Which music streaming service should you choose?

The question of which music streaming service to fund with your £10-£20 each month should have been long settled, right? Well. Here’s Apple Music, in particular, proving that’s very much not the case with its bundles and Beats Radio. Then again, Spotify is – finally – adding lossless streams this year to close the gap with Tidal. Meanwhile, Amazon has an option for everyone from free Prime Music to a genuine high-res Music HD service.
Simply offering millions of tracks doesn’t cut it anymore with new discovery features, podcasts and, especially, audio quality coming into focus.


If you’re not already a signed up member of a music streaming service, or you’re thinking about switching, the choice for music has never been bigger, nor more competitive. And if you are, there are plenty of other options out there vying for your money, so it’s always worth looking around. While some of the big names still take up an understandable section of the market, there are plenty of others out there offering better deals on price, a more focused genre selection and more recently – much-improved sound quality.
What’s the best music streaming service in 2021?
For best-in-class music discovery features, an outstanding catalogue, exclusive content that you’ll really want to hear and a great user interface, Spotify (free/from £10 per month) ticks all the boxes for what many people look for in a music service, and the fact there’s a lossless streaming option on its way satisfies the audiophile in us. As an all-rounder it’s still the best music streaming service.
Sign up to Spotify for free/from £10 per month
For the very best in audio quality, though, it has to be Tidal (£10/£20 per month). Its high-res and CD-quality streaming sounds fantastic but its ease of use, added video content and decent discovery options all add up to a great experience that will be worth the extra cost to audiophiles. It’s the best music streaming service for sound quality right now.


Sign up to Tidal from £10 per month
If you’re an Apple owner or Amazon Prime subscriber, their respective music streaming services will definitely be worth a look. Apple Music’s experience is built for Apple users to get the very best out of it, while Amazon Prime subscribers can get great value by opting for Amazon Music HD.
Sign up to Apple Music from £10 per month
Sign up to Amazon Music HD from £13 per month


WIRED Recommends: Spotify is still the best all-rounder

As one of the longest-standing streaming services on the market, it comes as little surprise that Spotify has really nailed a lot of what makes a music streaming service great. That shows in its subscriber numbers, which still lead the market with a whopping 155 million subscribers (as of December 2020) – double that of its nearest rival, Apple Music.
With over 70 million songs to stream, its music catalogue is undeniably vast, but that’s not actually something that sets it apart from the competition these days. Instead its things like its brilliant, sometimes spookily accurate recommendation engine, its extensive device compatibility, from smart speakers to TVs and its growing podcast offering, including big-name exclusives from The Joe Rogan Experience and Harry and Meghan’s Archewell Audio. That podcast push might feel a little heavy handed for those who don’t listen to podcasts, or prefer to listen to them elsewhere. They’re very much a core feature of Spotify in 2021.
This is all wrapped up in a UI that’s really easy to use and a number of different subscription options, including an entirely free, ad-supported option and a Family plan. The latter includes access to Spotify Kids, an age-appropriate version of the service aimed at younger listeners with stringent parental controls.
The only thing it drops the ball on at the moment is sound quality, offering just 320kbps for its premium users and 160kbps to free members. However, Spotify HiFi has been announced as coming “later this year”, and will offer lossless CD-quality streams. Not quite the high-res quality of some of its competition, but a good step in the right direction.
Pros: Great, exclusive content; a range of subscription options; ease of useCons: No lossless… yet; podcast push is a little heavy handed
Price: Free (ad-supported) | Premium (320kbps): £10 | Duo (two people): £13 | Family plan (6 people): £15 | Student: £5
Sign up to Spotify for free/from £10 per month
The best streaming service for sound quality

When Tidal first launched, it put an emphasis on music quality from the start, pushing a CD-quality tier when some were barely managing 320kbps. It has continued to make audio quality a priority ever since, and has taken it a step further by offering high-resolution quality (mostly 24-bit/96kHz) for a section of its catalogue called ‘Tidal Masters’, all included as part of its £20 HiFi tier (there’s also a standard 320kbps Premium tier for £10/month).
This has definitely earned it some kudos within the audiophile community, and Tidal Connect – a feature that allows you to stream to compatible devices over Wi-Fi without leaving the app – is built into hi-fi kit from the likes of KEF, Bluesound, Cambridge Audio and Dali.
Ease of use is top notch across both desktop and smartphone, the catalogue is extensive at 60m+ and while its recommendations aren’t as good as Spotify, it does still throw up some good suggestions based on your previous usage, as well as surfacing trending and popular content too. There’s even a growing amount of video content, from standard music videos to exclusive Tidal Originals content, which includes interviews and live music sessions. Expect changes with Jack Dorsey and Square’s recent acquisition of the service – NFTs anyone?
If you care about sound quality and have the kit that can make the most of it, there’s no doubt this is the best sounding music streaming service out there.
Pros: Best sound on a streaming service; well designed; good discovery; lots of video and original contentCons: Expensive for the HiFi tier
Price: £10 (320kbps) | £20 (high-res) | Family plans (up to 6 people) available for £15/£30
Sign up to Tidal from £10 per month
Apple Music
The best option for Apple users

It’s not particularly surprising that Apple’s music streaming service is aimed squarely at Apple users, and as such, if you’re an iPhone, HomePod or Apple Watch user, Apple Music makes a lot of sense.
Apple Music works seamlessly with Siri, allows you to listen to music on your Watch when out for a run and its subscription fee (£10/month on its own) can be rolled into a money-saving package that includes an Apple TV+ subscription and iCloud storage.
Usability is as slick as you might expect from Apple, with a clean, simple layout that’s easy to navigate and search functionality that allows you to search via lyrics if you need to.
The catalogue is sound at 70m+ (including a strong podcast selection) and recommendations are good too, but it’s in the curated playlists where Apple Music really shines. They’re put together by humans not algorithms and the selections are all the better for it.
It doesn’t have some of the more extensive features of Spotify, like collaborative playlists, plus sound quality is a little worse on paper at 256kbps. However, the difference is negligible and Apple users will find plenty to love in how it works within the Apple ecosystem to easily tip the scales in its direction.
Pros: Excellent playlist curation; 24/7 live radio channel; podcasts/Beats radio; works well with other Apple kitCons: No lossless playback option; mostly appealing for Apple users
Price: £10 (256kbps) | Family (up to 6 people): £15 | Student: £5
Sign up to Apple Music from £10 per month
Amazon Music HD
Best for value

Amazon has offered some form of music streaming service for a few years now, but for a long while it wasn’t really something that could compete. However, over the past year or so, it has dialled up the features and functionality to make it one to consider.
Amazon Music HD sits at the top of Amazon’s offering, with 60 million songs in CD quality and over two million in high-res, ranging between 24-bit/44.1Khz and 24-bit/192kHhz. Below it is the lossy Amazon Music Unlimited (£10 per month) and below that, the limited catalogue of Amazon Music Prime, which is included as part of a Prime membership.
If you’re a Prime member and looking for a music streaming service, Amazon’s services are worth considering, not least because they offer incredible value compared to the competition.
Prime members save £2 a month off the standard monthly cost, which for Amazon Music HD makes it £13 a month. And even at the £15 full cost, you’re saving £5 a month compared to Tidal.
There are some limitations. It has no podcasts or video content, and discovery and recommendation features are underdeveloped compared to the competition. There’s very little by way of exclusive content either, though it does offer up a growing catalogue of songs mastered in Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio codec.
Pros: CD-quality streaming; particularly good value for Prime membersCons: No added value content outside of music; discovery features lacking
Price: £15 – for non-Prime members (up to 24-bit/192kHz) | Prime members: £13 | Family (up to 6 people): £20
Sign up to Amazon Music HD from £13 per month
A smart UI and strong features – don’t count it out

As Spotify’s longest-standing rival, Deezer offers a whole lot to love, with good features, a smart UI and a competitive pricing structure that places it somewhere between Spotify and Tidal, and puts it head-to-head with Amazon Music HD.
For £15, it serves up CD-quality streaming on its 73 million-strong catalogue (there’s also 320kbps Deezer Premium for £10/month, and a limited ad-supported free option), but with much more added value than Amazon manages, including a whole host of podcasts and exclusive original content. Like Amazon, it also supports Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio codec, though the separate app you need to download to enjoy it is a bit of a faff.
It isn’t messing around when it comes to device support though, working with Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast, the big-name smart speakers, wearables from Apple, Garmin and Fitbit, the Xbox One, most major TV brands and a load of hi-fi kit, including speakers from Sonos and Bose. You can even find it on in-car systems, including Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and those that come pre-installed from manufacturers like BMW and Mini.
Discovery and recommendations could be a little smarter to offer more genuinely new music you might not have heard before, but there are no complaints about the breadth of suitable content it can pull up for you. You’ll never find yourself short of the music you love on Deezer. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
Pros: Easy to use; well-priced; good supportCons: Music discovery features could be better
Price (320kbps): £10 | Family: £15 | HiFi (CD quality): £15
Sign up to Deezer from £10 per month
Best for classical music fans

If you’re a classical music fan, or want to discover more about it, specialist streaming service Primephonic is where you should be spending your money. Founded in 2017, the service now boasts over three and a half million tracks, and is considered the world’s largest specialist library of classical music.
The service has recently had a bit of a facelift too, with an improved design and new smart search that makes finding the exact piece of music you’re looking for easier. It uses eight parameters to organise its catalogue (compared with three parameters used on more generalised streaming services), all tagged up by hand by Primephonic’s classical know-it-alls.
They’re in charge of its range of playlists too, and it shows. They have some excellent selections for fans and newbies alike, which really help you to dig deeper into the genre.
At £10/month for its 320kbps MP3 offering or £15/month for the 24-bit FLAC lossless option, the service costs the same as some of the competition while offering a much narrower selection. However, classical music fans will find their favourite music easier to discover and better handled here, which may make the outlay worth it.


Pros: The best music streaming service you can get for classical musicCons: No tailored recommendations
Price (320kbps): £10 | 24-bit/196kHz: £15 | Savings for annual subscriptions
Sign up to Primephonic from £10 per month

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