Best Music Streaming: Apple vs. Spotify vs. Google vs. Amazon

Cam Secore
Updated 09/10/2018

After months of testing, I determined Spotify is the best music streaming service overall because it makes discovering new music easy and it’s compatible with all speaker systems. Apple Music and Google Music are good too, but they’re only worthwhile if you’re invested in the Apple or Google ecosystems.

I’ll explain how I reached my conclusion by comparing four music streaming services (Apple Music vs. Spotify vs. Google Play Music vs. Amazon Music Unlimited) while evaluating five categories: music discovery, apps, compatibility, library, and bonus features.

spotify vs apple music


  • Discovery: Discover Weekly and algorithmic suggestions are Spotify’s secret sauce.
  • Apps: Mac, iOS, and Android apps look similar and have a sleek, dark interface.
  • Compatibility: Works with any smart or HiFi speaker and any smartphone.
  • Library: You can't upload music that's not in Spotify's catalog.
  • Bonus: They have an excellent free option and cool deals for Hulu subscribers.

Best for you if...

You want a way to find new music based on your tastes. It's the perfect combination of music curation and device compatibility. It'd be nice to upload music that's not in Spotify's library, but Spotify gets everything else right. Music is Spotify's only focus, and they excel at it.

apple music vs spotify

Apple Music

  • Discovery: They have solid human-made playlists, but the algorithms aren't ideal.
  • Apps: The iOS app looks great, but the computer version uses iTunes and it’s messy.
  • Compatibility: It’s great with Apple Watch and HomePod, but not other smart speakers.
  • Library: You can upload up to 100,000 songs to iCloud to be streamed.
  • Bonus: There’s a 90-day free trial. It’s $5/month for students.

Best for you if...

You’re heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem or already have music downloaded in the iPhone Music app. It’s a must-have for HomePod and Apple Watch owners. Apple Music is available for Android devices, but I don’t recommend it. Apple Music needs work on their music discovery.

spotify vs google music

Google Play Music

  • Discovery: it becomes good at predicting what you want to listen to and when.
  • Apps: The phone app is ugly with weird cover art and bright white. No desktop app.
  • Compatibility: You can “cast” music to any speaker or TV with casting capabilities.
  • Library: You can add up to 50,000 songs from your personal library.
  • Bonus: You get YouTube Red for free, and there's a free ad version of Google Play.

Best for you if...

You’re an Android user, have a well-established music library, watch a lot of YouTube, and know the music you’re looking for. Google Music might not be perfect, but it’s the best value because of included YouTube Red. The mobile app could be improved.

amazon music vs google play

Amazon Music Unlimited

  • Discovery: They have limited radio stations and playlists with bad curation.
  • Apps: The phone app is similar to Apple but more confusing. The desktop version is bad.
  • Compatibility: It works best with Echo devices.
  • Library: You can’t upload your old songs to Amazon as you previously could.
  • Bonus: It’s only $8/month for Amazon Prime members or $4 for the "Echo Plan."

Best for you if...

You know what music you want to listen to and have Alexa devices. $4/month is a great value if you ONLY want music on your Echos. It's not for you if you want to discover new music, have a great interface, need to upload your own music, or need a desktop app.

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My Experience

Pandora was the first company to popularize music streaming with their customizable radio stations.

Spotify took things a step further with on-demand service, which allows you to look up a song, download it, and play it instantly without an Internet connection. Spotify’s vision was to provide you with every song in the world whenever and wherever you want it.

Google released Google Play Music in 2011, but it didn’t pick up much steam.

Apple debuted Apple Music in 2015 but struggled out of the gate. They copied all of Spotify’s features, but the interface wasn’t intuitive.

Amazon sold music digitally for years, but they didn’t take streaming seriously until October 2016, when they released Amazon Music Unlimited. It was considered a supplemental addon to Amazon Echo devices and wasn’t initially recognized as a standalone app. It now has over 10 million paying subscribers.

Spotify went from a being a small Swedish startup to a publicly traded company with a value of over $25 billion. They had a headstart on the competition and have dominated with over 70 million paying subscribers (as of January 2018).

Apple, Google, and Amazon have been playing catch-up with Spotify.

My conclusion is if you use any four of these services for a full month, you won’t be disappointed once you get used to the interface. They’re polished, have similar libraries and are priced similarly. The choice comes down to where your current music library is stored and the ecosystem you prefer.

Before getting into streaming, my music was mostly imported from CDs stored on iTunes. I didn’t want to move my music, so I stayed with Apple Music when it was released. I found the magic of streaming from Apple Music, but in the process saw that I had been missing out by not trying Spotify.

I currently use Spotify and Apple Music. They’re similar but I find that I use Spotify 90% of the time.

best music streaming app

Things To Know

  • You can play almost any song in the world by tapping a button. You don’t need an Internet connection if you’ve downloaded music for offline listening.
  • On-demand services are replacing most people’s record collections. Apple is reportedly phasing out iTunes Store before 2019 because they believe streaming is the future of music consumption.
  • You can download your entire music library and play it offline. There is a symbol by the song to let you know if it’s available for offline playing.
  • There is some artist exclusivity, but for the most part, Google, Amazon, Spotify, and Apple have the same libraries with over 30 million songs each.
  • You won’t notice a difference in audio quality if you’re a paying customer. There are technical differences, (i.e., Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis format at 320Kbps, and Apple Music uses 256Kbps in AAC) but it doesn’t noticeably affect sound quality. And it’s impossible to compare the quality of 30 million different songs. People who’ve tried to compare songs have said Spotify sounds better than Apple Music with some tracks, and vice versa with others. It’s a toss-up, and you shouldn’t base your decision on audio quality.
  • Getting all of your music in one place is essential to enjoy the experience fully. You can manually search for each song, or you can use an app like STAMP to copy songs from libraries on different services to a new service.
  • They charge $10/month and offer at least a 30-day trial.



Music Discovery (A+):

  • Spotify shines in its ability to find new music. When you visit an artist’s page, Spotify recommends a bunch of similar artists and songs you’ll probably like. It’s consistently spot on.
  • Discover Weekly is a playlist of 30 songs catered specifically for you, featuring songs you might like from artists you haven’t listened to. No service comes close to matching it. It’s one of the biggest innovations in the tech industry that no one talks about and my favorite feature of any app. I look forward to my set of music every Monday morning. (It’s important to note that it’s a machine learning algorithm. The more data it has about your listening habits, the better it’ll know your tastes. It’s essential to let Spotify know when you don’t like songs and to add songs to your collection when you like them).
  • When you follow your favorite artists, you can get a notification when they release new music.
  • Your Daily Mix is a set of six playlists that are refreshed daily with a combination of music you like and some new tracks. The selection is based on your listening habits.
  • My only beef with Spotify’s music discovery is that it only shows the top 10 songs from each artist’s page, whereas other services give you at least the top 20 songs in order of popularity. Spotify is not helpful when you’re trying to find a popular song and you don’t know its name.

Apps (A):

  • The Mac and iOS apps have similar setups (consistent and easy to navigate).
  • I prefer Spotify’s dark interface appearance to everything else.
  • Spotify’s AutoFill feature (when searching for an artist) is the best there is.
  • If you enable “Private Session,” Spotify doesn’t remember what was played and won’t use it in their algorithm for when finding new music. For example, I typically listen to rock, but while I’m writing, I listen to music without many lyrics. I don’t want similar music showing up in my Discover Weekly.
  • Playlists are public by default, and collaborative playlists let you and your friends share and add new music to a playlist.
  • Your playlists and songs don’t leave your library if you opt for the free version later. You can see all your music and even listen to your music. You’ll just have to listen to the ads as well.
  • After using Spotify as my main streaming service for a year, I’ve noticed annoying bugs in the phone app. A couple of times per week, the display turns completely blank, or the search results don’t show anything, so you have to force-quit the app.

Compatibility (A+):

  • Spotify works perfectly with Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Sonos. It doesn’t work with Siri on HomePod, but you can AirPlay it to HomePod instead.
  • Spotify Connect is a game changer. You can listen to a song on your phone through your headphones, then change the sound source to your speakers when you get home without missing a beat. If you’re tired of listening through the speakers or are on the move again, fire up Spotify on your MacBook and the song will pick up where it left off. Lots of speakers work with Spotify Connect, and it’s a better solution than Bluetooth.

Library (C+):

  • Spotify opens directly on your library page when opening the app. And when you go to the songs in your library, it shows you in order of when you downloaded them. It’s the only service that does this, and it makes the most sense.
  • When you add a song to your library, it automatically saves for offline listening by default.
  • You can only save music for offline playback on three devices, and up to 10,000 songs.
  • You can’t upload music to Spotify from personal libraries. You can match your old music from Spotify collection via an XML file or with a service like STAMP. But if you have funky music that’s not streamable, you’ll be in trouble if you want it in the same library.

Bonus (A+):

Apple Music


Music Discovery (C):

  • Apple’s created a clone of Spotify’s Discover Weekly, called “My New Music Mix” and “My Chill Mix.” The playlists are awful but should improve as Apple fine-tunes their algorithm.
  • Apple Music has the best human-made playlists of all the contenders.
  • Apple Music uses the genre system with their algorithmically curated playlists, which has fewer options than Spotify. These curated playlists need some work.
  • Apple Music Radio stations are limited.

Apps (B+):

  • Apple Music on iOS was a mess at first, but they made significant improvements with iOS 11. I like its flow and enjoy the experience as much as Spotify.
  • Apple’s most significant selling point is that it’s part of the native iOS and Mac landscape. It’s familiar, and there’s no learning curve. If you have previously-downloaded music stored on Apple devices, it’ll still be there and work seamlessly.
  • Apple Music’s buttons are big and easily tappable.
  • Apple Music optimizes your library (optional) by sending songs you haven’t recently listened to to the cloud. The songs sent to the cloud still show up in your library and are playable. If you’re using a 16GB iPhone, this is a crucial feature to save you from running out of room for new music.
  • They have “smart playlists.” For instance, I could make a playlist for every song I’ve rated four stars, that last three minutes, and have artist names beginning with “f” and the playlist will update as I add more songs to my library. I love smart playlists, and Apple Music is the only service to support them. Unfortunately, you have to create them in iTunes first.
  • Apple Music uses iTunes on the computer. Anyone who’s owned an iPod knows how iTunes works. It’s clunky, outdated, and isn’t integrated well with Apple Music.
  • Apple doesn’t have a web player. I don’t need one, but you’re out of luck if you do.

Compatibility (C):

  • Apple Music is amazing for those in Apple’s ecosystem.
    • It works with Siri on iPhone.
    • It works with HomePod via voice, and it’s seamlessly integrated.
    • There’s an Apple Watch app. I keep my Apple Music subscription around just for bike rides. Apple Music on my Apple Watch via my AirPods is a brilliant combination, and I leave my phone at home.
    • It works flawlessly with Apple TV.
  • You can play Apple Music on Alexa or Google Home devices via Bluetooth, but there’s no smart integration. If you’re a big user of Amazon or Google’s smart speakers, you should look elsewhere.

Library (A):

  • You can upload up to 100,000 songs to iCloud to be streamed and integrated with your Apple Music collection.
  • When you add a song to a playlist, it’s simultaneously added to your library. For most music services, you need to add songs to playlists and your library separately.
  • It’s easy to distinguish what’s in your library and what’s not.

Bonus (A):

Google Play Music


Music Discovery (B-):

  • If you use Google Play Music enough, it becomes good at predicting what you want to listen to and when on the Home tab. Occasionally, you see something interesting in the Home tab that you haven’t heard.
  • You have radio options for days, and their algorithm gets good at learning your preferences.
  • When searching through an artist’s songs, Google will show you the top 20 songs ranked by popularity.

Apps (D):

  • Google Play Music mobile app is solid and similar to Google’s other apps.
  • It’s bright white everywhere, with awkward, zoomed-in cover art.
  • If a song you’re listening to has a music video, there’s a button that will bring you to that video and pick up the song where you left off.
  • When you tap the “Identify what’s playing” button, the app starts listening to the song playing in the background and pulls it up in the search results.
  • You can’t rate songs in your library. There’s only a thumbs up and down option. That’s a smart system for radio but not for songs in your library. Why would I ever thumbs down a song in my own library?
  • I hate not having a desktop app because you have to keep a browser tab open all of the time and you can’t listen offline while on your computer. Google’s servicing people who are in their ecosystem (Android phones and Chromebooks).
  • You can share playlists by making them public, but it’s not as seamless as Spotify.

Compatibility (C):

Library (C):

  • When you click on an artist, it doesn’t show you the songs saved in your library until you scroll to the bottom. It’s a strange method which takes too much effort.
  • It’s hard to distinguish what’s available for offline listening.
  • You can add up to 50,000 songs from your personal library to mesh with your Google Play Music library. This is huge if you have music that’s mislabeled, unreleased or from an artist who’s unavailable with streaming.

Bonus (A+):

  • You get YouTube Red, which makes YouTube ad-free, with your Google Music subscription. I watch a lot of YouTube videos, so this is a huge bonus. If you’re an avid YouTube user, you’ll benefit from this too.
  • There’s a free radio version (with ads).

Amazon Unlimited


Music Discovery (D):

  • Amazon has limited radio stations but they’re not bad. It learns your preferences similar to the way in which Pandora does it, allowing you to give a song a thumbs up or thumbs down.
  • The playlists are lacking. The human curation isn’t updated often and there’s no algorithmic curation unless you count their radio.
  • When browsing an artist’s songs, you get an unlimited list ranked by popularity, which is a nice feature.

Apps (D):

  • Amazon’s app setup is similar to Apple Music, but it’s more confusing than Apple’s, and you can’t see where the audio’s being played without an extra tap.
  • Inside the app, you can ask Alexa to find a song, and it’ll do so. However, I’m not sure when that would be useful considering you have a screen interface right in front of you.
  • There’s an extra step to add songs for offline listening instead of automatically adding it to your library.
  • There’s a “Stream only when on WiFi” button that’s helpful to preserve data.
  • Song lyrics show up in the app as a song plays.
  • The Mac and PC apps feel like they were put together haphazardly. Sometimes it doesn’t load.

Compatibility (C):

  • Amazon Music works best with Echo devices.
    • If you don’t know a song’s name, Alexa can find it if you say some of the lyrics. It’s a neat feature, but there are phone apps for that.
    • Even if you have very particular music tastes, Alexa will find you something to listen to.
  • You can AirPlay to HomePod, but it won’t work with Siri.
  • You can play Amazon Music inside the Sonos app.

Library (B-):

  • You can store as many songs as you’d like for offline listening on up to 10 devices.
  • You can’t upload your old songs to Amazon as you previously could. You can match your collection of songs with Amazon’s library. However, if there’s something Amazon doesn’t have, you’re out of luck.

Bonus (A+):

  • It’s only $8/month for Amazon Prime members.
  • The “Echo Plan” lets you play music only on Alexa devices for $4/month. This means you can’t create a library of music or listen in an app, but it’s a budget-conscious option.
  • Amazon Radio stations can be listened to for free (with ads).
  • There’s a free version called “Prime Music” that has 10 million songs that you can play for free on demand. (You have to be an Amazon Prime member).


  • Doug Lerner says:

    I found your article interesting. I’m not the audiophile you are, but I’ve been really enjoying Amazon Music lately – the one included with Prime, not Unlimited.

    I’m an Apple user (Mac, iPad, and iPhone). But I’m not an Apple Music subscriber. The cool think about Amazon Prime Music on the iPhone (which is the only place I’m using it right now) is that the app is nice and you can download all these albums and playlists and create your own, and also listed to your iTunes playlists via the app.

    I’ve downloaded scores of albums already – and without paying extra beyond my Amazon Prime subscription. Apple doesn’t having anything comparable for no extra cost.

    I was wondering what you thought of the different music services if you only consider the “free” versions.


    • Cam Secore says:

      For free options, Spotify is probably the best. Amazon’s free option is great and the only one that allows for offline storage. But I don’t consider Amazon Prime Music free because you still need to be a Prime member, which as you know, is now $119/year.

  • Day says:

    What about streaming sound quality? I recently ditched Pandora for Amazon music, because it sounds so much louder and cleaner in my ears. I’ve never been a fan of Apple proprietarity (I make up my own words) and never tried Spotify or Google. Thoughts?

    • Cam Secore says:

      I address sound quality in a paragraph point under “Things To Know.” Some services might sound slightly better for some songs but worse for others. It’s hard to compare 30 million songs, but for the most part, you won’t be able to tell a difference. I can’t speak to Pandora, but if you were using their free version, I can imagine it wasn’t good.

  • Jeremy says:

    You should review Deezer too… I left them to go to Google Play music when I got my Google Home, but Deezer support has been added so I’m thinking of switching back.

    • Cam Secore says:

      Deezer is probably fine! I haven’t heard anything bad other than it being less compatible. But in reality, there’s next to no differentiation between any of these music services, so I don’t see a point in me expanding beyond these four until there’s a new feature set.

  • Bart says:

    And still with all their features none of the apps allow to export playlists. Why can’t we get the option? I would really appreciate the ability to easily transfer my music between Spotify for my home use and Apple, which I use at work. I have to rely on third party program called Stamp which is good to move music around and everytime I make a new playlist I just click a few times and have the tracks where I want them. 🙂

    • Cam Secore says:

      I feel ya, but they don’t want you to leave their service, so they’d prefer not to give an export option. STAMP is good though.

  • Jonnie says:

    great article! one of the biggest things i think you should edit in to address it FAMILY SHARING plans. I work for a corporation who is looking for a service where you can log-in to one account, and play music simultaneously from up to 10 different devices. I know this doesn’t exist, whereas Apple and Amazon offer 6 max, but a corporate feature would be a great addition! You should also mention playlist sharing between these family accounts, as everyone being able to view the same playlists would be a huge advantage. Apple makes you go through the separate share feature to do this.

    • Cam Secore says:

      I’d get two Spotify Family accounts to cover ten people and playlist sharing is much better on Spotify. All ten of you could add/delete songs on the same playlist.

  • Martin Velasquez says:

    Ahh im glad you did a lot of the hard work and posted this
    I have a handful of songs left after my gen 2 itouch crashed and im considering my options.
    my brother pays for spotify was considering piggybacking but not sure how that works with them..
    I have Amazon prime but have read the reviews and i’m not sure about forking over 8 bucks
    And seeing that I’m a droid user i’m kind of considering Google’s option
    How does spotify work with multiple users over the same account?

    • Cam Secore says:

      Go with Spotify. You need to create a free Spotify account. Then assuming your brother has the Spotify Family Plan, all he needs to do is add your email on his account in the settings, and then you’ll get all the premium features with YOUR music and playlists.

  • Basil Lange says:

    The reason I love the thumbs up or down option is simple. With google’s generated playlists or playlists based upon a song in my library. I often come across more songs. These with a thumbs up get automatically sorted in my thumbs up playlist. This list has become a chronological library of music. I can dive into it and branch out into all sorts of styles of music that have accumulated over time. When I used Apple products I never really had a use for the 5 star ranking system. What is a 3 star value of a song in a library of hundreds of songs?

  • John P says:

    Don’t do Google Play Music if you’re interested in sharing playlists or a family plan. Been a long time user of Google Play Music, was very satisfied with it; but it all fell apart once I started a Family Plan, and tried sharing playlists with family members that: 1) have an iPhone, and/or 2) Do not have a Google/Gmail account. Sure there’s work arounds, but it is painful when all you want to do is share/get a playlist with least hassle. Wish I knew this before. I will be moving to Spotify.

  • Jordi says:

    Thanks for your very clear reviews. I miss a key factor though. If I’m not wrong, Spotify set a limit of 10,000 songs that you can store in your Library: I experienced it myself. I have 13k songs locally and couldn’t have them all in Spotify. This ruins the full experience. You can’t shuffle them at once. Useless to discover new music since you can’t add it. Etc… This made me quit Spotify sadly. Any thoughts on this?

    • Cam Secore says:

      It’s mentioned right in the post and the reason Spotify got a C+ in the “Library” category. Keep in mind, the 10,000 limit is only for songs downloaded for offline usage. You can still have as many songs as you want in your library.

      • Jordi Mestras Girbau says:

        Hi Cam, many thx for your feedback.

        I think it’s different limits:

        1. When I tried, I didn’t download any song for offline listening. But I hit the 10k library limit.

        2. See feedback details by 211 users in the link I shared above.

        3. The 10k library limit dates back to May 2017 at least (see link). By then the download limit was 3,333 songs and updated to 10k later on (Sept 2018): (3rd paragraph also relevant)

        Any idea? I’d love to go back to Spotify. Thanks!

        • Cam Secore says:

          Spotify has 90M users. I’m sure more than just the 211 people are reaching the 10,000 threshold, but you’re still in the VAST minority.

          While it’s not ideal for your super niche group, you guys should use a different service. The beauty is that the four services in this post are great and not too different from each other. If Spotify has lots of users leaving because of this, they will change their approach, but my guess is that no one leaves. Let’s let the open market talk and see!

          If I were you, I’d use Spotify differently and rely heavily on playlists, which are not part of your library. For instance, put songs in playlists that you’re not currently in the mood for and bring them back when you are. Not a great workaround.

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