Spotify vs Google Play vs Amazon Prime Music: which is the best streaming music service for your money?

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By Ed

Indulge my not-so-inner grumpy old man for a moment here...

Kids these days!  They'll never know the simple joy of squeezing the right number of songs onto a mixtape or debating the merits of two CDs you want to buy, but only have enough money for one.

There is a generation that has no idea what it is like to not be able to instantly listen to any song you want.  They'll never know the pain of sitting next to a radio waiting for that one song to be played with a cassette recorder cued up to 'own' a hissing, second-hand copy.

And I think it's great.

I listened to a lot of bad - or at least mediocre - music growing up, simply because I already owned an album. Those deep 'filler' tracks got love sometimes just because they were 'sunk cost' in owning the singles. And it made me play it safe - new artists, new genres - they didn't get explored until I was sure I liked them.

For all the groaning about cookie-cutter pop music, 'kids these days' get a much more diverse cross-section of listening than we ever did. I just supervised a high school dance where students danced to everything from the latest 'not-on-mainstream-radio' rap to 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire' theme, with stops at "Sweet Caroline" and "All-Star" along the way.

Music Streaming simply is one of the greatest things ever to come along for music fans.  There are many services out there including offerings from iTunes pioneer Apple and elite Tidal.

We're going to look at a popular pair of free/pay offerings from Spotify and Google Music, as well as upstart Amazon Prime Music just for comparison sake.  We've used (and paid for) all three over the years - which one is worth your hard earned money?

Spotify vs Google Play vs Amazon Prime Music: which is the best streaming music service for your money?

Which Music Streaming Services is the best and why?


Google Play Music Overview:

Google Play was a later arrival on the streaming scene, but when Google does anything, you have to take notice.  You can try it right now by logging in with any Google (Gmail, docs, etc) account and use the ad-supported free version.

Build playlists, listen to millions of songs and custom curated Radio Stations built on the Songza acquisition.  Songza was a big reason we subscribed to Play Music. The Songza app was a household favourite - they made excellent playlists that were tailored to what you were doing - and the tradition has continued with Google. Go Ad-free for $9.99/month.

Google Play Pros:

  • Great Playlists from Songza's pedigree of finding the right songs for the right moments, including Suitable for Work (SFW) playlists.
  • A subscription allows for ad-free use and for downloading so you can listen offline or in the car without using any cell data.  
  • Family Plan for if you find that you want to have multiple users streaming at the same time.
  • In settings, you can select to filter for 'Explicit content' in songs. Great for family road trips where you don't want to be coughing all the time to cover up f-bombs in the music.
  • Will Sync with your iTunes Library, so if you spent some time and money building an Apple collection, it can join the Streaming world and follow you around.
  • Pretty simple user interface/app - available on all platforms.

Google Play Cons:

  • While the library is big, you won't find everything there.
  • Some new releases land on Apple and/or Spotify before Google, but this rarely happens.
  • Explicit Content filter is pretty good, but it isn't 100% perfect.
  • The simple user interface might be too simple for some users.


Spotify Overview:

One of the biggest names in the streaming game is also independent and only just became a publicly traded company.  Spotify is the cool kid and many artists curate their own playlists (or at least pay their PR teams to) and there are lots of new releases landing here regularly.

Spotify also has lots of support with hardware (Sonos, Hi-Fi systems, etc) so that's pretty cool.  Ad-supported free version and paid models that match Google Play Music's pretty closely (Although Spotify often has sales and offers a Student "50% discount" version.

Spotify Pros:

  • Possibly slightly higher quality audio vs Google Play Music. Both services say the real issue is user bandwidth speed and making sure your settings are tweaked for "high quality". Spotify Premium just makes it easier to access this.
  • Spotify Premium lets you go Ad-free and download for offline listening (similar to Google)- I've found Spotify downloads take a little less space on my device than similar Google ones.  This might matter to you... it might not.
  • Device/Hardware connectivity.  Spotify Premium works for many more gadgets via direct connection.  Google often needs to be streamed from a device.  
  • Dedicated App for both Desktop and Mobile. Lots of features, searches and suggestions.
  • Will also sync with iTunes and your iTunes Playlist library and Spotify's interface looks more iTunes-y (thats a word, right?) so that might appeal to Apple fans.
  • Some Audiobooks are in their library!

Spotify Cons:

  • While Spotify seems to have more playlists overall, some of the playlists don't feel as well curated as Google Play Music's do. That might just be my own bias...
  • Depending on where you live, Spotify might have a smaller library vs. Google. 
  • Spotify free seems to have more ads/more frequent ad breaks than Google Play free does.  

Music Prime Amazon Overview:

Not a dedicated Streaming Service, persea, but a 'freebie' that you may already be a subscriber to if you are an Amazon Prime Customer.  Offers both an App for mobile devices and a desktop version for listening. Much Smaller library.

Amazon Prime Music Pros:

  • If you're an Amazon Prime customer you may already be a Prime Music subscriber too, so before you pay up for some other Premium Service, check out what Amazon offers.
  • Some Playlists and albums are downloadable via the App for offline listening.
  • Many new releases
  • Decent audio quality (Not up to Google/Spotify standards)

Amazon Prime Music Cons:

  • Low selection - did I mention this already?  Spotify and Play Music have over 30 Million songs in their libraries. Amazon has 'only' 1 million. But they are Amazon and the service is fairly new. It will likely grow.
  • Audio quality, download-ability and playlist curation also not as good as Spotify or Google, but again, the service is new. 

The Verdict: The best music streaming service for your money is... 

I think it really is a coin toss between Google Play and Spotify Premium.  Personally, we subscribe to Google Play.

If you're on the fence, I suggest using Google Play for free and waiting until Spotify offers one of their '3 months for $10' deals to try it out.  If you find you're doing lots of offline listening or like the ad-free experience, you can make a judgement call after 3 months.

Amazon Prime isn't an answer (yet), unless you just want to have background audio for a party or a running playlist to download. It isn't worth subscribing to Prime just to get Amazon Music, but if you're on the fence, it is a pretty sweet bonus to go along with free shipping and Amazon Prime Video).

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