Best music streaming services 2019: free streams to hi-res audio

Best music streaming services Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best music streaming services you can subscribe to in 2019.

When it comes to getting your music fix, more and more people are making the switch from physical formats and music downloads to streaming services. And it's easy to see why. The ability to access to tens of millions of tracks at the tap of a touchscreen means it has never been easier to hunt down old favourites or discover brand new bands and artists.

There's a wide range of streaming services to choose from, with the likes of Amazon, Apple, Spotify and Tidal offering unlimited access to huge catalogues of music, which can be streamed over the internet or a mobile network, or downloaded directly to your device for offline listening. The only catch is that if you stop your subscription, your music collection disappears too.

So how much can you expect to pay? Some services offer limited free access (supported by adverts with limited playback options), but in the main you pay a set monthly subscription fee, which tends to be around the £10 mark.

The quality of these streams varies between services. Those concerned less by outright quality and more with getting bang for your buck can listen to compressed streams at 320kbps from the likes of Spotify.

But you don't have to sacrifice quality. Tidal and Qobuz both have subscription tiers which allow you to access CD-quality streams and, where the content is available, even hi-res music. This increase in quality does come with an increase in subscription cost though.

Whether you want choice and convenience, or the highest fidelity possible, our round up of the best streaming services will help you pick the right one for you.

Best music streaming services 2019

1. Spotify

Easy to use and to discover new music.

SPECIFICATIONS

Cost: £9.99/month, £4.99 (student tier), £14.99 (family tier) | Quality: 320kbps | Files: MP3, M4P, MP4 | Library size: 45 million+ | Platforms: iOS and Android apps, desktop app, web player, smart TV apps, connected speaker support, cars

Reasons to Buy
Exhaustive discovery features
Intuitive interface
Free tier
Reasons to Avoid
Doesn’t offer best-sounding streams
No lossless option

Spotify remains one of the most accessible ways to get your music fix. Not only does it offer decent 320Kbps quality, but there is a huge library of over 40 million songs. These can be played on pretty much any device you own, thanks to intuitive iOS and Android apps and support in numerous smart TVs, connected speakers and other AV kit courtesy of Spotify Connect. 

If your limit is £10 per month, Spotify delivers the most comprehensive and complete experience we've come across, and even offers a 50% discount for students.

Read the full review: Spotify

MORE: 33 Spotify tips, tricks and features

Best music streaming services 2019

2. Tidal

High quality audio with wide range of content.

SPECIFICATIONS

Cost: £9.99/mth or £19.99/mth (HiFi tier) | Quality: 320kbps, CD-quality streaming, 24-bit/96kHz | Files: FLAC, AAC | Library size: 60 million+, 170,000+ hi-res audio | Platforms: iOS and Android apps, desktop app, web player

Reasons to Buy
Better sound quality than rivals
Hi-res Masters tracks
Intuitive interface
Reasons to Avoid
Some Masters tracks are hard to find

Besides CD-quality streams, as part of Tidal's £20 per month HiFi package you can access over 170,000 hi-res audio tracks, which are typically 24-bit/96kHz, but do go up to 24-bit/192kHz.

Called 'Tidal Masters', the music files are encoded using MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) tech, which allows for more efficient packing of the hi-res data. You can access Tidal through iOS, Android, desktop, all of which offer hi-res streams, as well as a browser based player and a good spread of other platforms, such as Sonos.

Sound quality is exceptional across the board, with the CD-quality streams displaying great levels of detail and expression and hi-res recordings taking this up a level. If you're looking for the best high quality streaming experience, this is it.

Read the full review: Tidal

Best music streaming services 2019

3. Apple Music

An appealing streaming service with intelligent curation, a vast catalogue and good sound quality.

SPECIFICATIONS

Cost: £9.99/mth, £14.99/mth (family tier) £99 (12mths) | Quality: N/A | Files: AAC | Library size: 45 million+ | Platforms: iOS, desktop app

Reasons to Buy
Clever recommendations
Smart interface
Good sound quality
Reasons to Avoid
Plenty of rival options

Unsurprisingly, Apple Music is aimed squarely at Apple users, so Android owners should look elsewhere. But, if you're fully immersed in Apple's ecosystem, Apple Music makes a lot of sense. It costs a competitive £10 per month, or you can pay an annual fee of £99. There's also a £5 per month student deal, while a family membership covering up to six people costs £15 per month. There's no high-quality tier like Tidal, nor is there a free version like Spotify.

Whether you're using the desktop or mobile app, the interface is easy to navigate with a simple yet effective layout. The service does a great job of curating playlists and serving up useful recommendations. Apple hasn't revealed the bitrate it uses to stream, but tracks still sound clean, snappy and entertaining, and the general level of quality is up there with its closest rival, Spotify.

Read the full review: Apple Music

Best music streaming services 2019

4. Qobuz

The most advanced streaming ecosystem out there, but not necessarily the best value.

SPECIFICATIONS

Cost: £9.99/mth or £99.99/yr, £19.99/mth or £199.99/yr, £24.99/mth or £249.99/yr, £299.99/yr | Quality: 320kbps, 16-bit/44.1kHz, up to 24-Bit/192kHz | Files: MP3, FLAC | Library size: 40 million+ | Platforms: iOS, Android, desktop app, web player

Reasons to Buy
Large hi-res library
Excellent CD-quality streams
Hi-res on mobile app
Reasons to Avoid
Expensive
Tidal's hi-res streams sound better
Library doesn't match some competitors

Qobuz might not be the most well-known streaming service, but it is arguably the most advanced. Its Sublime+ tier gives users the ability to stream over 70,000 24-bit hi-res albums and download tracks at a discounted prices, but you need to spend £350 on an annual subscription. Below this tier sits a hi-res Studio tier, a CD-quality Hi-Fi tier and a Premium MP3 streaming tier.

There's a Qobuz web player, desktop and mobile apps, plus a number of networked streaming products are also compatible with the service. The Qobuz catalogue isn't quite as pop-heavy as its closest rivals but there's still a decent balance. The interface is nice to use across desktop and mobile although the curation could be better. 

Sound quality is excellent across the Premium and Hi-Fi tiers, but Studio and Sublime+ can't quite match Tidal Masters for timing and dynamics.

Read the full review: Qobuz

Best music streaming services

5. Primephonic

The go-to app for anyone interested in classical music

SPECIFICATIONS

Cost: £8/mth, £80/yr (MP3-quality) / £15/mth, £150/yr (hi-res audio) | Quality: 320kbps, 24-bit | Files: MP3, FLAC | Library size: 1 million+ | Platforms: iOS and Android apps, web player

Reasons to Buy
Revamped interface
Lots of playlists
Help for not classical-savvy
Great sound
Reasons to Avoid
Catalogue still not exhaustive

After a faltering start, Primephonic has revamped its entire offering to deliver an enticing classical music service. More than a million classical pieces are at your disposal, all in glorious 24-bit hi-res audio, provided you pay the entirely reasonable premium (it's cheaper than rivals, though of course the focus is narrower). 

There are still a few gaps in the library around contemporary classical artists and we'd appreciate a desktop app, but thanks to a much-improved interface, the addition of offline playback and excellent all-round sound quality, we have no problem recommending Primephonic for anyone with an interest in all things classical.

Read the full review: Primephonic

Best music streaming services 2019

6. Amazon Music Unlimited

A Spotify rival, particularly attractive for those in Amazon’s fold.

SPECIFICATIONS

Cost: £9.99/mth, £15/mth (family tier) | Quality: N/A | Files: N/A | Library size: 50 million+ | Platforms: iOS and Android apps, desktop app, web player, connected speaker support, cars

Reasons to Buy
Diverse playlists
Wide platform support
Greater sonic subtlety than Spotify
Reasons to Avoid
No free tier
Better music discovery on rivals
Interface not always reliable

Spotify might be our number one pick when it comes to music streaming services, but Amazon's equivalent, Amazon Music Unlimited makes a lot of sense too. At £9.99 per month, pricing is competitive (if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, this drops to just £8), however there is no free tier. 

Music Unlimited is compatible with smartphones and tablets via its Android and iOS apps and PCs and Macs via its web player or desktop app. Fire tablets and TVs are also compatible while some in-car systems and audio products (including Amazon Echo and Sonos speakers) also support the service.

The interface is slick and user-friendly, allowing you to browse Amazon's catalogue with minimal fuss. It's easy enough to discover new music although Spotify does have the edge when it comes to recommendations and curated content. 

Sonically, the two are close, but Amazon's service is dynamically subtler. Spotify and Apple Music might be better all-rounders, but Amazon Music Unlimited is still worth investigating.

Read the full review: Amazon Music Unlimited

Best music streaming services

7. Deezer

A comprehensive and well-connected service

SPECIFICATIONS

Cost: Free, £10/mth, £15/mth (family), £20/mth (CD-quality) | Quality: 128kbps, 320kbps, 16-bit | Files: MP3, FLAC | Library size: 53 million | Platforms: iOS and Android apps, desktop Windows and Mac apps, Sonos, Yamaha MusicCast, Bang & Olufsen speakers, MOON by Simaudio network audio system

Reasons to Buy
Vast catalogue and device support
CD-quality HiFi tier
Good range of podcasts
Clean, intuitive interface
Reasons to Avoid
Currently no hi-res streaming
Rivals have better discovery features
No HiFi tier support on mobile apps

Back in 2017, Deezer became the first music streaming service to celebrate its 10th birthday. As with any significant coming of age, the French company celebrated by making 2017 a year of big change. The company rebranded its CD-quality tier, giving it a new name and price, and making it accessible on more apps and platforms. 

Roll on to 2019, and while Deezer has partnered with hi-res streaming partner, MQA, there's no sign of hi-res audio streams on Deezer as yet - only CD-quality. That puts it at a disadvantage compared to the hi-res music you'll find on Tidal and Qobuz.

Thankfully, Deezer's extensive catalogue, vast device support and pull from some decent non-music content lays the foundations for a service that can still rival the best. And there's a free tier if you want to try it first.

Read the full review: Deezer

8. YouTube Music

A music service for fans of music video

SPECIFICATIONS

Cost: Free, £10/mth, £15/mth (family) | Quality: 256kbps | Files: AAC | Platforms: iOS and Android apps

Reasons to Buy
Brilliant search feature
Adds YouTube's music videos
Lots of live recordings
Reasons to Avoid
Underwhelming music discovery
Audio lacks real detail
Streams too compressed

We were rather underwhelmed by the service at launch, but YouTube Music is now starting to look like it’s ready for the challenge. Several refreshes in appearance and features over the last few years have done it the power of good. The quality of the competition remains an issue, though: Spotify and Apple Music are the mass market titans to tackle, both already offering five-star services.

But YouTube Music is not quite the same as the rest. There’s a leaning towards music videos as much as audio streams and, given the popularity of YouTube as a music platform in its own right, that’s perhaps a niche worth exploring.

Read the full review: YouTube Music