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The best music streaming services 2021: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more

The spotify app on three smartphone screens
(Image credit: Spotify)

Finding the best music streaming service used to be easier. There were only a few choices and most people went for Spotify – and this is one reason why it has more than 365 million users today.

Fast forward to 2021 and you don’t have to choose Spotify if you don’t want to. Sure, there still aren’t that many options, but there are a few top music streaming services that offer everything you need, including a huge library of tracks, a great experience across all your devices, playlist creation tools, and personalized recommendations.

That’s why we’ve created this guide, to show you the different music streaming services you can sign-up to right now, what we like and dislike about them, and our experience of testing them. This should help you to find out what the best music streaming services have to offer and which is right for you. 

The apple music app on a phone held up to the apple homepod mini

(Image credit: Apple)

Advice

How to choose the best music streaming service for you

Here's the thing, if you don't have any specific requirements for a new music streaming service and just want to be able to easily play music on all your devices, make playlists and see recommendations, you can't go wrong with any of the options on this list. 

They all, largely, offer the same kind of service with a huge choice of music and cool discovery features. But if you're looking for something specific in terms of experience, audio performance or interface, that's when you can be more picky. 

For example, although all the music streaming services we've included below have a similar interface, they're not the same. If the service you have in mind has a free trial, it is really worth signing up to see if you like how it works and looks. Most people will get the hang of any new app after a week or two, but we found Spotify and Tidal to be the slickest and most intuitive. 

What's more, you'll need to check your favorite artists are available on the music streaming platform you're considering signing up for. These days you'll find most artists on most platforms, but there are still a few that crop up on some and not others. 

Another point is audio quality. Over the past year, many of the best music streaming services in this list have ramped up the quality of the tracks they offer, with Apple Music and Amazon Music HD both bringing hi-res audio to their platforms. Even Spotify has announced a high-quality offering called Spotify HiFi, but it isn't available yet.

Even then, there are still differences in terms of how much you pay for CD-quality audio and how many tracks you can listen to that would be audiophile-approved. You'll also want to make sure you have a pair of the best headphones or best stereo speakers to make the most of the upgraded sound.

With that in mind, take a look at our selection of the best music streaming services and bear in mind your top priorities. 

Our top picks

The best music streaming services of 2021

The spotify app on a phone, tablet and computer

(Image credit: Spotify)

The world’s best streaming service keeps getting better

Reasons to buy
+Fantastic personalized playlists+Huge library of music and podcasts+Easy-to-use interface
Reasons to avoid
-No high-res audio-Web player feels basic-Not the best for compensating artists

Our favorite music streaming service is Spotify. First launched in 2008, it has a library of more than 70 million tracks and 2.2 million podcasts. It’s no surprise, then, that it also has 365 million users globally, and counting. 

However, Spotify is more than just a sizable catalogue of tracks and podcasts. It has an intuitive interface, a fantastic recommendation engine powering its customized playlists, new features added all the time, social tools that make sharing easy, plus you can use it almost anywhere through almost any device.

Although Spotify’s core features – a great catalogue, intuitive experience, affordable price plan – make it a fantastic service, the platform stands out for its constant innovation by way of new features, redesigns, customized playlists and even new offerings such as Spotify Lite and Spotify HiFi. These improvements are rolled out regularly and ensure it’s truly offering the best experience for everyone. 

The one biggest drawback is that, at the time of writing, it lacks the high-quality audio experience on offer from some of its competitors – like Tidal and Amazon Music HD. But Spotify promises that its lossless, CD-quality offering, Spotify HiFi, will be here before the end of 2021.

But Spotify’s excellent catalogue, move into podcasts, major exclusives, constant improvements to all aspects of the platform and customized playlists that continue to delight users (and prove the Spotify algorithm knows their tastes better than they do), we think it’s one of the very best options for a music streaming service today.

Read more: Spotify review


The tidal app on a smartphone

(Image credit: Tidal)

Exceptional sound quality for audiophiles

Reasons to buy
+Exceptional sound+Music videos+Great interface
Reasons to avoid
-HiFi is expensive-Playlists not quite as polished as Spotify-No podcasts

Tidal first launched in 2014, but most of us first heard about it a year later when it was relaunched by Jay-Z at a celeb-studded event in March 2015. Looks-wise, it’s very similar to Spotify. But there are two key things that make it stand out. 

The first is it’s billed as being artist-owned. This means it gets a better deal (although not necessarily a great deal) for musicians, paying them higher than many services per stream. 

The second is listeners get a better deal too, thanks to superb CD-quality sound, especially if you’re willing to pay extra for Tidal’s highest-tier premium subscription, HiFi. That means if you take your listening more seriously, this could be a match made in heaven. 

You might notice a slight difference between Spotify Premium and Tidal Premium, but they do offer the same bitrate. Instead, it’s the $19.99/£19.99 Tidal HiFi streaming that makes the most sense and is the most significant jump in quality.

This will be a high price for some to pay, for others it’s a no-brainer. Especially if you’ve already invested in the audio hardware – like a pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones. Tidal is one of the few streaming services out there with lossless and high-res audio files that’ll do your love of music and top-notch audio set-up justice. 

This could all change when Spotify HiFi launches – this is rumored to be later on in 2021. But, until then, Tidal is the best option for those who are serious about sound. 

If you’re interested, start with the 30-day free trial. You might not notice a difference between Tidal and your music streaming service of choice, but you might notice the difference immediately and realize what you’ve been missing out on.

Read more: Tidal review


The Apple music app showing the new apple music radio

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple design and smarts make this a true Spotify competitor

Reasons to buy
+Massive music library+Can integrate personal music+Lossless and Spatial Audio +Good music discovery
Reasons to avoid
-Spotify wins recommendations-Podcasts in a separate app-Mobile app a bit clunky

Apple Music is the tech giant's streaming service. It offers more than 75 million songs in its massive library, as well as music videos and exclusives – to be honest, there isn’t much you won’t find here. Apple Music is geared towards helping you to discover new tracks and artists, whether that’s through recommendations, curated playlists or its 24/7 digital radio stations.

You can also add all the music you currently own in iTunes to the service, so everything is in one place. While you don’t need a house-full of Apple products to use Apple Music, as you might expect, all of your Apple devices – as well as Apple’s smart assistant, Siri – work seamlessly with the company’s streaming service.

Apps are slick and easy to use. There isn’t much clutter, although some of the icons on the mobile app feel a little too big for the screen – you’ll get a more superior experience on a desktop or tablet – but this isn’t a dealbreaker; we’re just being picky.

Up until recently, we’d have said there we little to set Apple Music apart from Spotify. But since June 2021, Apple Music’s offering includes Lossless and Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos. This gives users the ability to listen to more than 75 million tracks in Lossless Audio at no extra cost.

Read more: Apple Music review 

Update: Apple kicked off its Apple Unleashed Event coverage by letting the world know that a new Apple Music plan was coming – the Apple Music Voice Plan.

Half the price of the standard Apple Music plan, it’s designed for those that like to use Siri to command their Apple devices (although how many people that really is remains to be seen).


Screens of the amazon music hd app

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Great value music streaming with high-quality audio

Reasons to buy
+Huge selection of music+Great for people with Prime+Hi-res audio+Simple and easy-to-use
Reasons to avoid
-Not as good-looking as the competition-Music discovery is good, not great-No video content-No free ad tier

Over the years, Amazon has launched several different streaming services. The best, which competes with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, is Amazon Music HD. 

This is a high-quality music service to rival audiophile-grade services, like Tidal, at a great value price. It brings users lossless FLAC audio at 24-bit/192kHz, while many other services only offer 320kbps.

Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers can upgrade to the high-quality streaming audio – which used to be reserved for Amazon Music HD subscribers – for free. This means it’s on par with Apple Music for offering a free audio quality upgrade – other services require you to pay extra, like Tidal and, soon, Spotify. 

If you have Amazon Prime, you get a discount on this streaming service (it’s $7.99 / £7.99 / AU$6.99 per month rather than $9.99 / £9.99 / AU$11.99 per month). And, as you expect, all of the controls of Amazon Music HD have good Alexa integration. That means if you already use Amazon and its products regularly, this might be the best music streaming service for you. Even if you don’t, this is a good value option with hi-res audio and a solid library of tunes.

Read more: Amazon Music HD


Screenshots of the Deezer app

(Image credit: Deezer)

Good value for money if you’re looking for higher-quality streams

Reasons to buy
+CD-quality streams+Good value for money+Support for Sony 360 Reality Audio
Reasons to avoid
-Sparse interface-No hi-res audio-Social aspects could be improved

Deezer has a catalogue of more than 73 million songs and its well-priced subscription plans mean that there’s a streaming tier for everyone. They all come with a free three-month trial period, giving you the opportunity to really dig into the platform before you commit. 

The user interface doesn’t feel quite as intuitive as Spotify or Apple Music, with a rather sterile aesthetic. That being said, Deezer is easy to use and navigate, whether you’re engaging via the desktop browser, desktop app, or mobile phone app. 

Like other streaming services, Deezer’s music curation consists of a mixture of curated and personalized playlists. In addition, your listening habits will inform algorithmically generated playlists tailored to your tastes. The latter, while perhaps not as well curated as Spotify and Tidal’s offerings, are pretty good, and the platform’s innovative Flow technology means you can listen to an infinite stream of personalized tracks with just one tap/click. 

The audio quality on offer depends on the subscription tier you sign up to: Deezer’s Free subscription plan offers MP3 files at 128kbps, while its Premium tier tops out at 320kbps, matching Spotify’s own Premium tier.

What interests us most, however, is the Deezer HiFi tier. Costing $14.99 / £14.99 / AU$14.99 per month, it allows you to stream songs in CD quality, with 16-bit / 44.1kHz FLAC files at 1,411kbps, which is the same as Tidal’s more expensive HiFi tier. Note, though, that there’s no access to true hi-res audio files with Deezer. 

However, Deezer’s HiFi tier does come with access to Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, via a dedicated app. These tracks have been given the spatial audio treatment, sounding as though every instrument is coming at you from a different angle within a virtual sphere of sound. Tidal offers this, too – but again, it’s more expensive.

Read more: Deezer review

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Becca Caddy

Becca has been writing about consumer tech and popular science for over ten years. She’s covered all kinds of topics, including why robots have eyes and whether we’ll all experience the overview effect one day, but she’s particularly interested in VR/AR, wearables, digital health, space tech and chatting to experts and academics about the future. She's contributed to TechRadar, T3, Wired, New Scientist, The Guardian, Inverse and many more. Her first book, Screen Time, came out in January 2021 with Bonnier Books. She loves science-fiction, brutalist architecture and spending way too much time floating through space in virtual reality.