Apple Music vs Spotify: Which Is Better?

Spotify and Apple Music (©Nikkimeel/123RF.COM)
Spotify and Apple Music (©Nikkimeel/123RF.COM)

These music streaming giants are neck and neck in every aspect but between Apple Music vs. Spotify, which one should you go for?

In the world of music streaming, Spotify is undoubtedly a veteran with over 13 years in the business. But in a little less than 6 years, Apple Music has been able to position itself as an equally strong competitor.

Both platforms have a lot to offer, making the choice that much more complicated. So to help you out with that decision, we took a deep dive into what each platform offers and what’s missing. Let’s get started!

Spotify and Apple Music (©Nikkimeel/123RF.COM)
Spotify and Apple Music (©Nikkimeel/123RF.COM)

What Is Spotify

Official Spotify logo.
Official Spotify logo.

Spotify is a freemium digital audio streaming service. It was developed by Swedish entrepreneurs Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon in 2006. It was then launched in Europe two years later. Today, Spotify is available in 178 countries as of the time of writing (April 2021). It has over 345 million active users a month, 155 million of which are paying subscribers.

What Is Apple Music

Official Apple Music logo.
Official Apple Music logo.

Apple Music was designed to be a replacement for the problem-riddled iTunes app. After the acquisition of Beats in 2014, the team behind the said company spearheaded the development of the new app. Apple Music was eventually launched in 2015. It’s available in 168 countries as of the time of writing (April 2021) and has about 72 million subscribers.

Pricing & Plans

Spotify and Apple Music mobile apps (©Nikkimeel/123RF.COM)
Spotify and Apple Music mobile apps (©Nikkimeel/123RF.COM)

Both apps’ pricing structure is virtually the same. Spotify, however, does have some additional offerings. Here’s how they compare and differ:

PlatformFree PlanIndividualPremiumFamilyPlanStudentPlanOthers
SpotifyYes$9.99/month$14.99/month$4.99/monthPremium Duo at $12.99/month
Apple MusicNo$9.99/month or $99 a year$14.99/month$4.99/monthN/A

Both platforms offer similar Premium plan features, such as:
  • Full access to the entire content library
  • Option to download songs for offline listening
  • Ad-free, on-demand playback
  • Multi-device accessibility
  • Extensive non-music content

However, some essential differences set them apart:

Free plan

Unlike Apple Music, Spotify comes with a free, ad-supported plan. With this, you can listen to everything in Spotify’s content library. On-demand playback is somewhat restricted though. This means that you can only listen to some playlists only on shuffle mode.

While Apple Music doesn’t have a free tier, users can take advantage of the 3-month free trial. This allows more than enough time to get a sense of whether their Premium plan is worth it or not.

Library limit

Apple Music limits users to a maximum of 100,000 songs in their music libraries. Spotify previously also had a similar restriction that limited users to 10,000 songs in their Library. That limit has since been removed, allowing users to “like” an unlimited amount of songs.

Audio streaming quality

Audio streaming quality is where Apple Music completely supersedes Spotify. Because of its recent update, Apple Music now offers lossless audio quality of up to 24-bit/192 kHz as well as spatial audio with Dolby Atmos. This update allows them to stream music in audiophile-grade qualities, compared to Spotify’s highest setting of up to 320kbps bitrate.

Different Family plan requirements

Both apps offer Family plans, though the eligibility requirements differ. Those who wish to sign up for a Spotify Family Premium plan need to reside at the same address. Whereas with Apple Music, subscribers only need to have the same iTunes Store region.

Additional subscription plans

Spotify also offers a Premium Duo subscription plan. This allows two people to maintain two separate Premium accounts. And you can do so at a discounted price of $12.99 a month. Both parties, however, must be living at the same address. Apple Music’s offerings, on other hand, are limited to Individual, Family, and Student subscriptions.

Additional plan perks

Spotify has perks in place for some of its subscription plans. Their Family Premium plan comes with access to Spotify Kids. This allows kids to curate their own Spotify profiles with a lot of kid-friendly content. The Premium Student plan also comes with access to Hulu and SHOWTIME, two popular video streaming services. Apple Music, on the other hand, does not offer access to additional services like these.

Verdict: Which is more worth it?

Winner: Draw

For the same price point, you’re likely to get more out of a Spotify subscription. You get access to Spotify’s entire content library, with no cap on the number of songs you’re allowed to save. Aside from offering more plan options, such as Premium Duo, you also get access to additional streaming services like Spotify Kids, Hulu, and SHOWTIME. 

If you have kids, you’re on a tight budget, or just want to make the most of your money, Spotify is a good way to go.

However, Apple Music’s lossless and spatial audio offering is a deal no one should shrug off. For anyone who values listening to high-quality music above any extra perks, Apple Music triumphs over Spotify.

Amount of Music Content

When it comes to music content, both platforms are quite evenly matched with collections amounting to over 70 million audio tracks.

Spotify has about 4 billion playlists and is constantly expanding its music offerings by adding thousands of new tracks every day. In February 2021, this rate increased to 60,000 new tracks added each day.

Billboard profile on Spotify.
Billboard profile on Spotify.

Users can expect to find all the newest mainstream hits on the platform thanks to a partnership between Spotify and Billboard. The music publication curates 124 playlists on Spotify, including popular charts like Billboard Hot 100, Billboard 200, Billboard Weekly.

There’s also a Charts section where users can check out what songs or artists are trending worldwide at any given time. Here you’ll find Weekly Song Charts, Daily Song Charts, and Daily Viral Charts from as many as 70 different territories.

All your standard music genres, such as Pop, Hip-Hop, Rock, Chill, etc., are covered on Spotify. But the app does also offer more unique genres, such as Karaoke, Cooking & Dining, Anime, and Songwriters.

Indie music section on Spotify.
Indie music section on Spotify.

Spotify has an extensive Indie section as well. This is evidenced not only by a vast collection of playlists but also by the genre’s increased market share and revenue on the platform in 2020. This section features over 40 playlists curated by Spotify, but using the Search function will pull up even more.

Popular and new indie releases can be found on playlists like All-New Indie and Ultimate Indie, which garner millions of followers. You can also find playlists curated by independent record labels and music publications like NME, Pitchfork, XL Recordings, and Rough Trade Records.

Curated playlists on Apple Music.
Curated playlists on Apple Music.

On the other hand, Apple Music’s content curation is equally impressive. The app’s library is thoughtfully presented in hundreds of genre- and mood-specific playlists. On the Browse page, fresh music finds can be found in sections like Playlists You Need, Must-Have Music, and We’re Loving, all of which are curated by Apple Music editors.

Keeping up with the latest releases is also easy with New Music and Daily Top 100, which features the top 100 current hits that are most played in over 115 territories.

Like Spotify, Apple Music also has all the popular music genres covered. However, the latter does seem to have more fleshed-out genres with over 100 options to choose from in comparison to the 57 offerings in Spotify’s catalog. Many of Apple Music’s categories are also interestingly specific, such as Indigenous Australia, Schlager, and Behind the Songs.

Indie music on Apple Music.
Indie music on Apple Music.

Apple Music’s indie selection is also nothing to sneer at. Like Spotify, Apple Music’s Indie section is made up of over 40 playlists, all skillfully curated by indie record labels and publications such as Mute, Domino Recording, and the FADER, in addition to those previously mentioned. The section also showcases artist playlists, current top tracks, decade hits, latest releases, and popular picks from around the world.

Apple Music’s recent $50 million investment in UnitedMasters, an indie music distributor, may also be a sign of further improvement in the app’s indie selection. The deal could also mean better exposure and opportunities on the app for indie artists under the said label.

Verdict

Winner: Apple Music

Both platforms have excellent mainstream and indie libraries that would make any music fan happy. Both apps feature current hits, updated local and international song charts, an extensive selection of music categories to explore, and both have also tapped record labels and publications to help curate better indie playlists.

Apple Music, however, tips this comparison in its favor by a small degree. While both apps have a similar amount of content, Apple Music takes the win with thoughtful curation and more fleshed-out categories that give users more options to choose from.

For example, both Spotify and Apple Music have a category dedicated to the people behind the music – Songwriters and Behind the Songs. While Spotify’s Songwriters just focuses on songwriters, Apple Music goes the extra mile by featuring songwriters, singer-songwriters, producers, and session musicians. Ultimately, it’s these additional details that give Apple Music a bit more of an edge.

Content variety

When it comes to non-music content, Spotify is best known for its wide range of podcasts. Through the acquisition of podcast production companies like Gimlet Media, Anchor, Parcast, and The Ringer, the app now hosts as many as 2.2 million titles. It’s currently the home of popular shows like The Get Up, The Joe Rogan Experience, The Michelle Obama Podcast, and The Daily, by The New York Times.

Podcasts on Spotify.
Podcasts on Spotify.

In addition to traditional podcasts, Spotify also introduced video podcasts in 2020, allowing creators to upload video content into their existing audio shows. A live audio feature is also in the works, after the acquisition of Betty Labs and Locker Room in March 2021. Locker Room is a live sports talk app that Spotify aims to further develop to “offer a range of sports, music, and cultural programming”.

In 2020, Spotify also entered into a partnership with Riot Games and League of Legends (LoL). The deal makes Spotify the exclusive streaming partner for all official LoL content, which also includes original podcasts.

While Spotify is putting a lot of energy into expansion and acquisition, it’s also lending its strengths to lift up those who have less exposure. Through Spotify’s Sound Up program, underrepresented aspiring podcasters are given an opportunity to hone their skills and create their own shows. The program is currently available in 14 countries.
Audiobooks on Spotify.
Audiobooks on Spotify.

Aside from podcasts, Spotify also has a selection of audiobooks (7,785 to be exact), ranging from fiction, non-fiction, classic literature, poetry, language learning, young adult, and children’s stories, to name a few.

Radio on Apple Music.
Radio on Apple Music.

What about Apple music? Well, Apple Music’s non-music content revolves mainly around music videos and live radio programming.

Apple Music broadcasts live 24/7 to 165 countries through its three main stations, Music 1, Music Hits, and Music Country. Aside from live radio programming, there are genre-specific radio shows led by veteran Apple Music hosts and DJs. There’s also a selection of celeb-hosted shows, such as Elton John’s Rocket Hour, Tim McGraw’s Beyond the Influence Radio, and Nicki Minaj’s Queen Radio.

Many of these radio shows follow the standard music format, but many others also include discussions and artist interviews. Users can also access both local and international radio stations for news and sports updates, or other types of radio programming.

Music videos on Apple Music.
Music videos on Apple Music.

Other types of video content can be seen in the Music Videos category on the app’s Browse page. There you’ll find a selection of music videos, lyric videos, short documentaries, live performances, and behind-the-scenes reels. Original shows like Carpool Karaoke (minus James Corden) can be watched from the app, and if you still haven’t gotten enough of music videos, you can also tune in to Apple Music’s 24/7 music video station.

Though Apple Music previously stated that they were stepping away from album exclusives, the streaming platform still occasionally partners with artists for exclusive content like music videos or behind-the-scenes features. The latest of these partnerships include Justin Bieber for his album Changes and Coldplay for their new album Coldplay Reimagined.

Apple does offer podcasts and audiobooks as well. However, in an attempt to avoid the clutter that was iTunes, these can be found on separate apps called Apple Podcasts and Apple Books.

Verdict

Winner: Spotify

Apple Music does indeed offer a lot of video content and radio programs. However, most of this content is focused solely on music.

Conversely, Spotify offers more diversified content. The podcasts alone tackle a wide range of subjects not just limited to music. You can get discussions on everything from society, culture, lifestyle, politics, business, philosophy – you name it. Though Spotify also doesn’t have live radio programming, you can still opt to listen to news podcasts on the app, many of which are regularly updated.

Audio Quality

Audio quality settings on Spotify.
Audio quality settings on Spotify.

Spotify Premium provides listeners with 5 audio quality settings that users can easily access in the Settings menu. This allows users to choose their audio quality setting, which is helpful when you’re using mobile data to the stream.

Apple Music, on the other hand, comes with 4 audio quality settings, including the 2 lossless options.

That said, here’s what kind of audio quality you can expect from each setting:

Audio quality settingSpotifyApple Music
Automatic/High EfficiencyDepends on connection64kbps to 256 kbps dispensing on connection
Low24kbpsN/A
Normal96kbpsN/A
High160kbps256kbps
Very High320kbpsN/A
LosslessN/AUp to 24-bit/48 kHz
High-Res LosslessN/AUp to 24-bit/192 kHz

Spotify’s highest setting of 320kbps consumes about 7-8MB per song or 150 MB per hour. In contrast, Apple Music’s 256kbps eats up 3-6MB per song or roughly 72-112MB per hour. On an internet connection with an average speed of 80 Mbps, you can expect generally smooth playback on both, with 1-2 seconds of buffering in-between.

Of course, you can expect even higher data consumption if you choose to stream in lossless quality. And, in our tests, 80 Mbps isn’t enough to stream lossless audio smoothly. Some music even had to buffer in the middle because of the high data bandwidth.

Apple Music Spatial Audio
Apple Music Spatial Audio

Aside from lossless audio, Apple Music also partnered with Dolby Atmos to deliver spatial audio. This enables listeners to be fully immersed in the music and hear them in all directions instead of the typical stereo (left and right).

Verdict

Winner: Apple Music

Looking at the numbers, it’s quite obvious how most people (including us) will automatically go for Apple Music in terms of audio quality. Spotify’s 320kbps simply won’t stand a chance if we’re talking about the audiophile-level quality options.

However, not all devices can support lossless audio — even Apple’s AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max. This is because lossless audio requires some minimum specifications. One of those is to use wired headphones instead of wireless.

If you wish to try the highest option, Apple Music’s High-Resolution Lossless, you even have to invest in some good quality digital-to-analog converter (DAC), and some high-quality headphones. And these aren’t some additional costs a lot of casual listeners may be willing to make.

But, these are just one-time costs in exchange for a superb listening experience. Lossless audio can help you hear your favorite music on a completely different level, enabling you to hear it in a way the artist and production team intended them to sound like. Add the spatial audio to that and it’s game over for Spotify.

Music Discovery

New Music Mix playlist on Apple Music.
New Music Mix playlist on Apple Music.

A good music discovery algorithm is essential to any music streaming service. It keeps users engaged in the platform and helps grow music collections, which is great for both listeners and artists. Fortunately, both apps offer various ways for users to discover new music. Here’s how they compare:

Discovery FeatureSpotifyApple Music
Search (Spotify)● Genres & Moods
● New Releases
● Global Charts
● Discover
● Playlists You Need
● New Music
● Music by Mood
● Best New Songs
● Daily Top 100
Playlist Recommendations● Recommended SongsN/A
Personalized Mixes“Made For You”
● Release Radar
● Discover Weekly
● Tastebreakers
“Made for You”
● New Music Mix
● Stations for You
Artist Profile Recommendations“Fans Also Like”“Similar Artists”

Both apps have similar discovery features. Spotify’s Search and Apple Music’s Browse serve as good jumping-off points for listeners, with global chart playlists, new music releases, mood playlists, and curated recommendations.

To give listeners a more personalized experience, both apps make use of algorithms to understand your musical tastes based on what you “Like” or “Dislike” on the app. You can see the results of this in the Made for You section, which both apps also have.

This is where the magic of Spotify’s recommendations becomes apparent. The Discover Weekly playlist in particular is by far my most favorite feature because it’s so intuitive and rarely ever misses the mark.

This is mainly because Spotify makes use of three different types of algorithmsCollaborative Filtering, Natural Language Processing, and Raw Audio Modeling – to streamline its suggestions. It also factors in a host of user inputs, such as your activity on the app, genres you listen to, musical elements, even the time of day you’re streaming music.

Apple Music, on the other hand, makes use of a simpler algorithm that analyzes your listening history and song ratings. But for the most part, human curation is still the driving force behind Apple Music’s recommendations.

Song recommendations within playlists on Spotify.
Song recommendations within playlists on Spotify.

Spotify goes even further by providing recommendations within playlists you’ve created. It’s a feature that’s sadly missing from Apple Music and one that I found myself looking for while using the app. Both platforms also feature artist recommendations on artist profiles, to help listeners discover new music. Apple Music will give you a maximum of 8 suggestions, while Spotify offers as much as 20.

Verdict

Winner: Spotify

Apple Music’s music discovery features are somewhat limited and leave you looking for more. It also feels as though the app takes longer to calibrate to your tastes, and requires a lot of “Liking” and “Disliking” to train the algorithm. Despite that, it does get the job done – eventually.

Spotify, however, catches on more quickly. And thanks to a combination algorithm, it does a better job at connecting you with music that you’re sure to love, and music you didn’t know you needed in your life.

Ease of Use

In terms of design and layout, both apps have a clean, minimalist look. The desktop versions of both apps feature a stationary sidebar that helps you navigate your way around. It displays all the main content sections, as well as your personal playlists and Library.

On Apple Music, the sidebar is customizable and allows you to choose what sections you want to see.

Customizable sidebar on the Apple Music desktop app.
Customizable sidebar on the Apple Music desktop app.

When it comes to managing your playlists, both apps have pretty intuitive controls. On the desktop app, a drag-and-drop function lets you grab any song from any album or playlist and quickly add it into one of your own in the sidebar. Right-clicking on a song or album will also bring up a drop-down menu with similar options. You can access the same functions on the mobile apps by long-pressing a song or album.

Drag and drop function in the Spotify desktop app.
Drag and drop function in the Spotify desktop app.

Spotify provides additional ways to make managing your music simpler. On both mobile and desktop apps, playlists come with a helpful sorting feature that lets you reorder songs by title, artist, date, or duration. If you have larger playlists, you can easily find what you’re looking for with a “Search in playlist” function.

You can also save songs to your Library and refine the app’s recommendations by “liking” a song or pressing the heart icon. In contrast, Apple Music does not have a sorting feature. “Liking” songs and adding them to your Library are also two separate affairs, which may be difficult to get used to for new users.

Lastly, switching between devices while listening to music is completely seamless on Spotify. Trying to do this on Apple Music not only disrupts your listening, but it also results in a pop-up notification telling you that “more than one device is trying to play music”.

Verdict

Winner: Spotify

While both apps share similar handy features like the navigation sidebar and the drag-and-drop function, the added user controls that Spotify has in place make the experience just a bit more convenient.

Combining the ability to add songs to your library and refine your recommendations into a single function makes more sense. And being able to manage playlists with “sort” and “search” features is a little thing that makes a huge difference.

Additional Features

Wrapped and Replay

Spotify Wrapped and Apple Music Replay.
Spotify Wrapped and Apple Music Replay.

Spotify’s Wrapped is only available at the end of each year. But it’s always something nice to look forward to, with its stylized graphics, music listening insights, and fun statistics. Meanwhile, users can access Apple Music Replay all year round, but the feature would’ve been better if it gave users something more than just a simple playlist of songs.

Song lyrics

Song lyrics display on Apple Music.
Song lyrics display on Apple Music.

Apple Music has an extra feature that allows users to skip to a certain part of a song just by clicking on a specific lyric line. It might not sound like a big deal, but it’s helpful for those trying to learn a song in a different language.

I’m not sure why the same function isn’t offered on Spotify, since lyrics on both apps are powered by MusixMatch. Nevertheless, it would be nice to see that on Spotify as well.

As someone who also likes to know more about the music I love. And something I found myself missing on Apple Music was a feature akin to Spotify’s Storyline and Behind the Lyrics.

Smart playlists

Smart playlists on Apple Music.
Smart playlists on Apple Music.

Apple Music’s Smart playlists are a pretty great feature for those who like creating a lot of playlists. It’s especially helpful if you have a huge library of songs and simply don’t have the time to comb through it. By simply defining some parameters in the playlist settings, you can get Apple Music to do the curating for you. As a Spotify user with over 5 years of saved songs, that’s a feature I’d definitely like to have.

Collaborative playlists

Spotify’s Collaborative playlists make music listening more fun because you can create and develop playlists with your friends. Apple Music, on the other hand, focuses more on sharing playlists than actually working on them together, which tends to feels like a one-man party.

Verdict

Winner: Draw

Some of the features mentioned here are not exactly terribly essential to the music listening experience. Some people may not care for an analysis of their listening habits, or lyrics, or interacting with other people on the app. They’re nice little extras to have if you’re into that sort of thing. It really depends on what your preferences are and what you find enjoyable.

Which Should You Go For?

Apple Music vs Spotify on mobile phone (From: Pexels)
Apple Music vs Spotify on mobile phone (From: Pexels)

Here’s a little recap of everything we’ve covered to see where we’re at so far:

SPOTIFY APPLE MUSIC
More subscription flexibility and perksExcellent music curation
Better content diversity with podcastsNew release and artist exclusives
Better music discovery algorithmLots of exclusive and original video content
More intuitive user controlsAccess to live radio programming
Better audio quality

As mentioned earlier, both platforms indeed have a lot to offer. Those who value music discovery will be happy with Spotify’s mastery in that area. Those who enjoy non-music content will also enjoy Spotify’s extensive collection of podcasts and audiobooks. And thanks to flexible subscription plans, Spotify is also great for those on a budget.

Apple Music, on the other hand, is significantly more music-centered. Those who value the music quality will be happy with Apple Music’s lossless and spatial audio. Those who prefer music videos, live performances, documentaries, music discussions, and interviews with artists will also definitely enjoy this app more. Apple Music also delivers more music exclusives which is good news for staunch fans. If in-depth music curation is also your thing, you won’t be disappointed in the app’s catalog of playlists.

Basically, casual listeners who simply like listening to music and other audio content while doing their chores and workouts will be satisfied with Spotify. While audiophiles and a bit more dedicated music enthusiasts will enjoy Apple Music.

Conclusion

To say that one app is outstandingly better than the other is an oversimplification. On the technical side of things, both apps evenly match. Both are reasonably intuitive and both have good sound quality.

The difference lies in the type of content offered and how they present the content. And that is where your personal preferences come in. With this in-depth analysis, we hope that we’ve helped you figure out which app will deliver content that you’ll enjoy the most.

How did you like our review? Are there any other valuable points you think we should’ve included? If you’d like to give us insight into your own experiences with both platforms, feel free to sound off below.

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