Music-streaming services: Pros and cons of Spotify, Apple, Amazon and more

Best streaming music platforms (Zarak Khan / Unsplash)
Best streaming music platforms (Zarak Khan / Unsplash)

Spotify is increasing the price of its premium subscriptions in the UK, raising the price from £10.99 a month to £11.99 a month for individuals.

A duo subscription for two people costs £16.99, while a family plan for six people costs £19.99.

With the increasing subscription costs, music fans may be considering which streaming platform is right for them.

So which music-streaming service should you pick? Here are the main players, along with their key strengths and weaknesses.

How to choose a music-streaming service

Throughout this roundup, we’re especially concerned with four main areas: unique features, value, community, and sound quality.

With all the major players listing upwards of 70 million tracks each, catalogue sizes aren’t as big a dividing line as they used to be (though do spot-check for blackspots before signing up for any service via a free trial). Instead, we’ve tried to identify each one’s unique selling points.

In terms of pricing, all of the options below represent good value, but there are ways of making them even better. For instance, all of them offer both 50 per cent off for students and provide family memberships for up to six people to share, boosting their value considerably.

Community doesn’t sound like it should be that important, but it is. Being on the same service as friends, colleagues and family is a great way to discover new music and makes it far easier to share playlists. Not to mention social features like Spotify’s annual Wrapped event.

Is sound quality important? Yes and no. Higher bitrates are extremely welcome, but while audiophiles will be concerned about lossless audio – where there’s little or no compression for higher fidelity – for casual listeners, it’s less of a priority.

This is especially true if you do most of your listening over Bluetooth, as lossless requires a wired connection to headphones (though FLAC can be played on hi-fi via a Wi-Fi connection).

Some offer high-bitrate and lossless audio at the price of a regular subscription. Just be aware of the listener’s priorities and remember that the quality of your headphones or speakers ultimately plays a bigger role in how good music sounds.

Best music-streaming services


Spotify (Spotify)
Spotify (Spotify)

Price: From £10.99 per month (student, couples, and family plans also available.)

Secret Weapon: Its enormous community.

Holding it back: It really wants to force podcasts on you.

Just as the iPod became established shorthand for “MP3 player”, Spotify is close to that kind of dominance in the music-streaming market.

That comes with huge advantages both in terms of connectivity (you can play it on anything from smart speakers to TVs) and social features. Not only will you likely have a critical mass of Spotify-using friends to follow, but things like the Spotify Wrapped event have become an annual social media tradition.

The music catalogue is huge, with the company claiming more than 80 million tracks and pricing is fair, too. Not only can you get a £5.99-per-month membership if you’re a student, but the family plan lets six people at the same address share an account for £16.99 per month.

Drawbacks? There are a couple. Firstly, Spotify Hi-Fi – the company’s brand name for the lossless format loved by audiophiles – still isn’t here, despite being promised as imminent for years. On top of that, Spotify really wants to get you into podcasts and audiobooks, and it’s making the whole thing a lot less user-friendly, and pricier, for people who are all about music.

Apple Music

Apple Music (Apple)
Apple Music (Apple)

Price: From £10.99 per month (student, family plans and Apple One subscriptions also available.)

Secret Weapon: Superb value with Apple One

Holding it back: Some odd quirks.

Apple Music has “over 100 million songs”, according to the company, making it a similar size to Spotify, but it has two key advantages: sound quality and pricing.

In terms of sound quality it offers lossless audio in all of its tracks, but also Spatial Audio, where the music surrounds you with dynamic head tracking (on compatible Apple headphones, of course). It does this at no extra cost, which Tidal does not.

And on the note of pricing, Apple Music may be the biggest bargain around. Along with a £5.99-per-month student option, a £16.99-per-month sub lets up to six people share the same account, but it gets even better if you want Apple’s other services.

Apple One bundles Apple Music, Apple TV Plus, Apple Arcade and 50GB of cloud storage for £18.95 per month per person. Or if you want to share it with five other people. It’s £24.95 per month, with the storage upped to 200GB. That’s simply unbeatable value.

Truthfully, there aren’t many drawbacks, and Apple is currently running a three-month free trial for new users on iPhone, iPad and Mac. There are some unusual quirks – like its habit of adding one-off playlist songs to your music library – but it’s generally an excellent option, especially if you’re embedded in the Apple ecosystem.

YouTube Music

YouTube Music (YouTube Music)
YouTube Music (YouTube Music)

Price: From £10.99 per month (student and family plans also available.)

Secret Weapon: Plenty of unexpected rarities.

Holding it back: Lots of confusing, low-quality filler.

YouTube Music is a bit of a strange one in the world of music streaming, because it’s essentially just YouTube. Yes, the company has deals with the major record labels to ensure that the albums you want are there, but the main advantage of paying for YouTube Music is the lack of ads and the introduction of “background play” which lets you play audio with the screen off or while using other apps.

It being built on YouTube means it has tracks that you simply won’t find elsewhere, thanks to the user-generated nature of the platform: think live recordings, covers, rarities and obscure tracks from labels that no longer exist. The flip side of this, of course, is there’s plenty of low-quality content to sift through as you search for gems.

Like Spotify and Apple Music, it has both student (£5.49) and family (£16.99) options to save money. But if you watch a lot of regular YouTube, you’d be wise to subscribe to YouTube Premium for an additional £2 per month instead. It bundles YouTube Music, while killing ads on regular YouTube, too.

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon Music Unlimited (Amazon Music Unllimited)
Amazon Music Unlimited (Amazon Music Unllimited)

Price: From £9.99 per month (single Echo, student and family plans also available.)

Secret Weapon: Bargain-basement pricing.

Holding it back: A weak user interface.

Without a doubt, Amazon Music Unlimited’s biggest advantage is its pricing, which is just £9.99 per month for Prime Subscribers. Said Prime subscribers already have access to around two million ad-free tracks, but Music Unlimited bumps this up to 100 million, as well as adding better quality sound and Spatial Audio. That’s right: Amazon doesn’t make you pay extra for higher quality.

Like its rivals, it has both student and family options for up to six people, and it also lets you pay for a single Echo smart speaker for £5.99 per month.

Its weakness comes in actually accessing the music you’ve not paid very much for. Neither the web interface or apps are particularly intuitive and offer a more barebones experience than their rivals. But for frugal types who don’t mind a little fiddly exploration, it remains a solid option.


Tidal (Tidal)
Tidal (Tidal)

Price: From £10.99 per month (student and family plans also available.)

Secret Weapon: Superior sound quality.

Holding it back: No free tier.

Tidal’s USP has always been sound quality. It offered lossless audio long before it was a buzzword elsewhere, and has also committed to high-resolution audio throughout, via an audio format called MQA used on plenty of its 70 million tracks.

Earlier this year, Tidal consolidated its subscription options and stopped charging extra for higher-quality streams. So, for £10.99 a month, you can currently get all the perks that previously cost £19.99 a month.

That’s good, but there are still a few drawbacks: To fully benefit from upgraded audio, you’ll need a dongle for your phone or laptop. With the changes to its subscription, Tidal has scrapped its free tier, which is bad news for those who want to try before they buy, and now charges £9 a month for DJ integrations.

Tidal also commits to paying up to 10 per cent of your subscription fees directly to the artists you listen to the most – which is a welcome perk given how little musicians have benefitted from the move away from records and CDs.


Deezer (Deezer)
Deezer (Deezer)

Price: From £11.99 per month (student and family plans also available.)

Secret Weapon: Live radio included.

Holding it back: Its comparatively small userbase likely makes social features redundant.

Deezer is undoubtedly the underdog in the current world of streaming, despite being one of the oldest platforms around (it opened in 2006 – the same year as Spotify).

In truth, it doesn’t really deserve that status, with its access to 90 million tracks and solid user experience throughout. Unlike its rivals (Apple Music aside), it also has access to live radio stations, meaning you can tune in to LBC, Heart, TalkSport, Virgin Radio or others all within the app (though BBC stations were all removed earlier this year.)

Pricing is fair with £5.99 student options and £19.99 six-person family accounts available, but the biggest thing holding Deezer back is its relatively small size. The odds are that your friends aren’t using it, meaning the social functions are limited. If that’s not an issue for you, then there’s no harm giving it a spin.