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Which is the best music streaming service for you?

An image of the Apple Homepod with a background that looks like the Apple Music app.

Image Credit: Apple

(Image credit: Apple)

Given that Apple pioneered the era of portable music with the iPod and iTunes, it's a surprise it was so late to the streaming game.

Apple Music only launched in 2015, but thanks to hefty negotiations with labels that benefited from the clout of the Apple name, it now has an extensive library of more than 50 million songs (and 50 million users to match) some great features, and, since it was revealed that Apple is winding down iTunes, Apple Music is also getting even more focus from the team now.

In 2014 Apple announced it would acquire streaming service Beats Music as well as Beats Electronics; in 2015 it discontinued the service as Apple Music went live, shuttering Beats Music completely by the year's end.

It's important to mention this because, at launch, Apple Music's USP was – and to a large extent still is – Beats Radio, a 24/7 internet radio service led by DJ Zane Lowe and a roster of other well-known names.

Beyond that, Apple has tried to differentiate itself with the power of exclusives, but is there enough here to make it worthy as your sole music streaming service? Read on to find out.

Price

Apple Music costs £9.99/$9.99 a month but students can join for £4.99/$4.99. For that you'll have access to everything - the library, radio stations, offline playing; the lot.

Apple also offers a Family membership that costs £14.99/$14.99 and gives unlimited streaming to up to six people.

In sum, that means it's on parity with Spotify in cost, and to be honest it's a good price for what you're getting. Unlike Spotify, however, Apple Music doesn't have a free tier – just a free trial.

Instead it offers a free three-month trial for anyone who wants to try before they buy, and we'd recommend trying it - just don't forget to cancel it before your three months is up if you don't want to start paying.

Exclusives

Whether or not you think exclusives are a good thing for the music streaming industry, Apple has negotiated some pretty big exclusive launches so far. Securing Taylor Swift caused a lot of commotion, largely because it came after Taylor snubbed Apple entirely after criticising its decision to not reimburse artists for the free three-month trial.

To its credit, Apple reversed its decision, and now Apple Music is the only place you can stream Taylor's 1989. However, others, such as Drake's Views, have only remained exclusive for a short while.

Apple Music

Image Credit: Apple

User interface and experience

We really like the layout of Apple Music - it's clean with a big focus on pictures - and in some ways it's a lot nicer than its rivals. The tabs along the bottom offer pretty straightforward navigation. For You is a selection of artists, albums and playlists tailored to your taste (more on curation later). New spotlights the latest releases and updated to Apple's playlists.

Radio gives you access to Apple's live Beats 1 radio as well as other curated stations. Connect is Apple Music's social feature for "connecting" with artists and curators; and My Music gives you access to your library.

Catalogue and curation

Curation is a massive part of Apple Music, and definitely our favorite aspect. When you first start using Music you'll be asked to select some of your favorite genres, then artists within those genres.

This will then shape the music that's suggested in the 'For You' section of the app, which be listed as playlists and albums. These playlists are quite varying, from 'Great Guitar Riffs: '90s' to 'Morning Commute: Alternative' to 'Deep Cuts' lists.

Some playlists correspond to the day, time and season ('Lazy Sunday Afternoon', 'Songs for a rainy day'), while 'Introduction to [Artist]' playlists serve as another great discovery tool.

Apple Music is always paying attention to the music you like the most, and the suggested artists and playlists work to keep up with this. We really like how it works, and despite Spotify's phenomenally acute 'Discovery Weekly' playlist, Apple Music is the top dog for curation right now.

Music quality

Apple Music streams at 256kbps in AAC, and despite some difference on paper, ends up sounding about the same as Spotify. If you're a proper audiophile then it's important to note you won't have any option for lossless playback, so look to Tidal for that one.

Where Apple Music does fall down more noticeably is in stability and playback. Buffering is slower than Spotify's when doing it over data (you have the option to reduce quality in this instance, but Spotify seems to find it easier), and tracks will skip if they only partly buffer before your connection drops out. That last point is a particular gripe for us, as often we'd prefer to at least have the option to wait.

It's also prone to occasionally crashing, or, more frustratingly, the play button just stops being responsive. However these bugs are rare, and 95% of the time it'll probably be smooth sailing.

One to go with if...

You want some truly excellent music discovery and you're already a fan of Apple products. You'll definitely want to dig into Apple Music if you're interested in the Apple HomePod too. It's the only service the great-sounding speaker fully supports.