Spotify vs Tidal vs Apple Music

The old guard of streaming music takes on the new hot young thing and the might of Cupertino. Which one should you choose?

In 2008, Spotify gave the music industry a kick up the bottom.

Sure, there were streaming services before it (hello, Napster), but Spotify hit the mainstrean. Suddenly everyone was aware they could access millions of tracks, on demand. CDs and even MP3s became old-hat overnight.

Umpteen rivals have since appeared (Rdio, Aupeo!, Pure Music, Qobuz), but until recently Tidal had the best shot at wrenching the spotlight from Spotify, promising higher-quality streaming, editorial curation, and Taylor Swift. 

Now Apple has entered the fray, with a human touch, a new radio station and an embedded social network. And also Taylor Swift.

Which one will make your ears do a happy dance?

By the numbers

Spotify says it has over 30 million tracks; Apple’s estimated to have the same. By comparison, Tidal was recently reported to have only 25 million (in what must be the most ridiculous use of ‘only’ on the entire Stuff website), although it now also claims 30 million.

Yet on exploring the catalogues, you do notice more gaps in Tidal, notably when it comes to rarer bands, albums or singles. It’s about 95% of a Spotify.

Spotify, meanwhile, is more than 100% of a Spotify, in the sense the desktop version enables you to plug gaps by integrating local music collections.

Apple Music is largely similar, and with even better integration. So although Tidal has the odd bit of exclusive content and one or two artists who quit Spotify in a strop, this round is a tie between the other two.

Winners: Spotify and Apple Music


Finding favourites

As you’d expect, you can search in each service for music you want to listen to, which Spotify handles in a clearer and generally more pleasing manner than its rivals. 

However, Tidal’s cunning plan is to be an editor, showcasing up-and-coming talent, unsigned greatness, and, in terms of playlists, the current fancies of involved celebs. 

It does this quite well, but Apple Music’s stolen that crown, with a ton of superb playlists, and a ‘For You’ section that learns what you like, quickly returning excellent recommendations. Then there’s how the services later help you find your favourite tracks. Spotify has Your Music, which houses starred tracks, albums and artists, along with your custom playlists. Tidal appears to have photocopied this bit of Spotify and cunningly called it My Music. 

Apple Music ‘thinks different’, in the sense flagged tracks are welded to your iTunes library (now dubbed ‘My Music’). Previously, we called this as a Spotify/Tidal tie, but Apple Music now nudges ahead, due to its excellence in music discovery.

Winner: Apple Music