With the advent of Apple lossless and Spotify going lossless later this year I thought I would compare all the offerings for myself.
Most of my music is listened to either in the car or at my computer and whilst I am far from an audiophile, I do appreciate good sounding music. I have Q-Acoustics 3020i speakers and a Denon amplifier, not the greatest in the world but good enough to differentiate good from poor quality. We have a Sonos setup around the home for general listening.
I am a longtime Spotify subscriber and have been on/off with Apple Music since around 2015 but mostly on now as it is part of the Apple One subscription (gotta love the walled garden!). I have also had access to Amazon Music via Amazon Prime for several years.
All others are based on the various free trials.
I do not discuss the range of music on each service, they all have tens of millions of tracks available and they all have pretty much the same.
Tidal started off really well, a great well featured interface.
Within no time it was offering the type of music I listen to as well as new stuff I’ve never heard of before, even against Spotify with its many years of my listening history.
The interface was very good, the navigation was spot on and the way everything linked to everything else was great, so easy to discover new stuff.
One unique item that really impressed was the amount of information available for each track and artist, it really shows that it is an artist/music driven service.
The quality of the music was great, as expected, no issues in that area.
However, it was not all great….
The first issue was the buffering time, sometimes the tracks played instantly, sometimes it would take several seconds to start and other times I had to quit the application and restart it to be able to play tracks once again. This was my first experience of streamed lossless music and given the increase in file size some slight delay was expected, but it was just poor.
The second issue was CarPlay. As an Apple user I have CarPlay and have used Apple/Spotify with very few issues in the past. Tidal was another matter, buffering time was extreme often refusing to load at all. Twice it managed to lock the head unit up altogether requiring me to cycle the ignition to clear it. All happened on one trip – a complete disaster.
I use Spotify connect and was encouraged by Tidal connect, however nothing we had supports it directly, not even the Sonos at this stage.
The Tidal trial period seemed to end very quickly as well so I had no time to try any fixes, try the service across other devices or take any screenshots. After looking through the various forums I am not alone in the issues I have had.
It’s a no from me, great interface, great info let down by buffering and the appalling CarPlay experience.
Deezer have a 3 month trial period, a good start.
Once again Deezer was suggesting great music options from the start. The interface is OK, the flow idea (“An infinite mix of favourite and new tracks”) took some getting used to but works well. A limited number of playlists have been offered so far but most seem on point.
I have tried this on iOS, MacOS and on the web, all works and sounds great. Some occasional buffering but nothing that detracts from the listening experience.
CarPlay works well, only seems to buffer if you change to many tracks in one go, I assume it only caches a few tracks so needs to catch up.
Deezer is one of the few services that have enabled their service on the Apple HomePod.
No Deezer connect, but otherwise seems to be a good service.
I’ve had Amazon Music for some time with my Amazon Prime subscription, despite only having access to a few million tracks there is still quite a bit to listen to.
I signed up for the Amazon music HD trial to give the lossless ‘HD’ a go, so far have only tried on the iOS and MacOS apps. Amazon are including the HD/lossless service at no extra cost so bonus points for Amazon.
I don’t believe Amazon has quite cracked the suggestions as well as some of the other services, the ‘You might like” and the ‘Playlists for you’ seem to be quite limited but reasonably accurate. Most suggestions are based around 80s Electronic music, although there is a good chance that was most of my listening history on Amazon!
Amazon make available in your library any music you have purchased from them, either electronic download or on CD where they offer the downloads as part of the purchase.
I’m sure Amazon Music would play great with Alexa as well but we no longer use any Echos so can not test.
Overall seems a decent service, quality is good, works well but suggestions and discovery seem somewhat limited.
Ahhh, Spotify, I seemed to have a love-hate relationship with Spotify.
The Spotify service was the first streaming service I ever tried and it seemed like magic at the time, infinite music, great suggestions and totally focused on music. The Spotify Connect works so well, you can move music from device to device (that support it, but many do) without skipping a beat, it just works and most of the time works great.
Works on iOS, Web, MacOS, Windows, Android, CarPlay and Linux, there are very few places you can’t Spotify!
However, lately things have not been great…
The suggestions and recommendations went through a real rough patch a while back, seems to be better but definitely discovering fewer new artist and tracks than before.
Spotify seem to be very slow in adding new features despite being the biggest player.
And Podcasts, what is it with podcasts all of a sudden. Podcasts used to be free to all but seem to have become the latest commodity for music streaming services who are snapping them up (for stupid money) and putting them behind a paywall. Spotify was the first to do this, and now their home page is littered with podcast recommendations. I have zero interest from Spotify podcasts, give me a way to turn them off, better still, stop them altogether and give the money to the music artists who do not do well out of any streaming service.
In a blind test Spotify was the worst quality out of all the services, more on this below, lets hope that changes once they introduce lossless.
Until one of the other services offer a proper, well supported Deezer/Tidal/Apple/Amazon connect it will be difficult to drop Spotify.
As a long time Apple user I tried Apple Music when it launched back in 2015, again for six months in 2017 when I got a free subscription with my mobile phone plan and then full time in 2020 when the Apple One subscription launched.
As a service it is fine, it integrates well with the rest of the Apple ecosystem everywhere, was good quality before lossless and is now even better since lossless is available at no extra cost.
I have a few issues with the Apple Music service:
Firstly the Mac app, it is and has always been a train wreck, just so counter intuitive. Given how good Apple are with the user experiences I think they must have had an off day (that day being every day since 2015). It is slow, often pages will not load, clicking the same menu item will do something different on the first click than the second click. All other services allow you to go back, when exploring and discovering new material on all other services you can navigate from page to page and then go back the same route to try another ‘branch’ of discovery. With Apple once you have navigated along a path, the only ‘back’ seems to be back to the homepage via the two click mentioned above. The iOS app is a little better, but still far from great.
Secondly, Apple is great at integrating all devices throughout their ecosystem, it is one of the things I like about it. For some reason this has been completely ignored in the music service. If I am playing music on my phone I can tap it to my HomePod and pass the music to it and back agin – great. If I am playing music in my phone and want to play it on my Mac there is no way of doing this. I have to navigate to the playlist, assuming I can find it, and start playing on the new device. I now have the same music playing at different times on two devices – utter rubbish!
A new issue is lossless playback. I click a track and is will show and play lossless – great, however, after a while it stops finding the lossless track and plays the standard track. I have to quit the app and reload to be able to play lossless. I have seen this on both the Mac and iOS. Early days for lossless so let’s hope it is just a few teething issues.
Shall be persevering with Apple Music, it has lossless at no extra cost and fits in will with my lifestyle despite the lack of handoff, fingers crossed one day (but I’m not holding my breath!)
Qobuz is another streaming service that I have recently discovered but have not yet trialed the service. We found them as I was looking for places to download music and they provide CD quality and HiRes music downloads.
Last year I re-discovered ‘local music’! Over a period of a few months in 2020 we had horrific service from Virgin Media broadband, we are talking old-school dial-up speeds, 10-20kbs at times (thanks Virgin Media for your lack of, well, everything). Spotify was a no go so we had to revert to listening to our own music stored locally. I tried Plex and have found it to be a great music player as well as movies and other videos.
Spurred on by this I have been building up my own collection of music one again. This has involved re-ripping all my CDs again at high quality, buying secondhand CDs from places like Music Magpie and buying music from the likes of Qobuz when I can’t find the CD.
Using Plex and other players (NOT the terrible Apple Music!) I have really enjoyed being self sufficient once again. I’ll never have the 70million songs Spotify has, but as long as I get the good stuff, I’ll be more than happy.
Having grown up with vinyl, or records as we called them back in the 70s, and then tapes, CDs and finally digital I can honestly say I do not miss records one bit, controversial I know!. They have to be treated with so much care and have decent kit to play them and to get the best out of them.
With the right kit and in the right circumstances they are OK but are just to impractical for day ago day use.
When the vinyl trend came back a few years ago I did not jump back on the bandwagon!
At the start of trying these services I did a kind of a ‘blind’ test with my son. This involved Sony WH-1000XM3 connected via bluetooth to my iPhone and then the same headphones wired to my computer audio output. I selected three different tracks that we were familiar with as well as a HiRes track from Qobuz on the desktop. We tried Apple (AAC, pre-lossless), Spotify, Tidal (HiFi or better) and the HiRes file, the results were interesting.
I listened first (not so blind, I know what was playing as I had to select it!) followed by my son who did not know which source it was from, we both reached the same conclusion!
The HiRes track sounded different from the the streamed version when played on the computer, debatable if better but certainly different.
Spotify was noticeably lower quality than Tidal, there was not as much detail in the music.
Tidal was excellent quality, much more information than Spotify, mid and highs where so much clearer and detailed, the bass seemed much fuller.
Apple was the surprise here (this was before the launch of lossless), there was no or little difference between it and Tidal that we could tell.
In conclusion, Spotify was the worst, by some margin. Tidal and Apple were very similar and much better than Spotify, the HiRes file was different, excellent quality but we suspect a slightly different mix that caused the differences to be heard.
A completely unscientific test, but did show us some differences.
Tidal. Excellent quality and excellent user interface but let down by appalling buffering and unreliable CarPlay.
Deezer. Excellent quality and good user interface. Good recommendations but limited by playback options, no ‘Deezer connect’
Apple Music. Excellent quality (now lossless), terrible user interface. Good recommendations but again limited playback options. Lossless for no extra is a bonus, makes Tidal and Deezer very expensive.
Amazon Music HD. Excellent quality, OK user interface. Recommendations and playlists seem to be limited. Good integration with music brought from Amazon. ‘HD’ comes at no extra cost.
Spotify. Worst music quality (though not terrible) and a poor user interface, far too much emphasis on podcasts. Recommendations are OK but the real winner here is the Spotify Connect functionality, difficult to ignore.
Local music. Excellent quality, a choice of apps to play back with, music will not disappear if you stop paying a subscription, always available. By far the most limited number of available tracks, but working on that.