There was a time when, for most people, listening to curated music and/or talk radio shows required you to own and use an actual radio — be that a standalone in-home unit, a stereo in your car, or a wearable (like a Walkman). Times have changed quite a bit since then, however. Now, while traditional radio isn’t quite dead, huge swaths of people have flocked to alternatives — namely audio streaming services.
For many, picking the service that suits you best is as simple as leaning into the one that’s the most convenient. But we’d suggest you take an inventory of your listening habits and more closely determine which, if any, audio streaming service is best for you. To help you narrow it down, we’ve taken an in-depth look at eight of the best and most prominent ones around and put them up against one another in the following guide. Whether you’re a die-hard sports radio fanatic, a casual top-40 listener, or something in-between, you’ll find the perfect option here. These are the best audio streaming services for every listener.
Big Names In A Small Space
Unlike radio, which is largely regional, streaming services rely on online services and mobile apps to provide their service. As such, the category has whittled down fairly significantly over the years since the technology’s inception — leaving only a few worthwhile and/or noteworthy players in the space. In researching this guide, we wanted to make sure to offer up a good spread not just of the big names in said space, but also to give users an idea of what to expect from each service and where they shine. As such, we’ve largely focused on music streaming, but you’ll also notice that some of these platforms specialize in podcasts, talk radio, sports, etc. That’s not to say that these apps don’t also offer music streaming, but rather that their greatest strength might not specifically be streaming music (and vice versa).
Free Services vs. Paid Apps
Pick Your Poison
As you read through this guide, you may notice that some of these audio streaming services are listed with a zero-dollar entry price. This is because those particular services offer a “free” version of their service. However, this comes with a caveat: you’ll have to sit through advertisements while you listen, much like traditional radio. For some, this inconvenient annoyance is worth it for a free service. However, if you want to go ad-free, most of these services offer paid monthly upgrades — typically in the range of $5-10/month — that will allow you to stream uninterrupted. It’s also worth pointing out that any service that streams actual AM/FM radio broadcasts and/or podcasts may end up having unavoidable advertisements one way or another, though these tend to be free-to-use apps and services anyhow. In the end, the worth must be determined by you, the user.
Best For The Prime-Infatuated
Bear with us here, because this might get a little confusing. All Amazon Prime members can access a basic version of Amazon Music free of any additional charges. And that might be enough for some folks to pick this solid, albeit limited app as their music streaming service of choice. However, if you want access to Amazon’s full, expansive audio library, you’ll have to pay an additional $8 per month. Again, the simplicity of utilizing this service as an existing Prime member still serves to make Amazon Music stand apart. If you are not an Amazon Prime member, you can still gain access to Amazon Music in full, but it will cost you $10 a month (as opposed to $8, and there is no free tier option). Still, even without the discount, this service is deep — both in the range of musical styles and artists on the platform. There are even Amazon-exclusive releases, a huge number of curated playlists (provided both by Amazon and its users), and more. Again, if you’re not already a Prime member, you might want to look elsewhere. If you are, however, this one is tough to beat.
Best For The Cupertino Loyalist
As is the case with so many Apple products, Apple Music has become the gold standard in the audio streaming industry. Not only does it have an unrivaled collection of music from across the ages, but it provides full, unfettered, ad-free access to the entire library for just $10 per month. Any way you swing it, that’s a pretty spectacular value — especially when you consider the connection to iTunes, a huge number of available playlists (user-generated, mood-based, specially-curated options, etc.), access to exclusives and brand-new releases the moment they drop, access to radio stations, offline playback, and so much more. Furthermore, there are two other available tiers: a discounted $5/month option for students and a family model (which allows for up to five unique accounts) priced at $15/month. For those who are looking for the simplest, best option, Apple Music practically stands alone at the top of the audio streaming pile.
Best For The Talk Radio Enthusiast
Not all superb audio streaming services require an investment in order for listeners to extract the greatest amount of value. Case in point: Apple Podcasts. To be clear, Apple Podcasts is an entirely free service — which even comes pre-installed on existing Apple products — that exclusively offers users access to talk radio-style programs. It is not the only podcast platform out there, but there’s no denying how widespread and impactful this particular service truly is. Not only did this application help solidify podcasts as a legitimate audio streaming category, but just about every single podcast of note, old or new, has a presence on the Apple Podcasts app. That means, for fans of talk radio-style shows, it’s hard to make an argument against using this service. Whether you’re a fiend for true crime, a proudly-informed news fanatic, or you just need a few laughs, you’ll find something to listen to on Apple Podcasts. It is worth noting that, for non-Apple users, there is also a Google Podcasts app and Spotify supports podcasts on its platform. That being said, Apple might still have the best one all-around.
Best For The AM/FM Nostalgist
As we mentioned earlier, traditional you’re-on-the-air radio is slowly but surely dying off. It is definitely not dead, however, and some platforms have embraced the shift from traditional radio to more tech-forward digital platforms — as is the case with iHeartRadio. Without any monetary investment (a tradeoff for having to listen to advertisements), this app will give you access to hundreds if not thousands of live radio broadcasts, alongside streaming podcasts, playlists, news, and so much more. What’s even cooler about that is that you can listen to your favorite regional stations no matter where you are in the world. That means, if you’ve got a radio show from Southern California you listen to daily but you’re on travel to, say, the deepest parts of Siberia, you can still listen to that show — so long as you have an internet connection. However, if you upgrade to a paid subscription, your options open up even more — including choosing your own songs, skipping songs you don’t like, creating playlists, listening offline, and more.
Best For The Aurally Undecided
There was a time when Pandora was one of the most clever and unique music streaming apps on the market. This was because, in the early stages of music streaming (and digital music platforms in general), Pandora offered something no other company did: curated playlists based on specific artists. All users had to do was search for a musician and/or song, tap the play button, and Pandora would generate a randomized selection of music based on the style and/or genre of the said musician and/or song. The service still features this particular approach, but now the app has also expanded to include user-generated playlists, which can be shared with other users, as well as numerous other handy features — like offline, downloaded playlists. If you’re the type of person that prefers a more hands-off approach to music and you like the discovery angle (meaning you could stumble upon artists you might like based on your existing tastes), then Pandora might be the perfect service for you.
Best For The All-Around Listener
If Apple Music has a chief competitor, it is — without a doubt — Spotify. And, unlike Apple Music, Spotify has a pretty significant leg-up in the fact that the company offers a free tier — meaning you don’t have to spend a cent to access huge parts of Spotify’s service. Granted, that comes with the caveat of having to listen to advertisements, but it’s still a pretty great value proposition. Of course — for an upgrade of just $10/month for individuals, $5/month for students, $13/month for couples, and $15/month for families — you can forego the interruption of ads entirely. Then, you can listen freely to the brand’s millions of songs and podcasts, create and share your own playlists, listen to curated and user-generated playlists, and basically everything else you can get through Apple Music. If you’re not a loyalist to Apple but you still want a comparable service, Spotify is hands-down your best option.
Best For The Hi-Fi Audiophile
For most folks, Tidal is probably only recognized as the audio streaming service that Jay Z owns. And while that’s true, it discounts the real value offered by this particular offering. You see, unlike all the others on this list, Tidal offers up hi-fi audio of unrivaled quality. In fact, the brand isn’t even pulling any punches. They say, right on their website, that Tidal’s losless audio is the “highest quality audio available.” That means, for true audiophiles, Tidal may seem like the compulsory option for an audio streaming service. That proposition gets even better when you consider that the service offers over 70 million tracks, 250,000 videos (with image quality on-par with the audio), both hand-curated and user-specific auto-generated playlists, options for offline listening, and more. The brand even offers up exclusive deals on event tickets, meet-and-greets with your favorite artists, behind-the-scenes content, and more. Thanks Jay Z!
Best For The Sports-Obsessed
There’s no denying that the best way to experience live sports is by watching it in person, followed by watching it on TV (or a streaming service). However, not everyone has the ability to actually sit down and catch a game or match while it is happening — which is probably why sports radio exists, at least in part. Furthermore, there’s so much else that happens off the field in the sports world that isn’t talked about during games/matches. But most audio streaming services have huge blind spots when it comes to sports-focused talk radio. And that’s exactly why TuneIn has made a spot on our list: this streaming service will actually let you listen to sports talk radio, live games, etc. Better still, that’s not limited to just one or two sports — the platform supports stations and shows for baseball, football, soccer, basketball, hockey, and more. Of course, this isn’t just a sports radio app — it also includes live radio broadcasts of all types, news, music, and so much more. And that’s not half bad for one of the more affordable paid services around.
The 12 Best Streaming Services For Every Viewer
If you do have the opportunity to sit down a spell, you might want to swap out your audio streaming service for something a bit more visually-oriented. And you’ll find the perfect one for you on our list of the best video streaming services.
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