What is the best music app for you? – Hey, match!

I’ve been a religious Spotify listener for years. All the music and podcasts I need are out there, that’s what my friends use, and I can’t handle FOMO not having Spotify wrapped up with my top artists to post on my social feeds at the end of each year. But then I listened to one of my favorite albums on Spatial Audio from Apple Music, and a few minutes later, my world changed. Have you been missing all this time?

To answer that question, I made Apple Music my primary music streaming app for the better part of a few weeks. But while Apple’s voice service has a lot of big advantages over Spotify and other popular competitors, it simply wasn’t enough for me to make the switch permanently. Here’s why.

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A few weeks ago when testing the AirPods Max, I decided to turn on Apple Music to see how the company’s immersive 360-degree spatial sound technology held up on high-end headphones. I was quietly bobbing my head to Turnstile’s Glow On—an album I’ve listened to dozens of times—when suddenly the chorus of the blaring punk song “Endless” hit me like a truck.

Not only did the spatial sound track my head movements – keeping each instrument in a fixed place as if I were in a live concert – it also highlighted vocal harmonies and small background instruments that I never noticed when listening on Spotify. I quickly became obsessed with figuring out which of my favorite albums were mixed into Dolby Atmos for immersive spatial listening, and enjoyed listening to everything from cool indie rock to explosive hard rock from a new perspective.

Of course, you’ll need a supported pair of Apple headphones (such as AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods 3 or Beats Fit Pro) to take advantage of this feature. I’ve found Spatial Audio to make a much bigger difference on the over-ear AirPods Max than on earphones like the Beats Fit Pro, but the effect is still impressive no matter what you’re wearing. The speakers on newer Mac models like the 24-inch iMac and another 14-inch MacBook Pro also support Spatial Audio, but you won’t get the same fully immersive head-tracking experience.

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Even if you’re not part of the AirPods army, Apple Music has another big advantage over Spotify: lossless, high-res audio. Lossless audio essentially avoids much of the data loss that occurs when songs are compressed from their original source, giving you CD-quality sound from a digital file. Some Apple Music albums even offer Hi-Res Lossless, a richer sound fidelity that brings you closer to studio quality. On top of all of this, select records such as Apple Digital Masters are available, which Apple says offer “the highest possible audio quality.”

All of this means that Apple Music should sound better than Spotify to many listeners, although your mileage may vary. You’ll need to wear wired headphones to reap the benefits of uncompromised sound, and even then, you’ll need a very distinct ear to notice the differences. However, even when listening primarily to wireless earbuds while using an iPhone, I found that most songs sound louder and brighter on Apple Music than on Spotify.

Lossless audio will eventually come to Spotify via Spotify Heavy, but there’s still no word on when. Rival app Tide is best known for its Hi-Fi listening support that starts at its $10 a month plan, although you’ll have to pay $20 a month to access formats like Dolby Atmos and Master Quality audio — two things that are available on Apple Music from its offering plan. Tidal’s $20 HiFi Plus has a much broader range of audio formats (including Sony 360 Reality Audio for those using Sony headphones and high-quality 9216 kpbs tracks), but for people with a slightly discerning ear, Apple Music offers plenty of money order.

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While I find Spotify easier to navigate than Apple Music (more on why later), the Apple Music app has a lot of little touches that make my inner music happy. Certain album pages contain animated artwork, and some are accompanied by an entire article that offers a deeper look at music straight from the artist. When browsing the artist’s catalog, you’ll also see links to any Apple Music radio shows they’ve been tagged in. As someone who loves learning about their favorite bands, I’ve had the pleasure of finding full details of each track on the album page for Julien Baker “Little Oblivions,” or discovering a recent radio interview featuring Turnstile diving into their new record.

Speaking of which, Apple Music Radio is one of the best features of the service. You’ll get live radio programming from industry figures like Zane Lowe and Ebro, plus there’s no shortage of on-demand interviews to discover from artists big and small. I didn’t get too deep into the app’s radio offerings, but programs like After School Radio (featuring Blink 182)’s Mark Hoppus are enough to at least make me log in every now and then. Spotify offers auto-generated radio stations based on specific artists and genres as well as pre-recorded podcasts with songs mixed in, but it doesn’t have quite the same kind of live content — or the same big names.

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Apple Music starts at $9.99 a month, which is standard for a music streaming service. But it’s especially great value if you get the Apple One File bundle, which gives you Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and iCloud+ with 50GB of storage for $14.99. If you own an Apple device and plan to use the company’s various subscription services, there’s no need to think.

The Apple Music and Spotify family plans are generally comparable, allowing up to six users to share an account for $15 to $16 per month. But if you want more than just music for your money, Apple’s got the best deal right now.

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This is the biggest reason I can’t wait to get back to Spotify after a few weeks of using Apple Music: the latter just doesn’t sound good for navigating. While Apple Music has all the music I need, complete with some smart recommendations and curated playlists based on my listening history, it makes it hard for me to actually find it all. While Spotify’s homepage shows me my six latest albums/playlists while still leaving room for recommendations and new releases, Apple Music features a lot of wasted space, with huge collections of artwork that require me to do a lot of scrolling before I get to what I’m looking for About. Doing everything from finding a new release playlist to hitting the Like button with a song is even more stressful in the Apple app.

Music and podcasts in one place

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I listen to music and podcasts pretty much equally, and Spotify is the only app out of the two that offers both in one place. I know some people like to separate the two — and they have other podcast apps they swear by — but I much prefer having a one-stop shop for all my listening needs. Spotify does a great job of highlighting new releases for both music and podcasts while making it easy to get back to shows I’m in the middle of listening to, while Apple Music listeners will have to look elsewhere. Given that the Apple Music and Apple Podcast apps look almost identical, I can’t help but wonder why they weren’t combined into one.

Mike Andronico/CNN

Perhaps the most important thing that got me on Spotify was the fact that almost all of my friends use it. I love being able to see what my friends are listening to while on the desktop app, and any time almost anyone sends me a song, it’s a Spotify link. Most importantly, I have a number of collaborative playlists with friends to which we are all constantly adding songs to show each other some new things. This is something you cannot do on Apple Music.

Spotify also has a number of cool algorithmic features like Blend, which automatically creates a playlist shared between you and someone else based on your individual listening habits. I find its recommendations engine the best, and I’ve found some of my favorite artists via my Discover Weekly playlist and Artist Radio that plays automatically every time you finish an album.

Finally, I’m simply too attached to my Spotify Wrapped, the year-end recap of the top user-specific artists, songs, and genres you’ve probably seen plastered all over your Instagram Stories at the end of each year. Apple offers a similar review of the year in the form of Apple Music Relay, but it’s not as popular — and do you really want to be the only person on your social feed with the off-brand version? This might be a bit of a vanity, but as someone who is obsessed with music listening stats, Wrapped is just one of the many great social tools that make me jam on Spotify.

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I’ve enjoyed my time with Apple Music, and for a lot of people — especially those with Apple headphones or people with premium ears — it just might be the best music service out there. It offers better sound quality for the same price, and the extras like Spatial Audio and the various live radio stations are pretty cool. It’s also very good value, especially if you get it with your Apple One subscription.

But after weeks of testing, the novelty of listening to an album in Dolby Atmos or reading a few extra notes has worn off. I just want an app that has all the music and podcasts I need in one place, and Spotify keeps giving me exactly that, plus some great recommendations and social features.

I can personally live with a slightly lower sound quality in exchange for a useful, clean interface and an ecosystem that I have invested deeply in. Plus, it’s only a matter of time before Spotify HiFi arrives here. I’ll probably keep popping into Apple Music every now and then to check out a new album in Spatial Audio or do a radio interview with an artist I love, but when it comes to daily listening, Spotify is officially back in rotation. After all, I can’t destroy my listening stats before the Wrapped season.

music library Over 90 million songs More than 82 million songs
audio notation number yes
Hi-Res / Lossless Audio yes not yet
spatial sound yes number
Supported major devices iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, HomePod, CarPlay iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, PlayStation, Xbox
family plans 6 users for $14.99 per month 6 users for $15.99 per month; 2 users for $12.99 per month
price

$9.99


$9.99