On the desktop

Spotify and Tidal have a web player and a native app, but Apple Music appears to have been hammered into iTunes with a shoe.

Again, Tidal appears to have largely aped Spotify, and so both apps offer basic browserish navigation, a sidebar for accessing genres and stashed music, and a playback bar across the foot of the window. They’re also both all moody and dark, interface-wise, although Spotify’s refinements come off as friendly, while Tidal is stark and unpleasant unless you’ve a high-res display. Apple Music is inside iTunes, which is, well, iTunes. (i.e. broadly usable but quite often clunky and cluttered.) 

On extended use, Spotify’s age becomes clearer, and the app’s iterated to a really good place that’s fairly elegant (although avoid the browser-based version).

Tidal feels a bit like a cheap copy that’s simultaneously trying really hard to be modern and hip. It also lacks offline playback — although that’s reportedly coming soon — and tends to buffer fairly regularly if you’re on a ‘HiFi’ subscription. Apple Music feels a bit messy, isn’t as responsive as it should be, and feels hamstrung being smashed into what was already a bloated, complex app. So we’re giving this one to Spotify. 

Winner: Spotify

Going mobile

On smartphone and tablets, all of the apps are at their best from an interface standpoint, although the quality of audio you get out is of course largely dependant on your device’s capabilities — a potential problem for Tidal’s HiFi subscribers.

Spotify and Tidal are resolutely full-screen and usable, stashing the nav sidebar off-screen until it’s needed. Apple Music more or less takes over the Music app, and although there’s a tendency towards clutter, this isn’t as evident as in iTunes.

Streaming and download quality can, in the cases of Tidal and Spotify, be individually set, so you can have high-quality streams but relatively low-quality offline tracks to save space, or the other way around if you want to download higher quality tracks on Wi-Fi but save data by streaming smaller files when on the move.

In use, we gradually gravitated towards Tidal on Android and Spotify or Apple Music on iOS. Spotify for iPad is especially impressive, with some lovely bits of interface design that improve browsing and general use; but, really, it’s shared honours here.

(Note that Apple Music for Android isn’t out until the autumn, so we can’t check on that unless a tame Time Lord drops by.)

Winner: Draw