Comparing the Top Music Streaming Services

Pandora, Apple Music, and Spotify

Girls listening to music on iPhone


Many people are discovering the benefits of online music streaming subscription services. These services offer a vast catalog of music from which you can stream any song on demand when you want it. Rather than pay for each song, a user pays a monthly subscription fee.

Streaming music may be a better alternative to buying and downloading each song you want to hear. Instead of downloading and buying albums, millions of songs are available to be added to a personal online library or to playlists. Some music streaming services even allow you to sync music from your computer's music library with your online virtual library. With all of your music available in your virtual library, you can play all of the music that you like in one place, including creating playlists. 

The Top Music Streaming Services

While there is a number of music streaming services, Pandora, Apple Music and Spotify are arguably among the most popular. Each of these services offers music-on-demand and some sort of library or playlists to save the songs you like to listen to most. While they have the similarities mentioned previously, each has its own specialties that may make one service stand out for you among the rest.  

How to Choose a Streaming Music Service

It is unlikely that you'll want to subscribe to more than one online streaming music service. Take a moment to answer the following questions, then match your answers to the section on subscription plans and on the strengths of each online music streaming service. These questions will also give you a good idea of what is possible.

Imagine how you might use a music-on-demand service: 

  • Would you like to find the songs you like and put them into a library to play again in the future?
  • Would you take the time to create playlists for different occasions — dancing, sing-along, quiet dinners, or workouts?
  • Would you rather just find playlists created by the service? 
  • Would you search for songs or artists you like and listen to a playlist that other users have created?
  • Would you like to share your playlists and song discoveries and see your friends' top songs and playlists? 
  • Or do you say, "Forget it, I don't have time and don't want to put together or search for playlists. Just give me some lists to pick from!", like genres of music, eras, moods?  
  • Would you create a radio station with music from a variety of artists based on an artist or favorite song? Would you want to easily customize the station?
  • Do you want to be able to listen to music from your library on your computer along with the songs in the catalog? 
  • Do you like to read about music trends, listen to interviews with musicians and learn more about the music you choose?

    Comparing Subscription Plans

    The top online music streaming services have similar monthly subscription fees but the features offered at each tier may vary.  

    Pandora One

    • No Ads: Enjoy your personalized radio completely free of all ads.
    • More Skips - Hear the music or comedy you want with more daily skips.
    • Fewer timeouts - Listen for longer periods of time without the worry of your station pausing.

    Apple Music

    Apple has put together a service that combines your purchased music library and ripped tracks with the power of its Apple Music streaming catalog.

    From there, you can mix-and-match your songs with their songs in online or offline playlists, listen to specific artists, or rock out to hand-built groupings of music from Apple's music editors.

    Apple Music also encompasses a 24/7 radio station that will be available for anyone to listen to; iTunes Radio-like custom radio stations; and a social media stream for musicians called Connect.

    If you have a few people in your house who love streaming, just sign up for the family plan and up to six people in your family can jam out to Apple Music. You don't even use the same Apple ID for each device, either: You just have to turn on iCloud Family Sharing.


    • Unlimited high-quality streaming access to over 30 millions songs.
    • Play music without an internet connection.
    • Travel abroad with your music.
    • Use Connect to play Spotify on your speaker, TV, and car.
    • No ad interruption.
    • There is a 30-day trial for Premium

    Premium for Family:

    • Get six separate Premium accounts (you plus up to 5 family members) with one discounted monthly subscription. 
    • Includes all the benefits of Premium.

    Free Trials

    If you are uncertain which service will work best for you, take advantage of the free trial. Free trials are either 14 or 30 days, after which your credit card is automatically charged. If you decide against a service, be sure to cancel before the free trial ends.

    During the free trial period, be sure to try out the service's unique features. If you never thought of sharing music, check out what your friends are sharing and give it a try. Listen to playlists you might not have thought were your type, play with preferences and drag music to playlists. Sync at least a partial list of your music library, if that's available, to play along with the songs in the services catalog. By sampling the services, you can see if you will use those features in the future.

    Comparing Pandora, Apple Music, and Spotify

    Apple Music was launched June 30, 2015, and they quickly made it to the top. They are basically the “newer” version of Beats Music, which is now obsolete. Apple came out with their music streaming service because iTunes sales were declining and change had to be made. 

    Pandora is free personalized internet radio. Simply enter a favorite artist, track, comedian or genre, and Pandora will create a personalized station that plays their music and more like it. Rate songs by giving thumbs-up and thumbs-down feedback and add variety to further refine your stations, discover new music and help Pandora play only music you love. Pandora is always free, with the option to pay for additional features (Pandora One).

    Spotify, a popular European music streaming site, came to the U.S. in the summer of 2011. Spotify features a combination of a large library, good user interface, wide support of devices and great features. You can access Spotify from Windows and Mac OS as well as mobile devices for iOS, Android, and more. The desktop software scans your local folders and imports playlists from iTunes and the Windows Media Player so that you can play either tune from the Spotify server or your local ones. You can create a free account to test the service. Best of all, you can use your Spotify account on all your mobile devices.

    Final Thoughts

    All of the services have their strengths, and all of them let you play music on demand. Taking advantage of the free trial will also help you decide if that music streaming service is easy enough for you to use. There are no time commitments if you pay the monthly subscription fee — that is, you can quit anytime. Be aware that when you cancel your subscription, you may lose the songs and playlists that you had created while you were a member. Also, the downloaded songs will no longer be playable if your subscription is not active.  

    It is freeing to have the ability to choose any song you desire and have it in your library to play whenever you want. It's almost as if you have just bought a collection of 10 to 15 million songs.