Grading the streams: The pros and cons of five popular services, from Spotify to Tidal

Here's a subjective rundown of five of the most popular services available in America, based on the experiences of one full-time listener.

For the Record
Jan. 18, 10:18 a.m.: This article misspells singer Tanel Padar's first name as Tanal and incorrectly gives the name of the band Austrian Death Machine as Australian Death Machine.


$9.99 per month; $14.99 family plan; free ad-supported version

Grade: B+

Pros: Premium service offers noticeably better fidelity than Apple Music. The industry leader, Spotify has an excellent interface that encourages interaction, playlist creation and sharing. Because of its scope and user base, the service offers infinite avenues of discovery. You can rest easily, for example, knowing that Spotify in Estonia lists Motorhead's "Overkill" as one of its most popular songs (along with Tanal Padar & the Sun & Sobrad's "Kergotamine").

Cons: Last year a number of prominent artists (including Taylor Swift) and advocates criticized Spotify's free tier as unfair to creators. Like Apple Music, Spotify's editorial tastes and recommendations lean toward corporate-funded labels at the expense of the little guy.

Apple Music

$9.99 per month; $14.99 family plan

Grade: B-

Pros: Apple Music's interface is characteristically clear and intuitive. Easy to navigate, it affords numerous avenues to discovery: a powerful search engine, new release and charts pages, a portal to online radio (including in-house station Beats One and NPR), a feed featuring updated info on acts and curators of note and access to personal playlists and catalogs.

Cons: From a fidelity perspective, the platform sounds inferior to Spotify and Tidal. Also, because it's a mostly closed system, playlist sharing among friends is difficult. The company earned the ire of many power users last year during the transition from iTunes to Apple Music. Many lost files and data.

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$3.99 basic per month, $9.99 priemum, free ad-supported version

Grade: B-

Pros: For some reason — perhaps its name? — Slacker's demographic skews young. Chances are your kid would prefer to use Slacker — or YouTube — in a pinch. Boasting hundreds of curated stations and infinitely programmable, it works best as a Pandora-style radio service. Premium service allows Spotify-style on-demand listening. Weird stations include a fantastic one compiled by the staff of the animated FX comedy "Archer," which juxtaposes tracks by Jerry Reed, Eazy-E, Kenny Loggins and Australian Death Machine.

Cons: Thin on data, charts and editorial information, Slacker's minimally designed interface opts for sleekness over substance. Its main page recommends a station called "Get Warm & Cozy: Coffee House," featuring, you guessed it, Mumford & Sons, Coldplay, Hozier and Jason Mraz. The new "Artists to Watch 2016" playlist seems occupied more by supermodels than musicians.


$4.99 per month, or free ad-supported version

Grade: C+

Pros: Smart algorithms take the work out of picking music. Hundreds of stations allow mix-and-match opportunity. The simple platform encourages voting on songs and sounds, which it uses to further define your preferences.

Cons: The basic service is designed for the basic user. There's virtually no visible information on new releases, charts or data, but buried within its metadata is information that skillfully matches tastes and picks good stuff. The most you'll learn about your new favorite song is who made it.


$9.99 per month, or $19.99 for hi-fi lossless quality

Grade: C

Pros: Exclusive content, concerts, videos and playlists by investors Jay Z, Rihanna, Daft Punk, Beyoncé, Arcade Fire and others. Marketed as the most "artist-friendly" service, Tidal's best trait is its fidelity, which it claims is CD quality. In side-by-side listening comparisons, Tidal does indeed offer the best sound, but Spotify sounds almost as good for $10 less.

Cons: Tidal's app is tough to navigate, none of your friends use the service, and it's the same price as Spotify Premium. It's useful mostly to those with an expense account that allows a $19.99 write-off, most of whom swear by its fidelity. Its playlists offer little in the way of surprise, and those who are desperate to hear that Tidal exclusive Rihanna remix can find it on YouTube for way cheaper.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 19, 2016, in the Arts + Entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "The pros and cons of five popular streaming services" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe