Despite the resurgence of vinyl, the future of music consumption lies in streaming.
Music streaming is cheap or in the case of Pandora and Spotify, or your own digitized library, free. Also, it is more convenient than a physical CD format and the sound quality is good.
Most music subscription services have catalogs of more than 40 million songs, but each service has advantages and disadvantages, beyond the number of songs available. This guide details the top music streaming options — Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and Tidal — as well as Google Play Music and Amazon Music Unlimited, to help you decide which one is worth your money. We have left out the services that play music in radio format.
Our Favorite: Spotify Is Best Fit For Most
Let’s get to the point. While it is a close race between Spotify and Apple Music, Spotify takes the win for its fun and easy-to-use interface, an extensive catalog and the best device compatibility. Spotify’s free plan had improvements recently, which also makes it the best free option for music streaming.
Apple Music comes in second, in part because it’s the only one of the big four music streaming services to have a digital locker to store your own songs. And, if you have an Apple HomePod, you will need this service if you want to play music with a voice command.
Third is Tidal, which is also worth your consideration if you are looking for the best audio quality.
Google Play Music and Amazon Music Unlimited should also be considered. Although not topping our list, these two services are valuable options for those with specific needs and requirements. For example, if the ad-free YouTube Red service is important, Google Play Music includes it for free. And Amazon offers a discounted version for the Echo.
A quality music streamer will give you the best possible sound for your subscription service or file collection. Whether you get your tunes from Spotify or Tidal, or have them stored on a hard drive, we’ve found the best budget music streamers to help you choose.
Recommended Budget Audiophile Streamers
|Audioengine B-Fi Multiroom Music Streamer |
"All up, a natty addition to the entry-level network streaming space." - John Darko
|Audiolab 6000N Wi-Fi Audio Streaming Player/Internet Tuner|
"The audiolab 6000N Play is a wireless audio streaming player and is the latest member of the acclaimed audiolab 6000 Series of components. Featuring DTS Play-Fi Technology, music can be streamed over your wireless network in high-resolution format and can be easily expanded to a multi-room system if required. You can stream from any source on your wireless network, including smart-phones, tablets or PCs as well as a NAS Drive. "
|Denon RCD-N10 Hi-Fi All-in-One Receiver & CD Player |
"With the Denon CEOL-N10 your sound possibilities are nearly endless. Listen to your favourite CD, stream your playlists via Spotify, Deezer Premium or Tidal, go multi-room with the built in HEOS technology, using Bluetooth or your network. Enjoy Internet Radio and AirPlay2. And the most convenient thing: Control this Mini HiFi system easily via your voice with Amazon Alexa voice compatibility. It's a thousand things. It's cool, it's CEOL. Now available with Google Assistant."
|Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital - Silver|
" A performance revolution in a small package!
Pre Box S2 Digital, our flagship of the S2-series. For the very first time we are using a dual mono configuration with the highest class D/A converters of ESS Sabre. Their flagship DAC-chip ensures highest class audio in a small and affordable package. This DAC is capable of high resolution audio up to 32bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512! Pre Box S2 Digital is also the very first of our devices to support hardware MQA unfolding. It’s also the premiere of our proprietary Optimum transient digital filter and our proprietary clock circuitry design. Digital audio is the art of time, with our designed proprietary clock we have managed jitter rates of unrivalled 100 Femtoseconds, this easily outperforms many renowned and respected audiophile clock generators! "
Bluesound NODE 2i Wireless Music Streamer (White)
"Give your home stereo or powered speakers a wireless streaming upgrade with the Bluesound NODE 2i. Dedicated to bringing high-resolution music to every room of your home, Bluesound is rolling out its Generation 2i ecosystem to deliver the finest reproduction in today’s wireless world, at a down-to-earth price. The NODE 2I, which connects easily to existing systems, packs top-quality digital to analog conversion circuitry (DAC), to precisely decode most current high-resolution file formats, including the latest MQA lossless platform. Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD provides the cleanest streaming from phones or portables. Dual-band Wi-Fi eliminates congestion and interference. The BluOS operating system is app-easy to handle. And with every major online service, dozens of Internet radio stations and your own home collection available at the touch of a button, the NODE 2i promises access to “all the music ever recorded.” With analog and digital outputs, an analog/optical input and USB, the NODE 2i is your streaming system’s centerpiece."
|Marantz NA6006 Network Audio Player|
“ Complete your digital audiophile collection with the Marantz NA6006 Network Audio Player. Stream music from Pandora, Spotify, TIDAL, Deezer and more, and listen to audio playback of DSD (2.8/5.6 Mhz), WAV, MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC and ALAC files. Download the HEOS Home Entertainment Skill to use your voice and Amazon Alexa to seamlessly” - Audio Advice
Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) Network Audio Player (Gray)
"The World’s Music, Any Way You Want It
Digital audio is available from many sources - and CXN (V2) is able to deliver from those you love most. Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2 and Tidal offer a world’s-worth of content, there’s Chromecast built-in to make things even easier, and the CXN (V2) is Roon Tested which means your NAS and UPnP audio is at your fingertips too. Add digital optical and coaxial inputs, asynchronous USB socket, aptX Bluetooth (via adapter) and internet radio, and CXN (V2) brings the planet’s music into your home."