Spotify vs Apple Music: which is the best streaming deal for students?

iPhones with Apple Music and Spotify screens and Airpods on orange background
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

With August just around the corner, new and continuing college students might be thinking about how to take advantage of student discounts for music streaming services. The two big players here are Spotify and Apple Music, and while the student tiers for both are close in price, there are other things to take into consideration before just blindly jumping on the lower-cost option.

The first thing we’d recommend is to check out our guide to the best music streaming services to get a handle on what each service offers, along with their plus and minus points. Both services also currently add extra subscriptions and other stuff to sweeten the deal for students who newly sign-on, and we’ll cover those points in detail below.

Spotify Premium Student 

Many students were probably already using Spotify for the simple reason that it's free – with ads, of course. But stepping up to the service’s paid student tier is something to consider, mainly to get rid of those ads, but also to get the streaming extras Spotify throws in as part of the deal.

For $4.99 per month, Spotify Premium Student will give you access to the service’s massive music catalogue, personalized playlists, and extensive podcast selection, all of it ad-free. And you’ll also get a free subscription to both Showtime and Hulu’s ad-supported tier. Showtime is normally $10.99 per month and ad-supported Hulu $6.99 per month, so those are great bonuses.

What are the downsides to Spotify? There are numerous issues, but the main one involves sound quality: while other services like Apple Music offer lossless CD-quality and high-resolution audio streams, Spotify continues to use lossy compression for streaming. This despite having announced it would be transitioning to lossless, CD-quality as far back as February 2021.

Another thing Spotify lacks that Apple Music and other services add for free is Spatial Audio. This feature can enhance headphones-listening by providing an expanded sense of immersion in the music, and it works not just with Apple’s AirPods family but with regular headphones and earbuds as well.

Apple Music Student 

The Apple Music Student plan doesn’t enter this comparison on the strongest footing since the company recently hiked its rate from $4.99 to $5.99 per month in the US, Canada, and the UK. Even so, there are other factors to consider that tip the scales in Apple Music’s favor.

As mentioned above, Apple Music offers lossless CD-quality and high-resolution audio, along with Spatial Audio tracks in its extensive library. This gives it a strong sound quality advantage over Spotify with its compressed music offerings.

New subscribers to the Apple Music Student plan also get an Apple TV+ subscription thrown in for free. I wouldn’t have called that much of a bonus when Apple TV+ first started out, but the service has recently added numerous excellent shows to its roster, including Severance, Pachinko, and Slow Horses, and there are plenty of great documentaries to dig into as well.

For a limited time, Apple Music is also offering new student subscribers in the US and the UK a set of Beats Flex wireless earphones, a $70 value. Apple Music plus TV plus Beats ‘phones for $5.99 per month – kinda sounds like a slam dunk, right?

Other student music streaming plans 

Spotify and Apple Music aren’t the only players in this student streaming game. Amazon Music Unlimited has a student plan with the same $4.99 per month cost as Spotify, one that offers full access to its extensive library of lossless and high-resolution audio tracks along with Spatial Audio.

This particular deal only gets better if you’re an Amazon Prime Student member, with the price dropping to just $1 per month. Amazon Prime Student is free for the first 6 months and $7.49 per month after. But it gives you unlimited access to Amazon Prime Video, as well as the free 2-day shipping of stuff that most people sign up with Amazon Prime for in the first place.

Any other student streaming deals out there? Tidal Hi-Fi is just $4.99 per month for students. And while Tidal isn’t tossing anything extra in, this audiophile-approved service offers up both lossless and high-resolution tracks along with music mixed in Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.

What's the deal?

Which service offers the best value? With their combination of pricing and extras, both Spotify and Apple music are great options, though Apple Music’s sound quality advantage is well worth the extra $1 per month, and that deal looks even better if you want a pair of free Beats. Amazon’s student plan also looks good, but makes the most sense if you go all-in as an Amazon Prime Student member.

No matter which plan you run with, going back to school with an ad-free music streaming plan is to return in style.

Al Griffin
Senior Editor Home Entertainment, US

Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine. 

When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.