Spotify vs. Apple Music: Who Wins the Music War?

Spotify and Apple Music are, popularity-wise, two of the leading music streaming platforms in the world today. Between them, they have over 500 million subscribers (433 million on Spotify to 88 million on Apple at the last count). That’s a lot of listeners, so they must be doing something right!

Here we compare the two giants of music streaming to help you decide which one’s for you. Despite our fighting talk in the title, this is unbiased and nuanced, as both services have their pros and cons that make them better or worse for different users.

Here’s our Spotify vs. Apple Music breakdown:

Spotify and Apple Music Pricing Structure

Spotify – $9.99/month ($4.99 for students) | Free ad-supported tier

If you’re a student and like your TV, then Spotify could be the way to go, as for a mere $4.99 a month, you also get Hulu and Showtime subscriptions. The Family plan allows up to six family members to access Spotify services for $15.99 per month, which is a reasonable deal.

The free tier is a great way to get a feel for Spotify. There are quite a few restrictions, however. You can only listen to whatever you want on a computer. On mobile platforms, you’ll only be able to listen to your playlists on shuffle and will generally be limited with what you can listen to. There are no downloads on the free tier either. Still, free is free, which is more than can be said of Apple Music!

Apple Music: $10.99 ($5.99 for students) | No free tier

This service is slightly pricier than Spotify and does not offer a free tier. However, there are still plenty of ways to access Apple Music for free for months at a time. Students still get some extra perks with temporary access to Apple TV+, but it’s only a limited-time offer. Additionally, if you purchase an eligible audio device from Apple, you can score six months of free Apple Music.

Coming in a bit higher than Spotify at $16.99 a month, you can upgrade to the Family plan, which will let you share Apple Music between up to six family members. This plan allows each family member to access their own personal music library and personalized recommendations based on their musical tastes.

A more affordable Apple Music offering – the Apple Music Voice Plan – costs only $4.99 per month, but you will only be able to access your songs using Siri. While this may seem like a drawback, the Apple Music Voice Plan is the perfect solution for users who primarily access their tunes via a smart speaker like HomePod or Alexa. Why pay more when you can listen for less?

Alternatives: iIf you are not a fan of Spotify or Apple Music, there are some other music streaming services you can check out.

Comparing Streaming and Sound Quality

Spotify Premium streams at a quality of 320kbps, while the free version is 160kbps. This streaming quality lags far behind the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) utilized by Apple Music, which delivers resolutions ranging from 16-bit/44.1 kHz (CD Quality) up to 24-bit/192 kHz across the entire music library. To put these numbers in perspective, the 24-bit audio (9216kbps) available through Apple Music offers a frequency that is more than 28 times greater than that of Spotify Premium, which results in noticeably better audio quality.

Spotify Popular Artists Page

However, to casual listeners, especially those using wireless headphones, the differences are likely to remain indiscernible, as many true audiophiles still struggle to identify the difference between Spotify Premium’s Ogg Vorbis encoding and Apple Music’s Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC).

Apple Music also offers Spatial Audio and support for Dolby Atmos, which combine to deliver an unparalleled listening experience that will keep you immersed in your music. Do keep in mind that Spatial Audio can only be experienced with a handful of AirPods models and Beats-brand headphones.

Tip: learn how to remove duplicate music from your Spotify playlist.

Identifying Key Features

Spotify

The biggest advantage of the Swedish-based music platform is its now-legendary recommendation algorithm, which does a great job of directing you to interesting artists (some local, some obscure) that are related to the music you listen to.

Spotify’s bigger uptake feeds well into its sharing features, which make it easy to collaborate on playlists with friends and share your favorite tunes. The Spotify Web Player is also a great option for browser-based users. It doesn’t always work like it should, but we have a bunch of tips to fix that.

At the time of writing, there are around 80 million songs on Spotify.

Spotify also allows you to create your own radio stations, which is super handy.

Apple Music

With over 100 million songs, Apple Music wins the pure numbers game, though in reality, both contain more than enough music for a lifetime. Apple Music lacks the sharing and social depth of Spotify, and its recommendation algorithms don’t compare to Spotify either.

Instead, Apple Music is more focused around the individual user. Library management is a great feature, making it much easier to integrate your library of downloaded music from years ago into the streaming service. It essentially converts your entire digital library into the Apple Music UI and does it very nicely.

It goes without saying that Apple Music syncs seamlessly between Apple devices, which is great if you’re in that ecosystem. If you own an Android phone or a Windows PC, then you can still take advantage of this handy integration by accessing Apple Music online or downloading Apple Music for Android.

Likewise, you can create your own radio stations on Apple Music, too.

UI/Design

The homepage of Spotify’s app shows the stuff you’re actively listening to rather than sending you straight to recommendations. There’s a focus around swiping left and right in contrast to Apple Music’s more vertical design, which is a nice intuitive alternative to simply scrolling and tapping the options you want.

Both Apple Music and Spotify make it easy to search for music. Ever-focused around sending you down rabbit-holes of Discovery, Spotify does a great job of offering suggestions under the search bar, with a huge number of different categories filled with recommended music based on genre, mood and so on.

Apple Music’s search also has categories, but they’re more generic, and once you tap through, it redirects you to “What’s hot” in that category rather than your personal tastes. In that way, it feels a bit more commercial and a bit less bespoke.

Spotify vs. Apple Music Winner

The winner of this war depends on your circumstances. Pricing is similar, so you need to ask yourself what you want from a service.

Do you like discovering new bands and artists all the time and being redirected to interesting stuff based on your interests? Spotify is for you.

Or do you know what you like and already have a digital music library that you want to integrate into an elegant streaming app? Then Apple Music wins out. iPhone and Mac owners will also definitely appreciate the seamless syncing between devices.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I enable Spatial Audio using Apple Music?

To elevate your listening experience with Spatial Audio you will need to ensure that you are using AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro (1st or 2nd generation), AirPods Max, or Beats Fit Pro. Long-press on the volume indicator in Control Center and select either “Fixed Spatial Audio” or “Head Tracked Spatial Audio.”

Can I use Spotify on Apple Watch?

Yes. In fact, Spotify recently overhauled its native watchOS app to allow for even more intuitive ways to discover new songs, access your playlists, and quickly download your favorite tunes for offline listening. Already have the Spotify app on your iPhone and want to access it on your Apple Watch? Simply open the built-in “Watch” app on your iPhone, scroll down to view apps available for download to your Apple Watch, then tap “INSTALL” once you have located the Spotify app.

Is there a Spotify tier that offers high-fidelity music similar to Apple Music?

Unfortunately, no. Nearly two years ago Spotify announced that it would be offering a new Hi-Fi tier by the end of 2021 that would deliver CD-quality streaming akin to Apple Music. Spotify has since delayed the release a number of times, recently resorting to removing references to the new “Spotify Platinum” tier on the website and in past press releases.

Image credit: Unsplash. All screenshots by Brahm Shank.

Brahm Shank

Self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur and tech enthusiast Brahm Shank is captivated by the impact of consumer tech: “It’s profoundly moving when people discover that the phone in their pocket or the tiny computer on their wrist has the power to enrich their lives in ways they never imagined.” Apple, Inc. and its unique position at the intersection of technology and the creative arts, resonates deeply with Brahm and his passion for helping people unleash their potential using technology. Over the years, Brahm has held various podcasts - including famed technologist David Pogue of The New York Times on topics such as Big Tech and digital wellness.

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