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 2020.
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 our 2019 Award-winning service 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.
So how much can you expect to pay? Some services offer limited free music apps (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 for a basic service.
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.
Besides CD-quality streams, as part of Tidal's £20 per month HiFi package you can access millions of 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
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
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
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
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), though 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. What's more, it now has a £14.99 per month Music HD service, featuring 50 million tracks with a CD-quality bitrate of 16 bit/44.1kHz plus millions more in 24bit and up to 192kHz. We'll be posting a full review of that new tier soon, but it can only be good news for an already sterling music service.
Read the full review: Amazon Music Unlimited
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 2020, 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
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
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