The top music streaming services in the UK compared

While digital music downloads are on the decline, music streaming services are soaring in popularity, not least because Apple has entered the game, followed very closely by Amazon. Streaming services let you pay a small fee each month, or even get the music for free if you can put up with advertising, and get access to huge music libraries to listen to whenever and wherever you fancy.

Not long ago, Spotify was leading the pack when it came to music streaming in the UK, despite several worthy alternatives including Deezer, Google Music and Tidal. It's since seen fierce opposition from Amazon and Apple, but in May 2016 it announced plans to shake up its service by branching out of music with original video. Twelve exclusive shows are said to be in the works, and when complete Spotify could regain its dominance. 

Apple entered the market in June 2015 with Apple Music, a new streaming service for iPad, iPhone and even Android. Amazon followed in July 2015, bringing its Amazon Prime Music service to the UK, and has been improving it ever since. See also: Spotify alternatives

With so many competing services available, it can be tricky to decide which one to use. Here, we put Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Amazon Prime Music and Apple Music head-to-head to see how they compare.

Worldwide, Spotify has more than 75 million users, with more than 20 million of those paying for the ad-free version, while Deezer has 16 million users, with six million of those coughing up cash.

As of March 2015, Tidal had 580,000 paying susbcribers, so is significantly less popular than the aforementioned services but is also much newer.

That said, newcomer Apple Music claims to have acquired 10 million paying customers within just six months.

And with Amazon Prime Music, anyone who is already signed up to Amazon Prime will get access to the service automatically. That's in addition to the TV and movie streaming service, next day delivery and Kindle perks, so represents and additional reason to sign up and a bonus of those who already have.

This article previously featured YouTube Music Key, a music streaming service based on YouTube's video library. However, as of November, YouTube shut the doors on Music Key. Instead, it's working on YouTube Red, which will let you download ad-free videos and music, but that's only available in the US for now. Find out more about YouTube Red here.

Deezer vs Spotify vs Tidal vs Amazon Prime Music vs Apple Music comparison: Music library

The most important element of a music streaming service is the music, right? So we'll start by comparing the music libraries of Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Prime Music and Apple Music. Each has millions of songs available to listen to – and in the case of some services, watch videos for.

Spotify has more than 30 million songs in its library, which reaches 58 countries, while Deezer has 40 million songs that reach more than 180 countries. The amount of songs available in each country varies, so it's likely that the reason for the higher song-count in Deezer's library is local music not available for the UK market. Tidal has 25 million songs in its library and 75,000 music videos, and is currently available in 31 countries.

Like Spotify, Apple Music also offers 30 million songs, though there are 45 million in the iTunes Library itself so 15 million of those are unavailable to stream. Apple Music is the only streaming service to have won Taylor Swift over so far, exclusively offering her bestselling latest album 1989.

Deezer seems to present some extras for some artists we searched for, particularly offering live albums that rivals seemed to lack.

As for Tidal, which is owned by Jay-Z and co-owned or associated with many of Jay-Z's big name friends, you'll find exclusive content from artists including Beyonce, Rihanna, Madonna, Alicia Keyes, Usher and more. See also: What is Tidal?

Amazon Prime Music only offers little more than a million tracks, which sounds like a lot but when you compare it with 30 million you'll realise there's going to be a lot missing. Several of the artists we tried, most of which are very well known, found no results on Prime Music, but we do know that Amazon is adding to its list all the time.

More songs are being added to all of these services every day, so if there's something missing from the library that you were hoping to listen to, chances are it'll appear at some point in the near future, but we don't recommend holding your breath.

You'll be able to add the songs you find and like to your own playlists and favourites if you choose to in all of the services.

Deezer vs Spotify vs Tidal vs Amazon Prime Music vs Apple Music comparison: Compatibility

You might be surprised to hear that Apple Music has launched on Android as well as iOS devices, and you'll find Android and iOS apps for each of the other services too. They'll all work on the web and some are available with downloadable desktop apps for both Windows and Mac.

Deezer vs Spotify vs Tidal vs Amazon Prime Music vs Apple Music comparison: Design and user interface

One of the big differences between the five streaming services we're comparing here is the design and user interface, and we think we prefer Deezer overall.

We like Deezer's light, clear and simple design across both the web/desktop versions of the service and the mobile/tablet versions, and think it's easier to navigate than the dark, quite complex interfaces of Spotify, Tidal and Amazon Prime Music, and the cluttered Apple Music interface.

When we first began using Tidal after long-term Spotify use, we were surprised to see just how much the web player looks like Spotify, right down to the playlist icons and the layout.

Depsite also being dark, Amazon Prime Music's layout is quite different, but will be quite familiar for users of its Prime Instant Video service, or even simply its website.

We found that we were able to get stuck in immediately with Deezer and Amazon Prime Music (which is particularly simple to navigate as there's not many ways to browse and discover music, which is not exactly a good thing).

Spotify, Tidal and particularly Apple Music took us a bit longer to figure out. Once we had, however, all five services became equally enjoyable to use.

Deezer vs Spotify vs Tidal vs Amazon Prime Music vs Apple Music comparison: Music Discovery

Deezer Hear This

Another big appeal of music streaming services is the discovery features. Music lovers are always looking for something new to listen to, and Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Prime Music and Apple Music can all offer up recommendations for their users.

Deezer has a cool feature called Hear This, a music feed that's personalised for you. It shows you new albums and tracks from artists you listen to or add to your favourites, as well as Deezer picks based on your listening habits and playlists created by users with similar music tastes to you, so you'll never run out of tracks to listen to.

We prefer Hear This to Spotify's 'Discover' feature, which we found to be a bit hit and miss. Plus, Spotify doesn't recommend playlists in the Discover section, just artists, albums and individual tracks.

Reasonably new to Spotify, though, is Discover Weekly, which presents a personalised, 2-hour-long playlist of the hottest tracks it thinks you'll love every week.

We also like Spotify's recently added Now section, which offers up recommendations based on the time of day and day of the week.

Apple Music offers a similar feature in its For You discovery section, which offers up playlists, individual tracks and artists, and timely content for you to enjoy. It takes a while for Apple Music to understand what you like and dislike, but the more you use it the more you'll find it gets to know you. And its New section shows you what's hot for other Apple Music users, and also provides you with curated playlists based on moods, industry experts and genre gurus.

Spotify's Browse section is similar to Apple's New section, and has a much easier-to-use interface. You'll be offered an overview, top lists, genres and moods, new releases and news. The genres and moods feature is particularly good, offering playlists that fall under categories like "Focus" for revision sessions or "Chill" when you're having a relaxing evening in.

Deezer's 'Explore' offering is similar to Spotify's Browse, but doesn't have quite as many options to help you find what you might be looking for.

Amazon Prime Music bases its recommendations on your purchase history and reviews on Amazon, so you might need to spend some time on this, too, particularly if you buy a lot of gifts from Amazon for other people with different music tastes to you.

Deezer offers up 'Similar Artists' for each artist you search for, too, much like Spotify does with its 'Related Artists' tabs. On Apple Music, you'll see 'You May Also Like' at the bottom of any album page for new artist recommendations.

Tidal doesn't yet have a recommendation or discovery feature quite like the others. There's playlists, which have a pre-set list of tracks tailored to a particular mood or genre, and there's also the Tidal Rising feature, introducing new artists to the spotlight, but aside from that it's featured tracks that'll be the same for everyone.

Tidal does offer a range of playlists to suit genres and moods, but there aren't as many choices as you'll find in Spotify or Apple Music. There's only 'What's New' (shown below), which we didn't find as useful.

Deezer vs Spotify vs Tidal vs Amazon Prime Music vs Apple Music comparison: Radio

Deezer, Spotify and Apple Music and now Amazon Prime Music offer Radio services in addition to the music streaming features.

You'll find themed radio channels, partner radio channels and artist radio channels in Deezer, and lots of different genres available to choose from. The artist channels, for example, intelligently pick songs from the artist you've selected and similar or related artists. You'll get a limited amount of skips in the Radio feature on Deezer if you're using the free version, though.

Spotify's radio feature is very similar to Deezer's, offering up Artist Radio for the artists you like in the same way as its rival. There are also lots of genre stations to choose from. Spotify doesn't limit the amount of skips you're allowed on each channel, though, so if you don't like a song that's playing you'll be able to skip right ahead to the next one, or the next one and so on.

As of January 2016, Amazon has added a sort of radio feature to its Music service, called Prime Stations. Users can listen to ad-free playlists based on an artist or a genre. Give songs you like a thumbs up and anything you're not so keen on a thumbs down to help improve the personalisation.

Again very similar is Apple Music's radio feature, with an artist-based radio station tool as well as stations for various genres. Additionally, you'll find Apple's Beats 1 radio station, which is a live station broadcasting around the world 24-7.

Tidal offers a radio function for artists or individual tracks in a very similar way, so aside from Apple Music's Beats 1 Radio there's really not much in the way of radio that sets these services apart from one another.

Deezer vs Spotify vs Tidal vs Amazon Prime Music vs Apple Music comparison: Offline listening

Helpfully, all five of these music-streaming services have offline options. Spotify Premium subscribers get the ability to download music and listen offline in high-quality, limited to 3,333 tracks that'll be available to listen to offline for up to 30 days.

You can sync albums and playlists to your device in Deezer Premium+ for listening to offline, too.

And in Tidal, the Offline Mode lets you save music on your devices to listen to offline. It's available in both subscription plans (which we'll talk more about later), as there is no free version available. There's no offline mode for Mac or PC yet, though.

Apple Music's paid-for option also offers offline listening - as long as you've got space on your device there doesn't seem to be a limit, aside from a device limit of 10, which is plenty.

And finally, Amazon Prime Music lets you download songs and albums that you've added to your music library for offline playback.

Deezer vs Spotify vs Tidal vs Amazon Prime Music vs Apple Music comparison: Other features

Most of these music streaming services also offer some extra features that we've not yet covered, and these features differ between them.

We love Spotify's 'On Tour' feature, which means you'll know if an artist you've searched for is playing a concert in your country any time soon. There is also a merchandise feature in Spotify, meaning you can find T-shirts, badges, mugs and more from your favourite bands and musicians.

Social integration with Facebook is present across both Spotify and Deezer, allowing you to see what your friends are listening to. In this instance, Spotify has a one up on Deezer thanks to its bigger listener base, which makes it more likely that more of your friends will be subscribers.

Tidal also allows you to connect with Facebook, but simply to let you share what you're listening to with your friends directly on Facebook, rather than bringing what your friends are listening to into the app for you to instantly hear.

Apple Music's social element is a bit different. It's called Connect, and only artists can post there. It's designed to let artists share exclusive videos, photos and more, which fans can then like, share or comment on. 

Both Spotify and Deezer have apps available to bring extra functionality to the service. Deezer's App Studio has more than 100 apps for anything from lyrics to chord extraction, while Spotify also has apps available in its App Finder feature on the desktop. The apps available are very similar here too.

The big selling point for Tidal, and one of the only things that sets it apart from its cheaper rivals at the moment, is the ability to listen to high-fidelity, lossless tracks. This essentially means that you'll be getting CD-quality sound rather than the compressed quality of an MP3.

For the audiophiles among you, Tidal's quality offering are broken down into Normal, High and HiFi. Normal is AAC+ 96kbps, High is AAC 320 Kbps (which is what you'll get if you sign up to Spotify's Premium subscription or Deezer's Premium+), and HiFi, which means you'll get 16bit/44.1 KHz 1411 Kbps FLAC files.

It's worth noting, though, that without good headphones you're not going to get the most out of Tidal's HiFI offering. Find out which headphones are the best available in our 20 best headphones article.

Deezer actually offers a lossless HiFi option, too, but only for Sonos customers. It's called Deezer Elite, and you should get an email offering an upgrade if you start using Deezer with your Sonos speaker system. Find out more here.

Apple Music offers a maximum of 256Kbps AAC, while Amazon Prime Music seems to vary depending on what you want to listen to.

Compatibility with speaker systems varies across all five of these services too, so it's worth investigating how well each will work with the speakers you've got at home.

Additional music streaming social media integration: Muzeit

There's also a pretty cool app for social integration that works across music streaming platforms and connects with social networks like Facebook. It collates what you and your friends are listening to and makes it much easier to share music tastes and playlists with a familiar social network feel.

It is available for iOS and Android. The clever interface lets you view what your mates are downloading or streaming, with the ability to comment and share from there. It's better the more you integrate it with apps like Spotify and Facebook. If you want a hub from which to organise your musical life, this may well be it.

Deezer vs Spotify vs Tidal vs Amazon Prime Music vs Apple Music comparison: Price

Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music each offer free, ad-supported versions in addition to paid versions, while Tidal subscriptions are all paid and Amazon Prime Music requires an Amazon Prime membership.

With the free version of Spotify, you'll get access to the entire library on mobile, tablet and computer, but you'll hear ads regularly between tracks. Plus, you'll only be able to listen to a lower audio quality.

Upgrading to the £9.99 per month Premium Spotify subscription will let you download music to listen to offline, and you won't hear any ads between tracks for uninterrupted listening.

Spotify currently offers a two-month free trial of the Premium version, so you can see whether you think it's worth the £9.99 before you begin coughing up cash.

Meanwhile, Deezer's free version is not quite as good as the free version of Spotify, though a recent update means you'll now get access to a limited version of the service on mobile or tablet, in addition to the web. It'll come complete with ads, and is low quality audio like the free version of Spotify.

If you're interested in getting access to Amazon Prime Music, you'll need to sign up to become an Amazon Prime member. It costs £79 per year which equates to just over £6.50 per month, and for that price you also get access to Amazon Prime Instant Video, next-day delivery on eligible items purchased from Amazon, cloud storage for your photos and kindle perks. So overall, it's a pretty good deal!

Amazon offers a free trial of Prime, and it's well worth trying. You can sign up to the free trial here.

Apple offers a free version of Apple Music but it's really, really limited. You'll be able to view the Connect social feature but you won't be able to comment, but aside from that there's not much else available to you unless you pay the £9.99 per month subscription fee.

The good news is that you'll get a long, three-month trial of Apple Music to help you discover whether it's right for you.

Tidal is the most expensive of the five services, with no free option available. For Tidal Premium with Normal and High sound quality and HD music videos, you'll pay £9.99 per month. For Tidal HiFi, which offers lossless High Fidelity sound quality, it's £19.99 per month. Both offer 30-day free trials.

Overall, all five of these services are excellent music streaming services for different reasons, and if you've never tried a similar service before you should definitely give one a go to see whether you like this new way of listening to, sharing and discovering music.

We prefer the design and interface of Deezer, but once you're used to them the other services are easy to use too. Our least favourite in terms of design is Amazon Prime Music, but at least it's familiar and reasonably simple.

Apple's Music discovery tool is our favourite, very closely followed by Spotify's. Tidal's lack of a good discovery feature is disappointing, and puts us off subscribing to the service.

Apple Music's Radio features are the best, again closely followed by Spotify's.

If you're looking for a service that you can listen to for free, we'd recommend opting for Spotify, as it'll serve you better than the free version of Deezer and there are no good free options from Tidal, Amazon Prime Music or Apple Music.

Plus, the number of subscribers to Spotify is higher than the other services listed here (at least as far as we know so far) and social integration is great, so if you're planning on sharing the experience with friends, Spotify might be the better option.

Tidal and Apple Music are the only services that offer video as part of the package, so if that's something that appeals to you it might sway you towards them.

For audiophiles, Tidal is the best option, but at £19.99 per month it doesn't come cheap and it needs some serious improvement to offer the range of great features boasted by Spotify and Deezer.

OUR VERDICT

We think it's worth giving a few of these services a go with the free trials before subscribing, as it's really down to personal preference which one you'll prefer. They have many, many similarities so it's those small differences that'll help you make the decision between them.

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