Best Music Service For Quality In 2021

Music Services

For me, streaming online music started way back in 2011 when Google revealed to the world Google Music. I was able to combine the music I’ve purchased with music from their library and it was awesome. Sound quality was also pretty amazing at up to 320kbps. Whether I was on my phone or desktop, I was able to stream my music. Back then, to my recollection, the only major competition was iTunes (which I rather loathed).

I stuck with Google Music for a long time, and when Google slowly started transitioning the service to YouTube I kept with it through it’s many variations such as YouTube Red and now YouTube Music.

However, being the audiophile that I am, I began wondering about the sound quality. Additionally, I began to get bored listening to the same music over and over again. Without listening to the radio for new releases, it can sometimes be hard to stay on top of things like when one of your favorite bands releases a new song.

So, I decided to embark on a journey and try out as many online music services as possible. Thankfully some offered free trials, while others did not (at least for their “High Fidelity” version, if they had one). In any case, I’m going to review my journey through several online music services, go through the pros and cons, and hopefully help you decide which service is best for you!

Table of Contents

YouTube Music

YouTube Music

Of course, my natural progression from Google Music was to turn to YouTube Music. It also made a lot of sense for me, as I’m a YouTube Premium subscriber already so I get YouTube Music included. I have the Family membership for $17.99, which allows my family to watch YouTube and listen to YouTube Music commercial free.

I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of this subscription, mainly because I am heavily invested in the Google Home ecosystem. And while other services, such as Spotify, integrate with Google Home, none of them do it quite as well (more on that later). Additionally, as any of my friends will tell you, I really can’t stand commercials. As mentioned, I have the Family Plan which allows me to share the service with six people.

However, there is are several downsides to YouTube Music. Perhaps my biggest gripe is the quality, which is something I noticed pretty quickly. It turns out that when Google transitioned from Google Music to YouTube Music they downgraded the quality from 320kbps to 256kbps.

3.5/5

Reasons To Buy

  • Their search is very impressive
  • You enjoy watching music videos
  • You’re a heavy Google user and/or tied into their ecosystem.

Reasons To Avoid

  • Sound Quality lacks detail & is too compressed
  • Their music discovery is underwhelming

Spotify

Spotify

Spotify was my next, almost obvious choice, to check out because of its popularity. While you can stream music for free, I decided to pay for the service as, like I mentioned, I hate ads. The Premium tier, which costs $10 per month for individuals or $15 for up to six family members, grants ad-free on-demand access to Spotify’s library of 60 million tracks. Students pay a discounted rate of $5. A 30-day trial period is available. Since I was originally looking for a YouTube Music replacement, I initially bought the family plan and hooked it up to Google Home.

What ended up happening was, well, a nightmare. Even though I assigned each family member their own Spotify account, when someone would request music from Google Home it would default to my personal account, which would thus skew my recommendations. After this realization, I switched Google Home back to YouTube Music as it’s default provider and just use Spotify on my own.

What I like most about Spotify is it’s music discovery. I’ve discovered new artists, albums, heck even genres that I never knew existed before (like electro-swing). However, I still was left feeling a bit underwhelmed by the sound quality. The one unique feature of Spotify is it’s social aspect; I can see what my friends are listening to which is pretty cool.

4/5

Reasons To Buy

  • Incredible music discovery features
  • Huge library of music and podcasts
  • Nice user interface on all devices
  • Free tier

Reasons To Avoid

  • Free tier ads can be intrusive
  • Don’t offer a high fidelity, lossless option
  • Doesn’t place nice with multiple users on Google Home

Apple Music​

Apple Music

My next stab for a solid online music service was Apple Music. I honestly didn’t research them much as I was offered a free six month trial from Verizon. All I can say is that I am surely glad that I didn’t pay for their service. Granted, I’m also a pretty diehard Android fan so I did cringe a bit at installing Apple Music. I’m sure if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, Apple Music is worth more investigation but I didn’t give it more than a day.

2/5

Reasons To Buy

  • If you use iTunes, it combines your music.
  • Works well with the Apple ecosystem (based on research, not my own testing)
  • Has a good selection of music, podcasts, and “human created” playlists.

Reasons To Avoid

  • If you don’t own an Apple device, you won’t get everything you’re looking for.
  • I’ll be honest; there are simply better options.
  • They don’t publicize the quality of their music

Amazon Music HD​

Amazon Music HD

I started to do more research for online, high fidelity music services and I stumbled upon Amazon Music HD. I have to admit that I’ve recently grown more in love with Amazon’s overall ecosystem. If you asked me a year ago if I’d ever own an Alexa device, I would have laughed. However, today I own an Echo Spot and an Echo Show 5. While I still have my Google Home and it has its uses, I’ve been starting to lean into Amazon a bit more. But this article isn’t about comparing smart home devices, so let’s move on.

As a Prime member, Amazon Music HD costs $12.99 a month for just one user or $14.99 for just Amazon customers (the same price Spotify charges for six users). However, as soon as I started listening to the music that was produced from my Android phone to my Bose headphones I knew I was finally onto something.

If you recall, YouTube Music and Spotify stream music at 320kbps which is “standard definition” and not in a lossless format. Amazon Music HD offers lossless audio in two quality ranges: HD and Ultra HD.

Per Amazon:

HD tracks are 16-bit audio, with a minimum sample rate of 44.1 kHz (16/44.1 is also referred to as CD-quality), and an average bitrate of 850 kbps. Ultra HD tracks have a bit depth of 24 bits, with sample rates ranging from 44.1 kHz up to 192 kHz, and an average bitrate of 3730 kbps.

In comparison, most standard streaming services currently offer Standard Definition (SD) with a bitrate up to 320 kbps. These audio files use lossy compression, where details of the original audio are removed in order to reduce the file size. By contrast, Amazon Music HD preserves the original recording information to deliver the highest quality sound available, more than 2x the bitrate in HD and more than 10x the bitrate at the highest Ultra HD bitrate. Amazon Music HD will always play the highest quality content available, based on network, device capability and your selected settings

Sadly, when you use Chromecast to cast the audio to a device, it cannot handle the audio quality, so it’s reduced. But that’s at no fault to Amazon, so I won’t knock them for it.

I do think Amazon’s Alexa offers better integration with their music platform than Google’s Assistant and YouTube Music. For example, today I was able to ask Alexa, “Play me something I haven’t heard in awhile.” and it played me back some great tracks.

To complete this short review of Amazon Music HD, I just want to mention that their non-HD plans are $8 for Prime members and $10 for Amazon customers.

4.5/5

Reasons To Buy

  • You want to listen to high fidelity, lossless music.
  • You’re a part of the Amazon ecosystem or willing to consider it.
  • Lyrics automatically pop up on the “now playing” screen
  • Nice set of recommended playlists and radio stations grouped around artists that you’ve already listened to.

Reasons To Avoid

  • If you don’t have the headphones or equipment that can handle high fidelity, lossless music then it’s simply not worth the cost unless you’re willing to consider upgrading your equipment.
  • Not quite clear how large their library is.

Tidal

Tidal

I recently stumbled upon Tidal as they were running a promotion with Plex (a home media server) where I could try their service for $4 for 4 months. I figured why not, and wow I am impressed.

Like Amazon Music HD & Ultra HD, Tidal offers Dolby Atmos surround mixes as well. Their content library is reportedly over 60 million tracks. Tidal, without a doubt, is the best option for audiophiles looking for both music and music videos.They also include concert live streams.

5/5

Reasons To Buy

  • If you’re an audiophile and you know it, this is it. That’s it.
  • Profiles and record reviews on every page, plus up-and-coming artist spotlights

Reasons To Avoid

  • The Android and Web apps aren’t quite as polished as other services. For example, on my phone, if a call comes in sometimes it doesn’t un-pause the music after the phone call like other services do.
  • While 60 million tracks is pretty exhaustive, Spotify has the largest selection for just music.
  • Like Amazon HD/Ultra HD, you need special equipment to truly enjoy this service.

Deezer

Deezer

I’ll be honest, I never heard of Deezer before I thought of reviewing online music services. Additionally, I’ve used it over the least period of time when compared to other services (well, except for Apple Music… I’ve used it more than them).

I can say that I’m honestly pretty surprised by their lack of popularity. Their main Premium plan is $10 a month, but you can upgrade to their lossless (CD quality) version for $15 a month. Once again, to have high fidelity sound you’re going to pay a high premium when compared to Spotify Family or YouTube Music Family plans.

Their library has reportedly 56 million tracks, and I’ve enjoyed my experience thus far. As soon as I installed the app, it asked me to pick out a few artists that I like and after that it automatically generated some great playlists.

Researching them a bit more before posting this, I found that they’re supported on Android (obviously), iOS, Windows and Mac, Sonos, Yamaha MusicCast, Bang & Olufsen speakers, and MOON by Simaudio network audio system.Once again, I was surprised that I never even heard of them before.

4/5

Reasons To Buy

  • Vast catalog and device support.
  • CD-quality HiFi tier
  • Good range of podcasts
  • Nice user interface

Reasons To Avoid

  • Currently does not offer high fidelity streaming like Amazon Ultra HD or Tidal.
  • While the auto-generated playlists were nice, I found that I was just listening to music that I’ve always listened to. So, music discovery seems to be lacking a bit.

Summary

So, what app(s) am I going to stick with? It’s honestly going to be a tough call. While I know for sure that I’m going to ditch Apple Music and that I’m keeping YouTube Music, it’s a toss up between Amazon HD and Tidal. While Tidal does offer more high fidelity tracks, I think Amazon does a better job at curating playlists, recommendations, and having it integrate with Alexa is a plus.

Here are the links to the service’s I’ve reviewed.

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