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Spotify Premium vs. Apple Music: What’s the best value?

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It’s never been easier to listen to any music you could possibly fathom, no matter where in the world you are, but that doesn’t mean the choice of how to do that is easy.

While alternatives like Pandora, Title and Amazon Music exist and have their audiences, it certainly seems like the big battle right now is between Spotify and Apple Music. Spotify has offered a premium subscription for longer, but Apple has picked up considerable steam in recent years.

Which one should you actually use, though?

That’s sort of a tough question to answer. Both services cost $10 per month, so it’s not a simple math problem. The biggest differences between the two streaming juggernauts exist in the margins, so that’s where we’ll look as we try to determine who has the better value between Apple Music and Spotify.

What exactly do I get for $10?

The content offerings for the two paid services are remarkably similar. For $10 per month, you get access to tens of millions of on-demand tracks from artists both major and obscure. You’ll never hear an ad if you pay for Spotify Premium or Apple Music, either.

On top of that, you can make and share playlists, check out playlists other people have made, and browse official playlists curated by Apple and Spotify. Both services have radio features as well as algorithmic music recommendation, which we’ll get into later.

On the surface, using both Spotify Premium and Apple Music is a remarkably similar experience. You’ll be fed a bunch of hand-crafted and mathematically generated playlists up front before you most likely just go back to listening to the playlists you made again and again. As such, it’s hard to crown a champion based on a bullet-point features list.

Discovery isn’t just a Daft Punk album

The two moods.

The two moods.

One of the things that makes streaming services novel is the ease and quickness with which one can discover new music on them. Both Apple Music and Spotify Premium can help you out here, but I think one service is a bit better than the other.

Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlist is one of the service’s flagship features. Every week, Spotify will  build a playlist of music you may not have heard but you might like, based on what you’ve been listening to. There’s also “Release Radar,” another regularly updated playlist that feeds you new music from artists you like.

Aside from that, the app will generate several “Daily Mix” playlists made up of things you’ve listened to before. Apple Music also brings weekly new music and old favorites playlists, but it feels barebones by comparison. It’s totally fine, but just not as good as what Spotify does.

Both services let you browse by genre and mood, with themed playlists centered around holidays and whatnot popping up in both apps from time to time. This really does feel like splitting hairs, but I think Discover Weekly gives Spotify an edge over Apple in this regard.

What can I actually listen to?

The Fortnite rap industry is thriving on both services.

The Fortnite rap industry is thriving on both services.

Apple Music’s iCloud integration is one department in which Spotify lags behind. Turn on the iCloud Music Library feature and you can sync any music you’ve put in iTunes on Mac or PC to all your Apple Music-enabled devices at once. 

In other words, you can use Apple Music to listen to things that aren’t actually available on it or any other streaming service. That’s pretty awesome, and Spotify doesn’t really have anything comparable.

In terms of native music selection, there doesn’t seem to be a massive difference between the two. Chances are anything even semi-recognizable is going to be available either way, but if not, Apple Music can help fix that via iCloud. 

Anecdotally speaking, Spotify seems to have somewhat looser restrictions on what people can put there. That means there seem to be more parody rap songs about Fortnite and other nonsense on Spotify, but Apple Music certainly isn’t lacking in things like that, either. Still, Spotify gets some points for having more of a Wild West feel in terms of content.

Also, one minor point in Spotify’s favor is the community playlist feature. It’s fun to share a playlist with several people and build one monstrous collection of music without a singular creative vision.

Apple wins the cloud game, but what about device support?

Apple Music plays nice with HomePod, naturally.

Apple Music plays nice with HomePod, naturally.

Image: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

In terms of pure volume, Spotify wins the device support competition pretty handily. Spotify has apps basically anywhere you can get apps, from Android and iOS to smart speakers, smart TVs and even the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It’s hard to beat ubiquity.

Apple Music is no slouch in that regard, either, as it’s available on Android and Windows PCs as well as Apple devices. Since Apple’s hardware and software ecosystem is one big, happy family, Apple Music will work well for people who own and religiously use multiple Apple devices. 

If you have an iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and HomePod, you might as well keep it in the family and use Apple Music with them.

What about the actual audio quality?

If you’re not an audiophile, this one is easy to answer: It doesn’t really matter.

Apple Music and Spotify stream using different audio formats, and Spotify has nice quality controls within the app. That said, the difference is going to be negligible to most people. CNET performed a nifty test comparing the two and found that it shouldn’t be a deciding factor between the two services.

If you are an audiophile, just subscribe to Tidal, I guess.

So who is the winner?

Spotify might be the best pure streaming service.

Spotify might be the best pure streaming service.

Image: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I don’t think there’s a clear victor in the value competition between Spotify Premium and Apple Music. All things being equal, I’d go with Spotify; I’ve already got years of playlists built up, the recommendation engine is better, and community playlists are a lot of fun.

That said, there’s a clear case for Apple Music. If you’re the kind of person who has spent the past decade or more building up a massive music library on iTunes, there’s a ton of value in the iCloud syncing feature. You could have all of your favorite music as well as anything you don’t own that’s on the streaming service, all on one device.

From an ethical perspective, it doesn’t seem like either of them is particularly great for artists. Pretty much every major streaming service has come under fire for severely underpaying artists. If that matters at all to you, it might be best to just buy your music.

But if streaming is the way to go, Spotify is probably the better option for someone who is starting from scratch.

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