Best free music apps: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best free music apps you can get in 2020.
Portable music used to mean carrying around a single album on CD or cassette. Now you can now walk around with millions of songs in your pocket without worrying about storage space at all. And the best bit? You don't even need to pay.
Most major music streaming services have a free tier, barring Tidal, Qobuz and Apple Music. While these free music services inevitably include adverts, and have more limited functionality than their paid-for stablemates, they're still pretty great.
They give you access to millions of songs. They let you test the service for a while before deciding whether to take the plunge and pay for a monthly subscription. And if you're only an occasional listener, they make a lot more sense than paying for something you barely use. We've rounded up the best free options around so you can see which suits you best.
The best-known free streaming service is also one of the best. While you will have to put up with ads if you don't want to pay, and you'll have to listen to playlists on shuffle mode (except for certain playlists), there's still plenty to like: decent sound quality, over 50 million songs, offline listening, bags of podcasts, and it all works on almost any device imaginable. If you want free music streaming, Spotify should be your first port of call.
Read the full review: Spotify
You might not know it, but if you have Amazon Prime then you can access Amazon's free music streaming service. That's right, as well as free one-day delivery and Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Prime entitles you to Amazon Prime Music, which gives you over 2 million songs to stream on-demand. And the best bit? They're ad-free.
As you would expect, the selection is pretty mainstream, and the sound quality isn't going to blow you away, but Prime customers can't really complain. And if you're not happy, you can always step up to Amazon Music Unlimited, which costs £9.99/$9.99(or £7.99/$7.99 with Prime) a month and boasts a library that rivals Spotify's.
Read more: Amazon Prime Music
Deezer's free tier means you have to suffer ads, and track quality is only 128kbps. The mobile app for this tier is also a little limited, but no more than any of its rivals. But when it comes to what to listen to, there's a ton of choice, and the layout is pleasingly simple to find your way around. There are also lots of podcasts and other non-music content to get your ears into. A great choice for anyone looking beyond just music. If you do sign-up for the full service, you can enjoy lossless audio, too.
Read the full review: Deezer
YouTube isn't just for videos. Launched back in 2015, YouTube Music is the video-sharing site's attempt to take on Spotify et al. And, just like Spotify, it offers a free tier. Sure, there are adverts, as you would expect, but not as many as you would fear.
Extras like downloading for offline listening are pay-only, so you're limited to streaming the service's selection, but there's a considerable catalogue to choose from, the layout is nice and clean, and its selection of music videos is, of course, unrivalled. Well worth a listen.
Read the full review: YouTube Music
If you don't want to shell out for a subscription, you can still use Google Play Music's 'music locker'. This lets you upload up to 50,000 tracks into the cloud to stream from almost anywhere. And those in the US can stream from Play Music's selection of tracks too, as long as you're willing to put up with the adverts. You also get radio stations based on your music taste, playlists, podcasts... in other words, everything you would expect from a music streaming service.
It's a completely seamless experience on the Google-owned Android operating system, though slightly less so on iOS. It will soon be absorbed into YouTube Music, but until then it's a very decent service for music lovers.
Read the full review: Google Play Music
This isn't a pure music streaming service - rather the focus is on radio stations, so you can still get your music fix that way. It offers a range of stations, including some BBC Radio, NPR, All India Radio and C-SPAN, as well as news from the likes of CNN and Fox News and a host of podcasts. There are even local and genre-specific radio stations to choose from, so there should be something for everyone. From a wide choice of radio apps, this is the best we've come across.
BBC Sounds has taken the place of the Beeb's iPlayer Radio app (though the latter is still available, if you prefer). As well as the usual BBC radio stations (Radio 1, Radio 4, 1Xtra, etc) which you can listen to live or on-demand, it brings together all sorts of podcasts, music mixes, live sets and more. You can search by genre, download and listen on the go and continue listening where you left off on another device. The app has had some teething issues, but it's blossoming into a suitably rich and slick home for the BBC's excellent audio output.
Read more: BBC Sounds app replaces iPlayer Radio
SoundCloud is known as the home of emerging artists, so if you want to check one out before they make it big, this is the place to do so. The free tier offers over 120 million tracks, mixes, podcasts and more, though we can't vouch for the quality of each (that's the trouble with 'up-and-coming' artists). The upside is you can connect with friends and even the artists directly on the platform, make playlists, and get curated tracklists based on your taste. If you tire of the mainstream, maybe it's time to take a trip to SoundCloud.