I’ve been a devout Spotify listener for years. All the music and podcasts I need are there, it’s what my friends use, and I could not possibly deal with the FOMO of not having a fancy Spotify Wrapped with my top artists to post on my social feeds at the end of every year. But then I listened to one of my favorite albums in Apple Music’s Spatial Audio, and for a short few minutes, my world changed. Had I been missing out this whole time?
To answer that question, I made Apple Music my primary music streaming app for the better part of a few weeks. But while Apple’s audio service has a lot of big advantages over Spotify and other popular competitors, they simply were not enough for me to make the switch permanently. Here’s why.
A few weeks back when testing out the AirPods Max, I decided to fire up Apple Music to see how the company’s immersive 360-degree Spatial Audio tech held up on the high-end headphones. I was calmly bobbing my head to Turnstile’s “Glow On” – an album I’ve listened to dozens of times – when the soaring anthemic chorus of the blistering punk song “Endless” suddenly hit me like a truck.
Not only did Spatial Audio track my head movements – keeping each instrument in a fixed place as if I was at a live concert – it also highlighted vocal harmonies and small background instrumentation I never noticed when listening on Spotify. I quickly became obsessed with finding out which of my favorite albums were mixed in Dolby Atmos for immersive spatial listening, and had a blast listening to everything from chill indie to explosive hard rock from a new perspective.
Of course, you will need a supported pair of Apple headphones (such as the AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods 3 or Beats Fit Pro) to take advantage of this perk. I found Spatial Audio to make a much bigger difference on the over-ear AirPods Max than on earbuds like the Beats Fit Pro, but the effect is still impressive regardless of what you’re wearing. The speakers on newer Mac models like the 24-inch iMac and 14-inch MacBook Pro also support Spatial Audio, but you will not get quite the same immersive head-tracked experience.
Even if you’re not part of the AirPods army, Apple Music has another big advantage over Spotify: lossless and high-resolution audio. Lossless audio essentially avoids a lot of the data loss that happens when songs are compressed from their original source, giving you CD-quality sound from a digital file. Certain Apple Music albums even offer Hi-Res Lossless, which is an even richer audio resolution that gets you that much closer to studio quality. On top of all this, select records are available as Apple Digital Masters, which Apple says delivers the “highest possible quality audio.”
This all means that Apple Music should sound better than Spotify for many listeners, though your mileage may vary. You’ll need to wear wired headphones to reap the benefits of lossless audio, and even then, you’ll need a pretty discerning ear to notice the differences. That said, even when listening primarily on wireless earbuds while using an iPhone, I found that most songs sounded louder and brighter on Apple Music compared to Spotify.
Lossless audio is eventually coming to Spotify via Spotify HiFi, but there still isn’t a clear word on when. Rival app Tidal is famously known for its Hi-Fi listening support that starts in its $ 10 per month plan, though you’ll have to pay a pricey $ 20 per month for access to formats like Dolby Atmos and Master Quality audio – two things available on Apple Music from the start. Tidal’s $ 20 HiFi Plus plan offers a wider overall range of audio formats (including Sony 360 Reality Audio for those on Sony headphones and mega-high-quality 9216 kpbs tracks), but for folks who have a slightly discerning ear, Apple Music offers a lot for the money.
While I find Spotify much easier to navigate than Apple Music (more on why later), the Apple Music app has lots of small touches that make my inner music nerd happy. Certain album pages feature animated artwork, and some are even accompanied by a full article that provides a deeper dive on the music straight from the artist. When browsing an artist’s catalog, you’ll also see links to any Apple Music Radio shows they’ve been featured on. As someone who loves to geek out over their favorite bands, I was delighted to find a full track-by-track breakdown on the album page for Julien Baker’s “Little Oblivions,” or discover a recent Radio interview that featured Turnstile diving into their new record.
Speaking of which, Apple Music Radio is one of the service’s best features. You’ll get live radio shows from top industry personalities like Zane Lowe and Ebro, as well as no shortage of on-demand interviews to discover from artists big and small. I have not dug too deep into the app’s Radio offerings, but shows like After School Radio (featuring Blink 182’s own Mark Hoppus) are enough to make me at least check in every now and then. Spotify offers auto-generated radio stations based on specific artists and genres as well as pre-recorded podcasts with songs mixed in, but it does not quite have the same type of live content – or the same big names.
Apple Music starts at $ 9.99 per month, which is pretty standard for a music streaming service. But it’s an especially great value if you get an Apple One bundle, which gets you Apple Music, Apple TV +, Apple Arcade and iCloud + with 50GB of storage for $ 14.99. If you own an Apple device and plan on using the company’s various subscription services, it’s a no-brainer.
Apple Music and Spotify’s family plans are generally comparable, letting up to six users share an account for $ 15 to $ 16 a month. But if you want more than just music for your money, Apple’s got the best deal out right now.
Here’s the biggest reason I could not wait to get back to Spotify after a few weeks of Apple Music: The latter just does not feel as nice to navigate. While Apple Music has all the music I need, complete with some smart recommendations and curated playlists based on my listening history, it makes it harder for me to actually find all that stuff. While Spotify’s homepage shows me my six most recent albums / playlists while still leaving room for recommendations and new releases, Apple Music features a lot of wasted space, with huge blocks of artwork that require me to do a lot of scrolling before I get to what I’m looking for. Doing everything from finding a new release playlist to simply hitting the “like” button on a song just feels more cumbersome in Apple’s app.
Music and podcasts in one place
I listen to music and podcasts in pretty equal measure, and Spotify’s the only app of the two to offer both in one place. I know some folks like to keep the two separate – and have other podcast apps they swear by – but I much prefer having a one-stop shop for all my listening needs. Spotify does a great job surfacing new releases for both music and podcasts while making it easy to jump back into shows I’m in the middle of listening to, whereas Apple Music listeners will have to look elsewhere. Considering that the Apple Music and Apple Podcast apps look and feel almost identical, I can not help but wonder why they are not rolled into one.
Perhaps the biggest thing keeping me on Spotify is the fact that nearly all of my friends use it. I like being able to see what my pals are listening to while on the desktop app, and virtually anytime anyone sends me a song, it’s a Spotify link. More crucially, I have a number of collaborative playlists with friends that we’re all continuously adding songs to in order to show each other new stuff. That’s something you simply can not do on Apple Music.
Spotify also has a number of cool algorithmic features such as Blend, which automatically creates a shared playlist between you and another person based on your individual listening habits. I find its recommendation engine to be the best out there, and have found some of my favorite artists via both my Discover Weekly playlist and the artist radio that auto-plays every time you finish an album.
Finally, I’m simply way too attached to my Spotify Wrapped, which is a year-end summary of a user’s top artists, songs and genres that you’ve probably seen plastered all over your Instagram Stories at the end of each year. Apple offers a similar year-in-review in the form of Apple Music Relay, but it’s not as popular – and do you really want to be the one person on your social feed using the off-brand version? It might be a small vanity thing, but as someone who’s a geek for their music listening stats, Wrapped is one of several cool social tools that keeps me jamming out on Spotify.
I enjoyed my time with Apple Music, and for a lot of people – particularly those with Apple headphones or folks with a discerning ear – it just might be the best music service out there. It offers better audio quality for the same price, and extras like Spatial Audio and its various live radio stations are pretty great. It’s also a very good value, especially if you get it bundled with an Apple One subscription.
But after weeks of testing, the novelty of listening to an album in Dolby Atmos or reading a few extra liner notes has worn off. I just want an app that has all the music and podcasts I need in one place, and Spotify continues to give me exactly that, on top of some great recommendations and social features.
I can personally live with slightly lower audio quality in exchange for a useful, clean interface and an ecosystem I’m already deeply invested in. Plus, it’s only a matter of time before Spotify HiFi gets here. I’ll likely still pop into Apple Music every now and then to check out a new album in Spatial Audio or catch a radio interview with an artist I like, but when it comes to day-to-day listening, Spotify is officially back in rotation. After all, I could not possibly ruin my listening stats before Wrapped season.
|Music library||More than 90 million songs||More than 82 million songs|
|Hi-Res / Lossless audio||Yes||Not yet|
|Key supported devices||iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, HomePod, CarPlay||iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, PlayStation, Xbox|
|Family plans||6 users for $ 14.99 per month||6 users for $ 15.99 per month; 2 users for $ 12.99 per month|