available for iOS and Android, Apple Music works best on iOS, especially with the added Siri functionality. As of MacOS Catalina, Apple Music is no longer accessed within iTunes. You’ll have a dedicated Apple Music app for that instead, though those on older versions or any version of Windows will still require the antiquated service.

Spotify, on the other hand, is more device-agnostic and has long been the industry leader in terms of sheer usability. The mobile and desktop applications provide users with an easy way to browse music, access playlists, listen to internet radio, and discover new music.

On mobile, all your bidding is done within three tabs — Home, Search, and Your Library. Each section features its own set of straightforward subcategories, which gives users easy access to the service’s many features. The search window actively populates the results field, much like Google’s search engine, often providing exactly what you’re looking for after typing just a few characters, and a filter function makes it easy to drill down even further. Spotify has middling support for voice activation through devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, but recent evidence points to the development of its own in-house digital assistant, according to Engadget. You’ll be able to call on it by issuing two magic words — “Hey, Spotify” — but only if the app is already open on your phone.

In February 2020, Spotify introduced key changes to its mobile interface to help streamline your playback efforts. The changes included the addition of a unified button for Play and Shuffle functions, as well as corralling the Like and Download buttons — among other actions — into a navigation bar that you can find near the top of any playlist. In April 2021, the company did another massive overhaul of its mobile apps to expand the Library feature, make searching easier, and allow for dynamic filters.

As for outside integration, both Apple Music and Spotify also support Amazon’s Echo ecosystem, allowing subscribers to play songs on the company’s smart home systems with simple Alexa voice commands like, “Play songs by Kendrick Lamar.” Spotify even offers Google Cast integration, which is especially handy for those who like Google’s streaming devices like the Chromecast, allowing for a quick and easy way to stream music from your home theater system. Apple Music once had exclusivity on the Apple TV, but recently loosened its grip, allowing Spotify integration for Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD owners.

For those allergic to apps, Spotify has long offered a web player that, while not quite as intuitive as the native desktop app, offers quick, lightweight access. Apple has followed suit, with a web player of its own in beta. Both have the option to display the lyrics of the song playing.

Apple Music offers one of the most impressive music services around, but you have to be all-in on Apple’s smartphones, tablets, computers, and streaming boxes to get the most out of it. We give Spotify the edge here for its clean and easy user experience, ubiquity, and increased availability of third-party integrations.

Section winner: Spotify Music

spotify music

Social features

Spotify’s social functions allow subscribers to follow friends (if you’re both on Facebook and connect your Spotify accounts) and see what they listen to and who they follow. It also gives users the ability to share or recommend playlists, along with the ability to publish their listening history to Facebook, which then allows their Facebook friends to like or comment on the activity. Add to that the Collaborative Playlist feature in which you and your friends can add to and edit playlists, and Spotify’s social features are pretty robust.

Apple Music’s social functionality is few and far between and includes the ability to see what your friends are listening to and easy playlist sharing.

Even without messaging, Spotify’s solid social media integration, as well as the ability to see what friends and followers are listening to, gives the service the upper hand.

Section winner: Spotify Music

spotify music

Workout modes

music controls on the apple watch series 7.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Many people listen to music while running, and both Apple Music and Spotify are loaded with workout-themed playlists.

Spotify used to have built-in workout functions but has since offloaded some of those features to other apps. For example, on smartphones with the appropriate sensors, Spotify can be used in conjunction with running apps such as Runkeeper to automatically select a playlist that matches the user’s running tempo. The integration is a welcome one for people who don’t want to plan out their music selection before they hit the track — though it’s a shame the functionality is no longer natively supported in-app.

For Apple Music subscribers, there’s Apple Fitness+. Going for $10 per month or $80 per year (or free for three months with a new Apple Watch purchase), Apple Fitness+ uses data from a user’s Series 3 (or later) Apple Watch to create customized workout routines and workout playlists that can be listened to in Apple Music. Apple Music users can use the Search tab to find some motivational Apple Fitness+ playlists. With Apple Fitness+ Studio Series, users can even search for workout tunes based on the type of exercise they’re launching into. Everything from meditative music for yoga to dance and electronic music for rowing and kickboxing is available.

Section winner: Apple Music

apple music

Offline downloads

Apple Music lets you download music for offline playback across 10 different devices at once, with a maximum of 100,000 songs. Spotify lags in this area, with its restriction sitting at 10,000 songs on up to five devices.

Section winner: Apple Music

apple music

Overall winner

Spotify Music

Spotify is the winner here. While Apple Music has made some serious strides, Spotify still reigns supreme. Its user interface is accessible and uncluttered, making playlist management simple. Its music discovery playlists, especially Discover Weekly, keep it brilliantly fresh, and it’s also free for those who can’t yet commit. Apple Music’s larger catalog, exclusive releases, human-curated playlists, and features like Apple Music 1 make it a serious contender. Depending on what features are important to you, you may choose differently, but for now, Spotify still has the edge in which music streaming service is better.

Full Specs

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Spotify Music

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Apple Music

Duo $13 per month N/A
Family $16 per month $15 per month
Individual $10 per month $10 per month
Student $5 per month $6 per month

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