Apple Music vs. Spotify

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Apple Music vs. Spotify

Streaming services are the future of music consumption. This article compares Apple Music and Spotify.

Being a music fan used to be very expensive. We were expected to spend $10 to $15 for an album. Unless you were wealthy, you had to choose wisely and listen to an album several times just to get some value out of it. We live in a brave new world for music fans. For a mere $10 per month, it’s possible to listen to just about any song or album.

I knew about these services a long time ago. A colleague started using Rhapsody and informed me about the service years ago. I never really followed through. I figured a music service would only offer mainstream options.

When Apple Music entered the fray, the music service buzz finally piqued my interest. I tried the free version of Spotify and was impressed by the selection. I had high hopes for Apple music. After all, Apple is the largest corporation on the planet. Surely, they could deliver something better. I was wrong and disappointed. Apple Music proved to be a slavish copy of the Spotify user interface, with far too many bugs and quirks to justify subscribing. After using both services, I went back to Spotify, but this time with a premium membership.

This article compares Spotify and Apple Music, evaluating which has the better feature or implementation in a given area. In some respects, this is subjective, although there is evidence to support these contentions. Having used both services every day for several months, I feel this information is fair and accurate. I have no relationship with Apple or Spotify.

Feature Apple Music Spotify
Voice Control winner-trophy
Family Plan winner-trophy
Student Discount winner-trophy winner-trophy
Sound Quality winner-trophy
EQ winner-trophy
Device Compatibility winner-trophy
Plugins winner-trophy
Gapless Playback/Crossfade winner-trophy
Free Music winner-trophy
Reliability winner-trophy
Searching for Music winner-trophy
Discovering Music winner-trophy
Running winner-trophy
Catalog winner-trophy winner-trophy
Sync and Cloud Storage winner-trophy
Live Radio winner-trophy
Offline Music winner-trophy
Transmit Audio winner-trophy
Social Media winner-trophy
Ease of Use winner-trophy
Overall winner-trophy

Voice Control: Apple Music Wins

Apple has a unique advantage when it comes to their apps. On iOS, only Apple can integrate Siri with apps, and this feature has been folded into Apple Music. Users can tell Siri to play songs, albums or artists. Siri can even handle requests like “play the top songs from 1991”. For a full list of Siri commands, check out “Apple Music Tips”.

Having used Siri with Apple Music, it’s not that great. For one thing, bands often have strange names that can confuse Siri. Even a band name as simple as “Gong” can be misinterpreted as “gone”. Furthermore, the underlying data in Apple Music is a bit dirty. There are duplicate albums, artists pages that are “dead ends” and other nasty surprises. Siri may be able to understand your request, but you might end up with something you don’t expect. We’ll take a look at the data problems with Apple Music later in this article.

I eventually stopped using Siri as an interface for Apple Music. It was easier to find music using search, but that still has its problems.

Spotify doesn’t offer a personal digital assistant or voice control. There are third-party apps, such as Vela, that offer this functionality. They’re not integrated into iOS like Siri. For example, you can’t launch Vela by holding down the home button. This also means you can’t launch Vela by holding down the center button on your iPhone headphones.

Family Plan: Spotify Wins

Both Apple Music and Spotify offer discounted family plans. These plans are essential if you have a family that loves music. Although streaming services are inexpensive, the costs can add up if every member of the family wants to use the service. While it is possible to share one account by using one device, this would create cluttered music libraries and conflicts.

Apple Music’s family sharing plan is much cheaper than Spotify’s. At $14.99 for up to six users, it seems like a huge advantage over Spotify. Unfortunately, Apple’s family sharing regime is not flexible. Family members must be part of iCloud Family Sharing, which goes beyond Apple Music. Apple’s family sharing ties all accounts to one credit card. If your son wants to purchase an app, this is billed to your credit card. This may be ideal for many families, but it also means that family sharing is really only for immediate families with young children. Cousins, parents of adult family members and more distant relatives don’t fit in well with this system, let alone friends. A couple could fare well with this system, but only get meager savings at the expense of flexibility. Having all Apple purchases tied to one credit card may create conflict in many households.

Apple Music Family Plan Pricing

Spotify is much more lenient with their family sharing plan. It only applies to Spotify, and has no impact on app and content purchasing for enrolled members. This makes it easier to use family sharing with distant relatives and even friends. They even encourage customers to use their family plan with friends. Spotify only offers a 50% discount for additional accounts. If you were to enroll in family sharing with 6 people, it would cost almost $35, which is more than twice the price of Apple Music’s family plan. Unfortunately, Spotify only allows 4 additional users (a total of 5 accounts) in their family plan. The accounts are tied to one credit card, but only for Spotify access. Unlike Apple Music, your family members can make independent purchases in the App Store, iTunes and other Apple services. It is important to note that the Spotify family plan cannot be purchased through iTunes or the App Store. Customers must purchase this plan directly from Spotify.

Spotify Family Plan Pricing

The flexibility of Spotify’s family plan makes it worth the additional cost. Even within a nuclear family, having all Apple app and content purchases apply to one credit card is not always ideal. If you have older children, they may have their own credit cards. Apple Music’s plan is really limited to couples or nuclear families with young children, where one account pays for all purchases. It seems almost like a throwback to the days of Leave it to Beaver, where a family has one breadwinner. With Spotify, you can give friends a family discount. They’re not going to do genetic tests or look up your family tree. They actually encourage this practice. Keep in mind, Spotify’s family plan is billed to one credit card, so if you enroll your friends, you must collect their payments, unless you are very generous.

New Spotify Family Plan

UPDATE: Spotify just reduced the price of their Family Plan, which makes it an even better deal than Apple Music. At $14.99 for 6 users, the costs are the same as Apple’s plan. The main difference is that Spotify’s family plan gives users completely separate accounts. With Apple Music’s Family Plan, users must be part of iTunes Family Sharing. This ties all Apple purchases (apps, music, books, movies, TV shows) to one credit card. Apple Music’s Family Sharing is really only for a nuclear family. Spotify’s plan can be shared with friends and family. They even encourage subscribers to use family sharing with friends. Spotify will also automatically upgrade current Family Plan subscribers to the new price. Given that Spotify’s Family Plan is the same price as Apple’s, yet is more flexible, Spotify wins this category.

Student Discount: Tie

Spotify Discount for College Students

College students are often in debt after graduation. Subscribing to a music streaming service is an added burden, however, downloading music and purchasing CDs costs even more. Spotify offers qualified students a generous 50% discount for one year. Instead of $9.99 a month, students only pay $4.99.

Although the discount is generous, there’s a few hoops to jump through. First, this is only for college students attending a U.S. Title IV accredited institution located in the United States. Students must submit their name, educational institution and date of birth. From here, Spotify verifies that the subscriber is a student using SheerID. The discount is only good for one year. Students must remember to cancel or they will be automatically billed for a $9.99 premium membership at the end of the discount period. There’s a limited number of student discounts available. Despite all of the limitations, the discount is an excellent deal if you qualify.

Apple Music does not offer any student discount. At best, a student could try to participate in the family sharing plan, but it is even more restrictive. Spotify’s family plan is much easier to share with friends. They even encourage it. If you don’t qualify for the student discount, you can always sign up for Spotify’s family membership. Each additional member will only pay $4.99 a month. Unlike Apple Music, it’s not tied to every purchase in the Apple ecosystem. You can sign up friends and family without giving them the ability to buy apps or iTunes content with your Apple ID.

UPDATE: Apple Music has just introduced a student discount. It’s offered at the same price as Spotify — $4.99. One slight advantage is that the discount can be used for up to four years. Spotify’s discount is limited to 12 months. Apple Music also offers the discount to graduate students. Although Apple Music’s student discount is slightly more generous, Spotify’s liberal family plan makes it easy for anyone to get a discount. Both services are tied when it comes to student discounts.

Sound Quality: Spotify Wins

Digital music has always traded off quality for convenience. CDs are inferior to vinyl in overall sound quality. Although CDs don’t have the almost-inaudible popping artifacts of vinyl, they’re just a digital representation of audio. Vinyl sounds warmer and more natural, with better bass definition and less program compression. Some readers may object and prefer CDs. Listening to both on high-end systems, most audiophiles will prefer vinyl.

When mp3 players and iPods hit the scene, audio quality diminished even more, as a trade-off for convenience. You could put 20,000 songs in your pocket, but they didn’t sound very good. Over the years, this has improved. There are even digital music players that sound better than CDs, offering 24-bit/192 kHz audio, which some say sounds even better than vinyl. Most people can’t tell the difference, especially if they listen to modern pop music on an average audio system.

Both Spotify premium and Apple Music offer decent audio quality. Apple Music uses 256 kbps AAC and Spotify premium offers an adjustable rate, with “Extreme” quality at 320 kbps Ogg.

Spotify Audio Quality

Having tried both, Spotify sounds noticeably better — as good as a CD. It’s not just the bit rate. It seems that Apple’s encoder is doing some audio processing that makes the low-end sound hyped, yet dull. The bass is too loud, so I have to cut it on my stereo’s EQ. I also find that Apple Music seems to use more program compression than the original master. This makes the music sound louder than it should and reduces the overall dynamic range. When I play the same album on Spotify, I have to turn the volume up on my stereo about 10%. With Spotify, quiet parts are quiet and loud sections are loud. That’s the way it should be. (continue…)

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  1. I agree that Spotify currently sits on top of all the streaming services and they have a very SIMPLE user interface to boot. Both Spotify and Pandora received a lifeline from Apple when they decided to shutdown iTunes Radio. Many Apple fanboys wanted to see Apple destroy both Spotify and Pandora. What they don’t realize is that competition is good for the consumer.

    1. Apple Music actually converted me into a Spotify user. I knew about streaming music services, but figured they would only offer top 40 pop music. I was impressed with Apple Music’s selection, but found that the apps and service were just too buggy to use. Apart from regular 30 second drop-outs when playing music (even downloaded music), the app didn’t work at all on my iPad for over a month. It just froze. That was a notorious defect with Apple Music. I still read complaints from users.

      Spotify actually has a better selection of music, if you’re into jazz or anything Europeans would like. The major music streaming services have pretty much the same content, with a few minor differences here and there. Spotify is rock solid and the user interface is clean and simple. I am a satisfied, paying customer. I’m actually saving money, because I used to spend over $500 a year on iTunes music. It has better sound quality than iTunes or Apple Music.

      Apple’s quality is really going downhill. That bug with copy and paste not working in iOS is hitting me again. At first I thought maybe I made a mistake, but it happened again and again. Today, I had to copy some text three times before it worked. The fundamentals don’t work at all. When copy/paste is broken, that’s a showstopper. I don’t know how Apple is going to charge a premium price for buggy products. At this point, the quality decline has been going on for over 2 years. I don’t see them fixing it anytime soon.

    1. I was just reading a comment about Apple’s new Twitter-based support service. There is a problem with Apple Music on Apple TV 4. The album covers are often out of sync with the currently playing track. For example, it will show the last played track’s album cover while the next track is playing. Apple Support has no solution to this problem. Of course, it’s one of many defects. When I was using it, I would routinely experience 30 second audio dropouts. It’s still garbage.

      I found out that Beats 1 Radio is free on Apple TV 4 without an Apple Music subscription. Of course, you can only listen to that one radio station, and it isn’t my cup of tea.

      It’s a shame Milk may be shutting down. It seems to be how these markets work. There are a lot of players and a then a few survivors. I still think Spotify is the best service I have used.

  2. Update on AccuRadio, I discovered by going to the Sonos website that Accuradio streams at a locked bitrate of 128 kbs AAC.

    Of all the music streaming services, AccuRadio is my favorite because judging by it’s Jazz Fusion playlist, it’s EXTENSIVE. I rarely hear songs repeat. In fact i’ve NEVER heard any streaming service including iTunes Radio play any electric Miles Davis as well as electric Lee Ritenour.

    1. 128 kbps is decent audio quality. It used to be the standard for iTunes not so long ago. For most music played on most systems, people can’t tell the difference between 128 kbps and a CD.

      I’ll have to check out AccuRadio. I’m paying for Spotify, and so far, it has exceeded my expectations. I’m actually saving money, as I easily spent $500 a year on iTunes music. With Spotify, I don’t need to buy albums anymore. I still listen to a lot of terrestrial radio. Now if I hear a great song on the jazz station, I just look at their playlist and I can usually find the album on Spotify. Unfortunately, they didn’t have Peter Eskine’s Dr. Um. I may end up buying that one. That said, it’s hard to stump Spotify. 97% of music I am looking for is there! I may purchase one or two albums per year.

      If AccuRadio is not repeating the same tracks, it’s already better than iTunes Radio ever was. They had such a limited repertoire. Not only did it play obvious music, but it constantly repeated the same tracks. Electric Miles is my favorite stuff — Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way, On the Corner… Excellent!

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