Spotify vs. Apple Music (formerly Beats Music) and Why I Use Both Music Services

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Spotify Running automatically detects your pace and matches temp.

I’m often asked the question, which, if I was interested in subscribing to, would be the better choice: Spotify or Apple Music? It’s a debate like most others in technology that will most likely end with personal preference or platform loyalty. For me, I subscribe to both services because together they provide a music experience I enjoy depending on the reason I am listening to music.

I have found that Apple’s Beats1 Radio is great for work and Spotify’s dynamic running station based on your steps per minute is ingenious. Spotify’s collaborative playlists and social features are also amazing, but to me, Apple Music (formerly Beats Music) has always sounded a bit more clear and crisp than Spotify. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the music service I would choose if I had to choose to only one and why I subscribe to both of them for the time being.

What I like About Apple Music

  • Sound quality
  • Beats1 Radio
  • Price

Apple Music, once a struggling service on its own acquired Beats Music in 2014 for $3 Billion dollars. It currently has over 13 million subscribers and around 37 million songs, including Taylor Swift. Its songs are encoded using AAC (based on MP3 encoding) and is essentially the entire iTunes catalog, which is also its desktop app. iTunes is available for OS X and Windows and the Apple Music app is available for iOS and Android. Recently, more and more people are reporting that iTunes is deleting songs saved on your computer after matching them on Apple Music. This could be a real deal-breaker for many people, including myself, so as a precaution I would recommend backing up your digital music library onto a flash drive like a Corsair 256GB1.

Sound Quality

My theory about why Apple Music has a richer sound, streaming at 256kbps AAC songs versus Spotify’s 320kbps Ogg Vorbis songs has to do a lot with the acquisition of Beats Music. Beats Music had previously filtered Dre’s EQ settings on streaming tracks, thus giving them, in my opinion, a better sound quality despite having the lower bit-rate. Is this something that Apple Music has preserved through the acquisition? @AppleMusic didn’t respond to my question, but it is sweet to the ear to hear the highs and lows hit so crisply; one of the main reasons I continue to subscribe to Apple Music.

Spotify, however, offers a much higher quality bit-rate of 320kbps for premium subscribers and with high fidelity headphones, like the JaybirdSport BlueBuds X, tuned EQ settings and a quiet environment there is a difference. By default Spotify streams an audio normalized version of the track, which often sounds flat, so an EQ is needed to attain a richer sound. You can almost immediately improve the flatness by adjusting the EQ through the app’s settings. I started with piano as a baseline and then listened to a few songs across my favorite genres and made some adjustments. It’s better, but still not the same sound as Apple Music, and unfortunately, you can’t save EQ presets. I eventually settled on R&B as the best mix of sound quality for my headphones1.

Beats1 Radio

IMG_5142Both Apple Music and Spotify have “radio”, but only Apple Music has a station that is true to the traditional definition. Beats1 is a live 24/7 Internet radio station broadcasting for the most part hip-hop and pop tunes. The variety of music played on Beats1 is fairly the same, so if the hip-hop genre with a dance beat isn’t your kind of music, Beats1 probably isn’t for you. What makes the Beats1 station different from Spotify’s radio is the human-factor: real people talking between tracks just like real radio in your car. The hosts and D.J.’s, including Ebro Darden, Zane Lowe and Julie Adenuga provide additional background to upcoming songs, artists, interesting commentary and say something funny now-and-then that will make you smile. It’s a fresh change from computer generated radio and playlists.
Spotify simply doesn’t have any radio like this. It is much more like Pandora radio and plays computer matched song-to-song-to-next-song playlists based around genre and artist interests that you have thumbs-up’d or down. The algorithm does a decent job of selecting music once you have clicked enough thumbs, but after five or six hours of listening it begins to sound the same; especially when you cross-fade them more than 5 seconds, and at times repeats songs, something I haven’t found that Apple Music and Pandora do.

User Interface

IMG_5106Over the past year the Apple Music has much improved over its iOS iTunes app predecessor. The interface has few options: For You, New, Radio, Connect and My Music, making it a simple experience to get to where you want to be. When I want to listen to a playlist I tap the My Music icon and a cleanly designed screen appears with two tabs: Library and Playlists. Currently it defaults on Library, but in my UX experience the user behavior from last their previous interaction should be remembered. This way, if I always access Playlists when tapping the My music icon, it will be a quick two taps to music to my ears. This experience shines over Spotify by bringing the most important user functions, like starting a playlist or playing a complete CD in a single tap and search from anywhere you may be in the app, as well as keeping the heart of Beats Music – For You.

Carried over from the ole Beats Music, “For You”, lets you to select the genre music you enjoy listening to as well as artists and then having the Apple Music create curated playlists for you. Remember, Beats Music was all about personalized curation of playlists, and frankly with all of Apple’s resources should do this a lot better than it does. This probably also explains why unfortunately Apple stuffed this feature in an awkward place: tap what looks like a profile pic placeholder (upper left corner of screen) and then “Choose Artists For You”. After making your selections, the “For You” screen is refreshed containing new playlists with music you’re sure to love. My biggest disappointment in this feature is that I couldn’t select my favorite genre, “singer-songwriter” and I think because of that some of my favorite artists like Tyronne Wells, Jason Myraz, Mike Posner, etc never appeared for me to tap and there is no way to customize this even with a search.

What I like About Spotify 

  • IMG_5116More new and independent artists
  • Curated playlists are more relevant and kept updated
  • Web player (https://play.spotify.com)
  • Supported on virtually everything (mobile, desktop to televisions)
  • Spotify Running: Music that matches your pace

Spotify is a Swedish startup that built their music empire from the ground-up starting in 2008 and currently has about 30 million paid subscribers that enjoy a library of over 20 million songs, not including Taylor Swift. It encodes songs using the Ogg Vorbis audio. Its app is available to almost every known operating system platform: Windows Phone, Android, BlackBerry, Boxee, iOS, Linux, MeeGo, Microsoft Windows desktop, Openpandora, OS X, Roku, S60 (Symbian), Samsung Smart TV, Sonos, HEOS by Denon, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Squeezebox, Telia Digital-tv, TiVo, WD TV, webOS and so on. Chances are, wherever you may be listening Spotify is available. They have an ads based free subscription that doesn’t include offline listening and will only randomly play your music.

Despite, Spotify’s “Your Library” user interface for iOS could appear a bit less cluttered the music service brings a few solid social features to the table that Apple Music has always struggle with, including sharing with other Spotify listeners that you also follow, as a public playlists others can follow and enjoy as well as through your standard social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, and even a Spotify URL, web link or embeded HTML (see the two songs embedded in this post below).

This makes following friends & artists, sharing music and collaborating on playlists one of Spotify’s strongest feature set for mobile, desktop or web players. It modernizes the classic fun of the time period when friends would gather with their cassette cases and sit around on a summer day playing all favorite tunes. Through Spotify the playlist owner can make the list public and then mark it as collaborative. This lets any Spotify user who also knows about the playlist add songs. The playlist appears in their own Library as if it they created it. This feature is fun for summer concerts. If the people you are going to the concerts are also on Spotify you can create collaborative playlists for each concert and everybody can add their favorite song and listen all day long!

Finding music for any occasion on Spotify is another reason it pushes slightly ahead of Apple Music for me. Whether you are looking for mellow tunes on a Sunday afternoon (Afternoon Acoustic), something a little more upbeat (Weekend Buzz) or going for a run, view “Browse” screen and you’re ready to enjoy the music. This is similar to Apple Music’s “For You” but have had much more success in finding new music that enjoy. Additionally, Spotify’s dynamic running station based on your steps per minute accurately keeps up with your pace by selecting the correct song temp. However, it would be more amazing if the app recognized when your pace changes and adjusted the playback. Perhaps, a future app update will include that.

On My Last Note

On a last note, price really isn’t much of a decision making factor unless you are you looking for family plans. For individual subscriptions Apple Music and Spotify both play to the tune of $10 a month (students $4.99), but family plans are a different song. Apple Music has the best deal:$14.95 for up to 5 family members, where as the equivalent on Spotify: me + 4 family members is $29.99.

When it comes time to finally make your online music streaming choice, choose the music service that fits your listening style. If you like to listen to Beats1 Radio, CDs top to bottom or just looking for the best family plan deal, than Apple Music may be a good choice for you. If you like to discover new music, concerts, follow artist news and collaborate on playlists with friends than Spotify may be the way to listen. For me, the more relevantly curated playlists and social collaboration features win out over sound quality.

Sorry Apple, I’m staying with Spotify.


1Affiliate link, Amazon.com