It’s late at night, and I symbolically cue up Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”—because that’s exactly what I’m going to be doing once I finish this marathon comparison of the big three digital music outlets. There are now several subscription-based streaming music services, but the three to beat are Apple Music and Tidal (both 2015 newcomers) and Spotify, all with 30 million-plus tracks.
Since I’ve long had and enjoyed a premium Spotify subscription, I sign up for free trials of Apple Music and Tidal HiFi and start digging around the former. I already feel up to date on the most current music after a once-over on the New page—so far, so good. Over on the For You playlist page, Apple gets my tastes down—I download a curation of LCD Soundsystem’s influences for offline listening—but the revelation factor falters when it gives me an Intro to Kurt Vile list despite all of his albums residing in My Music. The Connect page is merely a Facebook for mostly mainstream artists—boring. And the Radio page disappoints with its too few, broad-genre stations, though I kinda dig the TotesCity-like, urban/indie Mixtape. Verdict: Win some, lose some.
Next up: Tidal, which touts exclusives and, if you pony up for the $20/month HiFi tier, superior sound quality. Well, none of the exclusives woo my mouse-click except a Kamasi Washington-curated tribute playlist to Ornette Coleman. And after comparing a few songs on all three services, Tidal occasionally sounds faintly better through $100 headphones. Also observed on Tidal’s Chrome web player: What’s New promotes a lot of commercial hip-hop and very little rock; omissions abound, like half of Sigur Ros’ catalog and John Coltrane’s Blue Train (and, yes, Taylor Swift’s 1989); and you can’t upload your own music. On the other hand, there’s mucho new music and artists to sift through on the Rising and Discovery pages. Verdict: Not worth $120 a year, much less $240.
I return to Spotify, where I can hear downloaded playlists offline, get better artist/song suggestions on its Discover page; fine-tune radio stations to my tastes; shrug at what’s unavailable (I didn’t want 1989 anyway); creep my friends’ streams; find podcasts and TV clips; and hear exclusive album commentaries by artists.
My advice to discerning music fans? Give all three a free trial run, but stick with Spotify.