This year, streaming music services continue to evolve as competition heats up. For instance, Pandora is now rolling out its first ever on-demand streaming tier, Pandora Premium, for $10 per month. This new top-tier service is being offered to current Pandora Plus subscribers, who already pay $5 monthly, for a half-year at no additional charge.
And Pandora isn’t the only service that’s been re-working its service. Earlier this year, Tidal added the ability to play its version of Hi-Res audio files, which it calls Master Quality Authenticated, or MQA files, to its top-tier customers, who pay $20 per month.
If you’re thinking about giving music streaming a try—or perhaps just contemplating a shift from one service to another—here’s what you need to know about six popular options.
There are many differences between the free and paid streaming music tiers in most services. Free accounts typically limit your ability to skip songs to just six per hour, and they feed you ads in either audio or video form. The free tiers are for more casual listeners or people who don’t find it worth spending a dime on music. Premium accounts, however, offer unlimited song skips, on-demand playback, and other goodies. The for-pay levels of service are aimed at customers who really want to explore the depths of what a streaming music service offers.
In addition, each of the reviewed services offers mobile apps, so you needn’t be tied to your PC to enjoy tunes. A valuable feature that you’ll find in these services’ mobile apps is the ability to cache music for offline playback, a feature generally reserved for premium subscribers. This is a technological godsend for folks who are frequently in locations that have spotty signal coverage.
You’ll find even greater streaming music diversity should you dig deeper into the space. Slacker Radio, for example, differentiates itself with live ESPN Radio, so you can stay on top of sports happenings throughout the day. The service also has Stories, a hosted program that features interesting tales, ranging from love to horror. IHeartRadio specializes in local, over-the-air radio stations, as well as the playlists and recommendations associated with online music services. Tidal sells concert and sports tickets, and has an expert editorial staff that produces feature-length articles. Amazon Music Unlimited lets you upload your own audio files and stream them along wiht the songs in the company’s catalog. Most services have a robust selection of comedy albums.
There’s a lot of content to explore beyond simple music. These platforms are quickly transforming from streaming music services into overall streaming audio services.
Featured Online Music Streaming Service Reviews:
SiriusXM Internet Radio Review
$10.99 at SiriusXM
Bottom Line: SiriusXM Internet Radio’s crisp audio, numerous live stations, and talk radio is a must-have for radio-streaming fans, despite a few niggles.
Bottom Line: Slacker Radio’s deep music library, informative DJs and DNA stations, along with quality non-music content make the streaming audio service the big dog in a very crowded and competitive pack…
Amazon Music Unlimited
$9.99 at Amazon
Amazon’s fully realized streaming music service provides an intriguing alternative to the many competing products on the market-especially for Echo device owners.
The feature-packed Spotify, available in both free and premium versions, is a top-notch streaming music service, despite a few quirks.
Bottom Line: The continually evolving Tidal is an excellent streaming music service, especially for listeners who want high-quality audio and first dibs on tickets to hot concerts and sporting events.
Apple Music (for iPhone)
$9.99 at Apple
Bottom Line: Apple Music boasts exclusive albums and Siri and Apple Watch compatibility, but this well-rounded streaming music service falls short of toppling Slacker Radio and Spotify.
Google Play Music
Bottom Line: Google Play Music, with its music locker and YouTube and YouTube Red integration, offers more unique features than your typical streaming music service
Microsoft Groove Music
Bottom Line: Groove Music brings more than 40 million songs to your browser, but a few missing features keep it from competing with the streaming music service top dogs.
Bottom Line: iHeartRadio attempts to merge live radio and a curated catalog, but the streaming music service lacks many of the features found in its rivals and its interface is clunky in places.
Pandora Internet Radio
Bottom Line: The once-pioneering streaming music platform finally offers unlimited skips, replays, and ad-free listening, but it still has a long way to go to catch up to the leaders in the category.