Our Apple Music review for 2020: Is it worth it?

Joe Supan

Feb 27, 2020 — 12 min read

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Apple Music review summary

  • $10/mo. or $99/year ($8.25/mo.) for one user
  • $15/mo. for family plan (up to six users)
  • Over 60 million songs
  • Three-month free trial
  • Free with Verizon Play More or Get More Unlimited plans

Today’s music streaming services all cost around $10/mo., have more than 50 million songs in their libraries and share about the same audio quality. The best one for you comes down to how it feels to actually use it, what kinds of recommendations it provides and how easy it is to share with your friends. 

On most of these fronts, Apple Music impressed us a lot. Its apps are generally easy to use (especially for anyone who uses Apple products regularly) and it sounded great whether we played it on headphones or a surround sound stereo. 

Where it lags behind Spotify is with its music discovery and social features. You probably have fewer friends on Spotify than Apple Music, and we found its recommendations to be less personalized to our taste and more curated by experts — a positive or negative depending on how you feel about algorithms. 

Fortunately, Apple Music comes with a three-month free trial, so you have plenty of time to test it out before committing to a monthly subscription. 

Apple Music vs. Spotify and other streaming services

Best-in-class music library

Apple Music has around 60 million songs in its library — as many as any music streaming service around and 10 million more than Spotify. 

Granted, those numbers are entirely self-reported, but there was nothing we couldn’t find when testing Apple Music. Even when it comes to some of the big name holdouts in the past like Taylor Swift, The Beatles and Tool, Apple Music has them all covered. 

To judge each streaming service’s library, we counted how many songs or albums they carried in three categories: Albums that have sold more than 20 million copies in the U.S. (74 in total) , Billboard’s top 100 songs for the week of Week of December 14, 2019 and Pitchfork’s Top 200 albums of the 2010s. That gave us a good mix of older artists and newer ones, as well as popular music and more niche tunes. Here’s how they each compare:

While there were very few gaps to be found in any of the streaming services, Apple Music rated out as the very best. It was the only service with The Weeknd’s original debut album House of Balloons and Dr. Dre’s entire catalogue. In fact, we couldn’t find a single song or album that was streaming on other services, but not on Apple Music.

Can save 100,000 songs to your library

Apple Music lets you save 100,000 songs to your library, more than any other streaming service. That’s far more than you’re ever likely to need, but some users will appreciate the perk. 

Spotify, for instance, only allows 10,000 songs to be saved, and many users have voiced their displeasure. Spotify says less than one percent of users reach this 10,000 song limit, but for the ones that do, that arbitrary limit is suffocating.

Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean all 100,000 songs will be available to download for offline listening. That number is limited by how much storage space you have on your device, and one GB of storage equals around 312 songs. Saving music to your Apple Music library will add it to all other devices you’re signed into, as well. 

If you’re the kind of high-volume listener who wants to keep track of all the songs they like, Apple Music might be worth it for this benefit alone. 

Apple Music Family plan and Student discounts

At $10/mo. for its single user plan, Apple Music is right around the industry average for pricing, no matter which plan you subscribe to. Here’s how each of its plans compares to other streaming services.

You can expect to pay around $10/mo. with every music streaming service, but Apple Music also has an annual payment option for $99/year. It will only save you around $20 every year compared to Spotify’s monthly costs, but it’s worth paying upfront if you know you’ll stick with Apple Music for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, annual pricing isn’t currently available on the Family plan. 

Recommendations aren’t as personalized as Spotify’s

We all want to believe our musical taste is unique and idiosyncratic, unable to be pinned down by a soulless algorithm. But the truth is, music streaming services have gotten incredibly good at picking songs that we’ll like. 

For each music streaming service we tested, we listened to their recommendations for around five hours each, alternating genres every hour or so. Apple Music’s recommendations work in two ways: playlists and albums curated by “Apple Music experts” and radio stations based on a song or artist. 

“For You” albums and playlists

Apple Music’s recommended albums and playlists show up in the “For You” section of the app, and they’re heavily influenced by the genres and artists you say you like when you first set up your account.

For example, two weeks after we set up Apple Music, it continued to show us classical music in the “For You” section, even though we’d never actually listened to any of it. Where Spotify seemed to base its recommendations entirely off what we listened to, Apple Music gave more weight to the genres we selected ourselves.

Apple Music doesn’t provide playlists created specifically for you like Spotify’s “Discovery Weekly” or “Release Radar,” either. Apple Music does recommend playlists, but they’re ones that every user can access. You also won’t get personalized throwback mixes like Spotify’s “2019 Wrapped” or “Your Summer Rewind.” 

If you’re relying heavily on your streaming service for new music discoveries, you’ll probably have better luck with Spotify.

Radio stations based on songs or artists

If you want to hear a Pandora-style “radio station” of songs you might like, you’ll have to go to a song or artist page and click “Create Station.” Unlike Spotify, these stations don’t start playing automatically after a song or playlist ends. 

This didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but the more we used Apple Music, the more frustrating we found it. Oftentimes on Spotify, we wouldn’t even know when a playlist or album had ended and the radio station had begun. This led to new music discoveries without having to consciously set out to find new music. Apple Music forces you to be more proactive about it. 

It also left a lot of awkward silences. If you search out one specific song to play, Apple Music goes dead after it’s over. Why not just continue playing that artist or album, or better yet, play more songs in that vein? 

If you like to maintain tight control over what’s playing, this won’t be an issue. But if you’re a “background music all the time” kind of person who wants to be surprised, Apple Music’s frequent silences were a major annoyance. 

Beats 1 Radio

If you like the feel of a DJ-curated radio station, Apple’s Beats 1 Radio is an excellent perk. The station plays music 24/7, with celebrity DJs like Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga playing a mixture of pop, rap and indie music. 

It tends to go outside the bounds of what you would typically hear from playlists generated entirely by music you’ve listened to before, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. 

As Jason Cipriani wrote in Fortune, “I haven’t liked every song played on Beats 1, but the personal bond I instantly felt with each DJ has been strong enough for me to resist the urge to go back to a lifeless algorithm.”

Intuitive navigation, especially for Apple users

Like a lot of Apple products, there’s a bit of a learning curve for people who don’t regularly engage with the Apple ecosystem. That said, we found it relatively easy to get used to overall, and it has several features that were clear upgrades to Spotify’s interface.

Guides you through new artists

One of the things we loved about Apple Music is how it walks you through artists you might not know as well. 

For example, when you go to an artist’s page on Apple Music, you’ll see categories like “Essential Albums” immediately underneath the top songs. For Miles Davis, this meant five of the most important albums in his discography, with a one-sentence summary explaining why it’s important. Spotify, on the other hand, simply showed four of their most popular releases — two of which happened to be the same album — without any further guidance.

And when you decide to explore one of those albums, Apple Music highlights the standouts by marking them with a star. If you’re completely new to an artist or album, this helps you go straight to the songs you might like best. Spotify doesn’t provide any such curation on its mobile app, but it does show how many times a song’s been played on the desktop app.

Siri-enabled voice search

We also loved being able to use Siri to search for songs or artists. True, Spotify can do this too, but you have to end every command with “on Spotify.” It might not seem like much of a difference, but we found ourselves using voice commands on Apple Music much more frequently than we did on Spotify. 

Searchable lyrics for every song

One of Apple Music’s coolest features that we didn’t see on any other streaming service was the ability to search for music using only lyrics. Catch a fragment of a song that you can’t get out of your head? Just type whatever words you remember into Apple Music’s search bar and it will do the rest.

In our tests, this worked as well for the latest hits (“Old Town Road” above right) as it did for the most obscure tracks we could think of (“Thumbs Off” by ‘80s New Zealand band The Clean above left). 

iTunes integration

If you’ve amassed a lot of purchases on iTunes over the years, Apple Music does an excellent job of integrating them into the rest of its streaming service. It also comes pre-installed on all iPhones, MacBooks, iPads, Apple Watches and HomePods, and we found it very simple to switch back and forth between Apple products.

That said, we preferred Spotify’s desktop app to Apple’s iTunes. In this case, the Apple Music/iTunes split was more confusing than advantageous. For one, you can buy music on iTunes that’s included for free with an Apple Music subscription. 

For example, The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show was available to purchase for $11.99 in the “Store” section of iTunes, and for free to Apple Music members in the “Browse” section. Clicking the “Listen Now” button at the top did take us over to the Apple Music section, but it’s not hard to see how someone could unwittingly purchase a song or album that they didn’t need to.

A quarter of Spotify’s active users

Music streaming services are a social medium, and Spotify has more than four times as many users as Apple Music. Around 135 million of them use Spotify’s free version, but the fact remains that you’re much more likely to find your friends on Spotify than Apple Music.

This makes it more difficult to send playlists, albums or songs to your friends, or even see what they’re listening to. If sharing music is important to you, you’ll probably have a better experience with Spotify.

Spotify seems to be the default music streaming service for artists as well as fans. Musicians like Clairo and Post Malone keep up-to-date playlists of music they’re listening to on Spotify, while these were virtually non-existent on Apple Music. 

No high-resolution audio option, but still sounds great

One of the biggest marks against Apple Music is that it doesn’t provide any high-resolution streaming options. All of its audio is compressed, meaning you’ll lose some fidelity in order to get smaller file sizes. 

That’s compared to the Hi-Fi quality on a service like TIDAL, which streams its audio in the FLAC audio format, which is considered “lossless.” All music gets compressed from the master files, but FLAC doesn’t suffer any corresponding drop in quality.

“The compression is less severe with FLAC,” Sam Wale, vice president of creative production at ALIBI Music Library, a leading provider of music and sound effects, told us. “It’s a file format that still compresses the sound to be smaller in size, but it preserves a lot more of the original recording.”

Even though Apple Music’s tracks lose something in the compression process, most people will probably be just fine with its sound quality. We thought it sounded great in our tests, with a clean, crisp and full sound no matter what speakers or headphones we played it on. 

As Elias Arias, Consumer Reports’ project leader for audio testing, put it, “Casual listeners will probably be happy with the sound quality of either service. If you’re a highly critical listener with top-notch equipment, you may want to try both to see which you prefer, or try a service that will stream uncompressed files, like TIDAL.” 

Apple Music FAQs

Does Apple Music use data when streaming?

Using Apple Music requires an active internet connection, whether it’s through Wi-Fi or cellular data. Fortunately, music streaming won’t eat up too much of your monthly data allowance. Here’s how it compares to some other common internet activities:

For more information on managing your household’s data usage, check out our full guide here. 

Can you download songs on Apple Music?

Yes. Apple Music allows you to download songs for offline listening. Just click the add button next to a playlist, album or song to save it to your library, then hit the download button next to it after that. A quick rule of thumb is that 1 GB of storage will get you around 250 songs, so you may run into your phone’s limits if you do a lot of downloading. 

Does Apple Music work with Alexa?

Apple Music can use Alexa to play songs, artists, playlists and pause or skip tricks. You’ll just need to set up Apple Music on your Amazon Echo, Amazon Fire TV or Alexa-enabled Sonos speaker; step-by-step instructions can be found here. And if you don’t want to end every command with “on Apple Music,” you can make it your default music service by accessing the account settings on your Alexa-enabled device. 

How do I cancel Apple Music?

To cancel or change your Apple Music subscription, you’ll need to log in to your Apple account on an iPhone, Mac, iPad or Apple TV. 

On an iPhone or iPad, choose Settings, tap your name, then Subscriptions. You should see Apple Music listed, along with the next scheduled billing date.

On a Mac, open the App Store app, sign in with your Apple ID in the lower left corner, then click View Information at the top of the screen. From there, scroll down to the Manage section, and click the Manage button next to Subscriptions. Find your Apple Music subscription and click Edit to change or cancel.

On an Apple TV, open Settings, select Users & Accounts and choose your account. Towards the bottom of the screen, click Subscriptions. You can change or cancel your Apple Music subscription here. 

How much does Apple Music pay per stream?

According to an annual study from Digital Music News, Apple Music pays out less than a cent per stream. That’s more than Pandora Premium and Spotify, but well below TIDAL. That means an artist would need more than 200,000 streams per month to earn minimum wage. If it’s important to you that artists earn more from the streaming service you use, we recommend going with TIDAL.

Is Apple Music worth it?

Most people will probably be very happy with Apple Music as their streaming service. At $9.99/mo., it’s right about average for price. But unlike Spotify, it offers discounted pricing if you pay for a whole year upfront. 

We liked some of the features of Apple Music a little better than Spotify, but we missed sharing the experience with our friends, all of whom were on Spotify. (Spotify has 248 million users worldwide, compared to only 60 million for Apple Music.)

Audio quality was basically the same in our experience — some audio experts liked Apple Music, some preferred Spotify — but we honestly couldn’t tell much of a difference. If you’re after pristine sound quality, it’s worth paying a little more for high-resolution music streaming from TIDAL or Amazon Music. 

In the end, the best music streaming service for you is highly personal. Both Apple Music and Spotify offer three-month free trials, so you have plenty of time to get used to each of them before committing to a monthly bill.