It’s almost a wonder that anyone would still be buying CDs. Digital music streaming services are here to stay, and each offers its users millions of songs to listen to at a minimal price (or ad-supported free option).
There’s a glut of different services available now, and not all are created equal. So we’ve pulled together the five top services, in terms of both range of music and functionality. Whether you’re only casually into music, or a serious audiophile, these are the five services you should consider first when shopping for a digital radio channel.
Price: Free with ads, $6.99/ month for ad-free listening, or $11.99/ month for mobile access as well
Probably the most popular of the music services, Spotify works best when you’ve got a Facebook account and a lot of friends who are also Spotify users. Why? Because by connecting up your Facebook account the app lets you keep up to date with what your friends are listening to, and the ability to link in to other popular music services, like Last.fm, means that with Spotify you’ll be able to find new music based on your tastes quite easily.
There’s around 20 million tracks on the service, which is better than most other options. But now for the downside: the free account and the $6.99/ month payment tier are purely for desktop listening. If you want to listen to music on the go on your mobile devices you’ll need to shell out for the premium, $11.99/ month account.
Price: Free with ads, US$36/ year for ad-free service
Pandora is a little unique. Where other digital radio stations ask you to build your own playlists (or listen to pre-built ones), with Pandora you’ll enter the name of an artist that you really like, and it will generate a genuine radio show of similar music to that artist.
There’s a limited ability to skip or block artists that the engine throws up that you really don’t like, but in our experience Pandora’s ability to help you discover new artists by understanding your taste in music makes it worthwhile for people that do like to go out and find new music.
On the downside there’s simply not as much you can do with this service as some of the others. Spotify and Music Unlimited, especially, offer far more raw value for your investment.
Price: Free with ads, $34.99 for ad-free service
Apple’s own music streaming service is good value for people with Apple products. Similar in some ways to Pandora, this service will generate playlists based on your tastes. The differences are in the details. With iTunes Radio if you come across a song you like the option to buy it is sitting there on the screen (if you’re a compulsive music fan this could, in fact, be a big problem!). Also, if you’re one of those people who uses Siri, you can use Siri to find out more information about the song being played, hands free.
Song selections, likes and dislikes are also synced to the iCloud, making the same playlists available to your iPad, iPhone, and other Apple devices. Apple hasn’t made public how many tracks are available on the service, but given the size of the iTunes catalogue, it’s no doubt mammoth.
Price: $7.99/ month for PlayStation 3 and 4 and PC access, $12.99/ month adds PlayStation Vita, Bravia TV and mobile access
Music Unlimited deserves a mention because, if you own Sony products, this service will be integrated with it. Like Spotify you’ll be building your own playlists from over 10 million songs, and your preferences are saved to the cloud, meaning you’ll be able to play tracks through your PlayStation 4 at home, and then pick things up while out and about on the iPhone.
This really is the service for gamers. While playing games on your PlayStation 4 you’ll be able to replace the soundtrack with your Music Unlimited playlist, and that functionality is always a single button press away.
The service also completely supports download play on mobile devices – so you’ll be able to store up music to get you through those tough times when you’re in a tunnel or out of the city and the mobile signal is bad.
Price: Free with ads
TuneIn is a little different to the other services on this list as it is literally about radio stations. You’ll log in, select a radio station from tens of thousands worldwide, and then kick back and listen to its stream.
It’s possible to save favourite stations, and listen to them on the go courtesy of the mobile (and PlayStation Vita) apps. The range of stations on TuneIn extends well beyond music, too – there’s a healthy range of news services and podcasts listed for streaming as well.
This service is especially useful for discovering music from around the world… though it might be difficult to track down a copy of some world music from the likes of iTunes, so you might just need to resort to buying an archaic physical CD after all.