My Music Subscription Service Ranking (Apple's Music Offering to Be Added Once Released)

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by MICHAELSD, Jun 7, 2015.

  1. MICHAELSD, Jun 7, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2015

    MICHAELSD macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #1
    As an avid lover of music subscription services since Zune lead the way many, many years ago at $14.99/month, I am more than happy to spend ~ $10/month for access to practically every major song available, with few holes in the collections (although there are some glaring omissions). I am thrilled Apple will be joining the fray, and will update this ranking with a full opinion of their service once released. For now, let's dive in:

    Interface:

    1. Spotify -
    This service has become a long way. I am biased towards it since I did not want to like it since earlier versions of the design were awful and the service became too popular at a time when there were superior options. The service has the cleanest design now though, so with a bated breath I award the top spot to Spotify in this category.

    2. Rdio - For a while Rdio had the cleanest design, and I subscribed to it for a few months last year for that reason. Now it seems a bit lacking in features but it is the most minimalistic of the bunch.

    3. Tidal - Frankly I am a fan of Tidal's design. It is simple yet elegant, putting the music first. Album artwork and artist pages are the most stunning in Tidal's design.

    4. Beats Music - It is missing too much that the other services have, although it should be noted that this is not a bad-looking alternative. I wouldn't complain about the interfaces of any of the services listed here.

    Sound quality:

    1. Tidal -
    Hands-down, Tidal takes the cake for sound quality. All testing was accomplished with a pair of V-Moda M-100 direct from a MacBook Pro, and especially with this pair of headphones the sound difference of Tidal's hi-fi mode can be audio nirvana. Simply doesn't get better than 1411kbp/s lossless compared to the other services that max out at 320kbp/s.

    2. Rdio - The difference between Tidal and Rdio is more minimal than it is between Spotify and Tidal, so it is a very good sonic presentation for the price and considering it is encoded at 320kbps.

    3. Spotify - Since originally trying Spotify many years ago, I have found it to be behind the pack in its audio compression and it still is. There is a very prominent difference between Tidal's hi-fi presentation and Spotify's 320kbps. Songs seem to have more sonic range on Tidal, and as a result some sound very different while testing between the two. In case it was an issue with volume, I also tested Spotify at a higher volume than Tidal yet Tidal still sounded more natural and very noticeably more punchy.

    Note: Beats Music was not directly tested to any of the above services but I would venture to say the quality is superior to Spotify.

    Radio/Music Discovery

    1. Spotify -
    The curated playlists are helping me discover more music than ever, and I believe the variety and quality of playlists present a huge edge over the competition. With a full-featured radio, Spotify leads the way in this category.

    2. Rdio - While the radio features are great, the social feed is a lacking feature that has very little use for actual recommendations.

    3. Beats Music - The recommendation algorithm does a great job at recommending albums I already like, but it rarely recommends more obscure choices. The radio is just as good as the above but I feel Rdio's radio has a slight edge in features, including Rdio's ability to create a station based off your music library.

    4. Tidal - Although there are music discovery pages that are serviceable, the radio features are absolutely awful. Typically artist radio consists of the original artist plus about three related artists, and I did not find the related artist selection to typically be good unless it was major artists which defeats the purpose.

    Bugs/usability (ranked from best case to worst case):

    1. Spotify
    2. Rdio
    3. Tidal
    4. Beats Music
    - (unusable web player being the main issue.)

    Overall value when taking features, promotions, and bonus content into account:

    1. Spotify - student discount, family plan. (features give Spotify the edge here.)
    2. Tidal - student discount, ticket discounts, free shows for subscribers.
    3. Rdio - student discount, family plan.
    4. Beats Music - family plan through AT&T (?)

    Note that music availability on each service is so similar that a ranking is useless.

    Sexiness at the moment:

    By sexiness, I am mainly considering the trendiness of the service and all that entails.

    1. Tidal
    2. Spotify
    3. Beats Music
    4. Rdio


    Best service overall:

    1. Spotify
    - As much as I would prefer not to have to rank Spotify as the best service available right now, it is earned through the quality of its apps, music discovery and radio features. With a huge music library, finding new music should be a critical part of the equation and Spotify does it best despite having inferior audio quality.

    2. Tidal - Though it may cost double the rest of the services for its hi-fi option, 1411kbps audio in a streaming service is a big deal. Previously, it was difficult to even purchase audio in this option unless a customer decided to buy each physical CD which was still a difficult process. With all the improvements thus far and to come, Tidal is a genuinely good service to watch that is hampered by awful radio features and limited music discovery.

    3. Beats Music - The album recommendations work very well, and it feels like the service will only expand exponentially under Apple. What I enjoyed most about Beats is that each time I opened it it had practically decided for me what to listen to.

    4. Rdio - Although they're certainly trying and not going down without a fight, Rdio is lagging behind the rest. What was great a year ago simply feels a year old, which makes it antiquated compared to the overall features of the other services. Once having the best interface, Rdio now has no features that make it a superior option to what else is available.

    Will update once I test Apple's new streaming service.

    UPDATE #1 6/21:

    BEATS MUSIC, now fully-functional and devoid of many of the bugs that plagued it in my initial testing, deserves the top spot now in best service overall, #2 in sound quality, and #1 in music discovery. The album and playlist recommendations are fantastic and truly do learn your tastes as you listen to more music, even though I initially liked dance among five or six other genres and apparently all the service recommends are dance playlists which is a sore spot (it should recommend all genres I initially liked). Sound quality is also very high quality, which others' testing has confirmed. While not lossless, it is remarkably close. Once adjusted to finding the best way to use it, "The Sentence" radio feature also works very well through playing songs that are not necessarily well-known but seem to have been human-curated for quality and thus is (probably) the best radio of all the services. If there is one con of this feature it is that it tends to play the same song twice within the span of even a half-hour at times. Nonetheless, Apple did choose the best service overall to acquire and Apple Music includes the universal New Releases page I miss in Beats Music so it could very well be a fantastic service if audio quality is maintained.


    UPDATE #2 7/1

    First impressions, with a touch of brevity:

    Apple Music is not as radical of a service as expected, but there is still an evolutionary aspect about it compared to other streaming services. It just seems to get it right, and little else. Curated recommendations, a hosted radio station, and a library of 30m+ songs is really all a service needs. I feel the interface is clean and superior to the iTunes Store. It is visually-interesting enough but I find some of the gradients a bit aesthetically-displeasing. Nonetheless, it is the overall cleanest interface of all the services available. I've found the app to not perform quite well enough on my 6 Plus or rMBP however, oddly enough both have a noticeable amount of lag scrolling and with the top bar transitions. The Music app on the Apple Watch has not been given enough added functionality, as it should be able to browse radio stations and display album artwork for the currently-playing song. Unfortunately I have already run into a bug with the Radio in iTunes 12.2 loading a song but not actually playing it; it seems the station ended on its own following the bug.

    Beats1 has played a decent variety of music and is generally listenable; it does what it set out to, which is mainly play good music rather than just the top 100 although not every host is great. Zane Lowe is a perfectly good host though. Out of a handful of songs I have heard on Beats Music they have played three Dr. Dre songs. It's Beats by Dre, I get it, but we don't need to hear him on replay.

    My main wish though is that Apple offered a 320kbps or higher AAC option. 256kbps AAC sounds fine but in my opinion 320kbps AAC would be virtually indistinguishable from a lossless recording, at least in my Tidal comparison the company's 320kbps AAC compares extremely well to 1411kbps.

    Forthcoming: direct sound quality comparisons, including against lossless recordings. Also a full update of the original rankings to come within the next few weeks.

    Update #3 7/1:

    For a long time I have wondered "what would become of a station that plays good music rather than just the top 100?" and Apple has accomplished this with Beats1. Rather than mindlessly replaying the same popular songs, there have been a lot of genuinely good songs played. This is exactly what unknown artists needed, and I have been taking note of every good song to revisit the artist. I believe a major part of Beats1 will be the time that it is listened to. When Zane Lowe is on you know to expect unknown mostly good-to-great music. Yet I seemed to begin listening at hip-hop hour before since a lot of really obscure hip-hop tracks were played that frankly were not that good. No genre is off-limits it seems. I also appreciate that they do do a top 20 global countdown to break up the music a bit. I'm ready to replace SiriusXM in my car with Beats1! :D Addicted already.

    Update #4 7/4:

    So far, Apple Music gets an A across the board for recommendations, curated playlists, and music discovery features. By far the best of any service. The ease it makes finding good new music is overwhelming.

    Interface also receives an A. Best-looking service and far superior to the iTunes Store.

    For some reason the non-hosted radio, at least on Mac, seems to load songs at a lower quality but the curation can definitely be felt.

    Finding myself genuinely enjoying Beats 1 and getting excited about upcoming programs. Best radio station in the country if not the world.




     
  2. mscriv macrumors 601

    mscriv

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2008
    Location:
    Dallas, Texas
    #2
    Nice review, thanks for your insight. I've been a Spotify user since it first became available in the states and really enjoy it.
     
  3. satcomer macrumors 603

    satcomer

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2008
    Location:
    The Finger Lakes Region
    #3
    I had Pandora for a couple years but stopped it to save money and bandwidth. I feel with now with streaming video services eating into people's data cap streaming radio will not make millions of subscribers.

    Apple needs much better algorithms in their iTunes Radio real quick if they want to up their subscriber numbers.
     
  4. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #4
    I left Pandora out of the list since it's only a radio service. I considered adding iTunes Radio, which is fine IMO. Tidal + iTunes Radio would probably be the best option if it were cheaper. Am really looking forward to Apple's service though, hopefully it differentiates itself.
     
  5. MICHAELSD, Jun 7, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2015

    MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #5
    Spotify's sound quality sucks on high-quality gear so I'll be very disappointed if Apple's service isn't an improvement.

    Doing more testing vs Tidal: Spotify's compression is horrendous on some songs. Much better soundstage and detail in Tidal.
     
  6. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #7
  7. MICHAELSD, Jun 8, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015

    MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #8
    Moving onto the main event, I am now anticipating Apple Music more than ever. I believe the key to its success is how deeply-integrated it is into the Apple ecosystem, which is an advantage no other company has. The service itself sounds like just about all I was looking for in a subscription service, with curated recommendations and excellent discovery. As someone who rarely uses the standard radio besides the XM preview station which is basically Hits1 with ads (I don't drive enough for XM to be worth the value), a station that plays "great music" rather than just the top 40 sounds fantastic to me. I did not want to forgo traditional radio altogether as sometimes I will want to hear a host or interview, so Beats1 is very attractive for me. With Apple's deep connections, I believe the Connect feature will be the first time artist social integration takes off in a service like this.

    Assuming audio quality is top-class even if not necessarily hi-fi, I believe Apple Music has all it needs to become the top streaming service. Interface, discovery, and radio recommendations already seem top-class. Although iTunes quality pales compared to a lossless source so I am a bit pessimistic in the audio quality regard.
     
  8. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #9
    I've started a new Beats Music trial since the service is getting transitioned into Apple Music, and oddly enough I have felt the music quality of Beats to perhaps be the best of all services prior to Tidal yet didn't have an account to directly test when I wrote this comparison. After testing again, I have still found Beats to have the highest quality (besides Tidal). Thankfully for my sake, this is not placebo. I ran across this link:

    http://www.marcurselli.com/2014/03/...g-vs-play-music-by-google-vs-rdio-vs-spotify/

    Relevant part:

    Beats Music 54.70Mb (highest quality – REAL CD quality – the winner of the award “the only company who didn’t lie to us”!)
    MOG 39.18Mb
    Play Music 33.19Mb
    Rdio 18.59Mb
    Spotify 12.15Mb

    So let's hope Apple doesn't downgrade Beats to iTunes quality.
     
  9. AustinIllini macrumors demi-god

    AustinIllini

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2011
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    #10
    OP, with all due respect, you give Tidal way to much credit. It's not cool and no one cares.

    I expect Apple Music to put Tidal to bed, especially because Apple sells the "exclusive content" Tidal wants to carry.

    Also, Tidal's image is horrible. They wanted to be the "pay the artist" brand, but it came off as a bunch of megastars who make millions all in a fake conference room. In fact, the only thing that will save Tidal is a Pandora buyout of Tidal.
     
  10. Uofmtiger macrumors 68000

    Uofmtiger

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2010
    Location:
    Memphis
    #11
    I much preferred Rdio to Spotify and the rest (I have tried all of the services mentioned). Features like Artist radio (with slider), continue play, better search options (including playing/searching music based on label), and the fact that it works with album art using Bluetooth in my car (Spotify doesn't) is more than enough for me.

    Rdio's recommendations for music isn't on par with Beats, but I find it to be better than Spotify. However, I let them recommend music based on my tastes rather than what my friends listen to.

    I found Tidal to be lacking in every category other than sound quality. However, at least they have made some changes since I cancelled, so their features are getting better (like a new desktop app and being able to independently set bitrate for cellular and wifi).

    That being said, Siri integration alone may be enough to get me to switch to Apple Music..however, I have to see how well that works before I decide.
     
  11. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #12
    Tidal doesn't get enough credit IMO. It was a good music service before Jay-Z, and is even better with him. Sure, the press conference underutilized the talent present and didn't accurately represent Tidal's strategy to pay artists more per stream but the service itself is fine.
     
  12. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #13
    Rdio really is an underdog here, but I feel it is the most boring option right now. Apple will likely do all that Rdio already does, as well as Spotify for that matter, but better and for many users cheaper.
     
  13. AustinIllini macrumors demi-god

    AustinIllini

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2011
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    #14
    Except they destroyed its image before it gained any sort of popularity.
     
  14. Uofmtiger macrumors 68000

    Uofmtiger

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2010
    Location:
    Memphis
    #15
    Yes, if the criteria as "best" is who is more popular, I would put Spotify at the top right now (or second to Pandora in the bigger market). The main success of Spotify has nothing to do with it having better features. In fact, side by side it doesn't offer the features that Rdio has. Spotify's popularity is based on the free option that pulls in users and then helps them transfer to paid users when they are tired of commercial interruptions. I have subscribed to Spotify on 4 different occasions and I paid less than $4 a month on average. They are the music streaming equivalent of Kmart.

    As for Rdio, they will be in trouble if Apple offers similar features or makes up for the lack of those features with amazing integration. I will probably switch. However, without Apple, I would take Rdio over Spotify (unless I needed the free service) any day of the week.
     
  15. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #16
    Surprisingly enough for me, I would be using Beats Music or probably even more likely Tidal if it were not for Apple Music. They both have excellent audio quality, and honestly now that Beats fixed their web player I would update them to #2 in sound quality and #2 in Radio/Music Discovery. The service will be gone June 30th though otherwise I would.

    I would likely use Rdio over Spotify though if it wasn't for the other services.
     
  16. maflynn Moderator

    maflynn

    Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 3, 2009
    Location:
    Boston
    #17
    I tried spotify but for some reason it never really clicked with me. I'm content with Pandora, but I'm curious at some of the tracks it plays for me. For instance, I have an AC/DC station set up, yet I hear from time to time, Johnny Cash music. Seems like an odd selection given that I wanted 80s heavy metal.
     
  17. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #18
    They claim their algorithms go deep and have various tags for similarities in music beyond simply genre, so for whatever reason they find aspects of AC/DC similar to aspects of Johnny Cash songs.

    I believe this is one area where Apple could succeed though in having the stations more human-curated.
     
  18. maflynn Moderator

    maflynn

    Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 3, 2009
    Location:
    Boston
    #19
    Perhaps, though I'm unsure I'm willing to spend money for listening to music. I only use the free version of pandora at the moment.
     
  19. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #20
    Apple's service should be a tremendous value, especially with the family plan and yearly discount. Although radio stations (aka the only feature Pandora offers) are free to non-subscribers.
     
  20. Astroboy907 macrumors 65816

    Astroboy907

    Joined:
    May 6, 2012
    Location:
    Spaceball One
    #21
    No love for Google Play Music? They have a subscription model as well, it definitely rivals Spotify. IMO, better radio song choices. Not as good as Pandoras algorithms, but keeps me out of the looping dozen songs that Spotify gives me.
     
  21. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #22
    To be candid I did not find Google Play Music appealing enough to try. Interface isn't great IMO and there are few unique features.
     
  22. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #23
    Through further testing of Beats Music's newer version, I have this update:

    UPDATE #1 6/21:

    BEATS MUSIC, now fully-functional and devoid of many of the bugs that plagued it in my initial testing, deserves the top spot now in best service overall, #2 in sound quality, and #1 in music discovery. The album and playlist recommendations are fantastic and truly do learn your tastes as you listen to more music, even though I initially liked dance among five or six other genres and apparently all the service recommends are dance playlists which is a sore spot (it should recommend all genres I initially liked). Sound quality is also very high quality, which others' testing has confirmed. While not lossless, it is remarkably close. Once adjusted to finding the best way to use it, "The Sentence" radio feature also works very well through playing songs that are not necessarily well-known but seem to have been human-curated for quality and thus is (probably) the best radio of all the services. If there is one con of this feature it is that it tends to play the same song twice within the span of even a half-hour at times. Nonetheless, Apple did choose the best service overall to acquire and Apple Music includes the universal New Releases page I miss in Beats Music so it could very well be a fantastic service if audio quality is maintained.
     
  23. dave2010 macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2014
    Location:
    Canberra
    #24
    I found Google music good because you can upload your own music and it's integrated the Google play library. Still, if there is a decent alternative to a Google product I try to use it because I try to limit my Google usage.
     
  24. MICHAELSD, Jun 30, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2015

    MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2008
    Location:
    NJ
    #25
    First impressions, with a touch of brevity:

    Apple Music is not as radical of a service as expected, but there is still an evolutionary aspect about it compared to other streaming services. It just seems to get it right, and little else. Curated recommendations, a hosted radio station, and a library of 30m+ songs is really all a service needs. I feel the interface is clean and superior to the iTunes Store. It is visually-interesting enough but I find some of the gradients a bit aesthetically-displeasing. Nonetheless, it is the overall cleanest interface of all the services available. I've found the app to not perform quite well enough on my 6 Plus or rMBP however, oddly enough both have a noticeable amount of lag scrolling and with the top bar transitions. The Music app on the Apple Watch has not been given enough added functionality, as it should be able to do quite a bit more. Unfortunately I have already run into a bug with the Radio in iTunes 12.2 loading a song but not actually playing it; it seems the station ended on its own following the bug.

    Beats1 has played a decent variety of music and is generally listenable; it does what it set out to, which is mainly play good music rather than just the top 100 although not every host is great. Zane Lowe is a perfectly good host though. Out of a handful of songs I have heard on Beats Music they have played three Dr. Dre songs. It's Beats by Dre, I get it, but we don't need to hear him on replay.

    Forthcoming: direct sound quality comparisons, including against lossless recordings. Also a full update of the original rankings to come within the next few weeks.

    Update:

    For a long time I have wondered "what would become of a station that plays good music rather than just the top 100?" and Apple has accomplished this with Beats1. Rather than mindlessly replaying the same popular songs, there have been a lot of genuinely good songs played. This is exactly what unknown artists needed, and I have been taking note of every good song to revisit the artist. I believe a major part of Beats1 will be the time that it is listened to. When Zane Lowe is on you know to expect unknown mostly good-to-great music. Yet I seemed to begin listening at hip-hop hour before since a lot of really obscure hip-hop tracks were played that frankly were not that good. No genre is off-limits it seems. I also appreciate that they do do a top 20 global countdown to break up the music a bit. I'm ready to replace SiriusXM in my car with Beats1! :D Addicted already.
     

Share This Page