Best music streaming services compared: Spotify vs 7 alternatives

The best music streaming services tried and tested

Best for: international users, Spotify refuseniks


Price: £5 / £10 for mobile and living room

Platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Nook, AV devices


Today's Napster only shares a name with the former bad boy of online music. The track selection is smaller than some - 15 million songs compared to the 20 million Sony and Spotify offer - but it's cheaper: the Unlimited plan is £5 per month, and £10 gets you mobile access and offline music.

Sonos and AV equipment compatibility is a big plus and sound quality is excellent, but we found the radio services a little too eclectic: starting from Daft Punk's Get Lucky treated us to endless house bangers and ancient John Peel-approved indie led to Bad Brains, some guys from Buena Vista Social Club and Sonic Youth.

Best for: high tech living rooms

MySpace Music

Price: free

Platforms: Web, iOS


MySpace was Facebook before Facebook was Facebook, but these days it's solely a music service - and when you try to access it from the iOS app, you'll discover that it's a music service that doesn't work on UK iPhones. "Music playback is unavailable in your location".

The web player requires you to disable third party cookie blocking in order to play anything, and despite the promise of a massive catalogue of 42 million songs you'll find some notable omissions: for example, we were surprised to discover that Arctic Monkeys weren't on MySpace.

It turns out that the 42 million figure isn't quite as impressive as it seems: it includes some 27 million tracks by unsigned artists.

Best for: Americans

Blinkbox Music

Price: free

Platforms: web, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, PS3, compatible Blu-Ray players and TVs


Blinkbox is the music service formerly known as WE7, and it's a free, ad-supported platform. It's a radio-only service so there's no music on demand, but you can create new stations based on your favourite artists. Stations can be saved for offline access and while the 192Kbps streams can be a bit splashy sometimes, sound quality is generally very good.

We found the radio service smarter than rival ones: when we built stations from 80s ambient pop music, most services apparently looked at the date and gave us random 80s chart pop. Blinkbox was more savvy, segueing into David Sylvian, The Blue Nile, Brian Eno and Scott Walker.

Best for: discovery


Price: £4.99 / £9.99 for mobile/offline and living room

Platforms: Web, iOS, Android, AV devices


Rdio comes from the brains behind Kazaa and Skype, and it offers the best of both worlds: on demand streaming of 20 million songs and a new feature, Stations, to deliver themed and personalised radio stations with Facebook integration.

It's far and away the prettiest of the streaming services in both web and app incarnations, but it isn't necessarily the best sounding: we found the streaming audio sounded a little more compressed than we'd like, which is usually a sign of lower bitrate encoding; comparing Haim's Forever on Rdio and Spotify, the latter sounded noticeably brighter and more spacious - although in fairness we were using high-end headphones, not standard earbuds.

Rdio doesn't publish its bitrates - it says it experiments with rates and formats "to provide the best possible listening and user experience" - so if you're an audiophile you might want to try the free trial before committing any cash.

Best for: aesthetes

Sony Music Unlimited

Price: Free (ads) / £9.99 (50% discount if paid up front)

Platforms: Mac, PC, iOS, Android, PS3, PSP, PS Vita, compatible Blu-Ray players and TVs


Sony's music offering has two personalities, one nice and one not so nice: Nice Sony streams superbly with pristine 320Kbs AACs and supports a massive range of (Sony) hardware, but Not Nice Sony drops the bitrate to a barely listenable 48Kbps for offline listening and flat out refused to work in our copies of Chrome and Safari (it's a plugin issue: it was fine in a clean copy of Firefox).

There are 20 million songs in the catalogue and when you enable the high quality streaming the sound is excellent, but the web app is pretty horrible-looking and social network integration is limited: you can Facebook Like and Tweet, but you can't see what your social media-using friends have been listening to.

Best for: PlayStation owners


There are no bad services here: Blinkbox doesn't do on-demand but its suggestions are superb, Sony's downloads might be tinny but the streams sound fantastic, and even MySpace is okay if you don't want mobile access.

But there can only be one winner, and that's Spotify by a narrow margin: while the desktop app may seem clunky to some, the combination of your library and its catalogue is a winner.