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 Apple, Spotify and YouTube offering unlimited access to huge catalogues of music which can be streamed over the internet or a mobile network, or downloaded directly to a mobile device or desktop computer 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 tracks. This increase in quality does come with an increase in subscription costs though.
Whether you want choice and convenience, or the highest fidelity possible, our round up of the best music streaming services will help you pick the right one for you.
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.
Read the full review: Spotify
Besides CD-quality streams, as part of Tidal's £20 per month HiFi package you can access over 30,000 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 and a browser based player, but to enjoy hi-res playback you need the desktop app or a DAC with MQA decoding built-in.
More recently, Tidal announced a £9.99 Premium tier which reduces the quality to 320kbps, bringing it more in line with Spotify and Apple Music.
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
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
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
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