David Lewis Talking Tech & Audio
Search
Close this search box.

Is it still Apple Music vs. Spotify? Can just one music player be GREAT at everything?

The battle rages on between Apple Music, Spotify, and possibly Pandora Music…

Apple Music
Apple Music

What is it you are after?

When deciding upon your music app player of choice, there are a few considerations to undertake.

Firstly, is your home littered with Apple products? If so, it makes sense that your natural inclination will be towards firing up Apple Music, or its sister, Apple Podcasts. This would be particularly true, if you have any original HomePods (lucky you if you do!), or HomePod Mini’s. The Handoff and Spatial Audio features makes using the native Apple Music apps a no-brainer.

But of course, your choice goes a lot further than just playing music. Much of it will have to do with AI and playlists, how much of your library you want to listen to, and also, whether you buy music.

Spotify

Spotify
Spotify

The Swedish streaming service, Spotify, which is now over fifteen years old, has steadily grown in popularity. It now boasts 422 million active monthly users, of which 182 million are on a paid subscription.

Speaking of subscriptions, Spotify offer you a choice of four plans;

  • Student for $4.99/month (1 account only)
  • Individual for $9.99 (1 account only)
  • Duo for $12.99 (two accounts maximum)
  • Family for $15.99 (up to 6 accounts)

All offer a one-month free trial, with the individual one actually offering a two-month trial period. One thing I do like about the desktop app, is the ability to tailor your settings to your listening preferences. You’ve the ability to set Audio Quality from Very High through to Low or leave it on Automatic. You can do the same for downloads, normalise volume across all output, and set crossfades between tracks as well.

There is a great deal of modularity available in the mobile player. You can set volume levels, and even play with the equaliser. There, you can tweak some presets that they offer you, to best suit the kind of content you most listen to.

Available in over 180 countries, its catalogue has swelled to around 82 million songs. Of course, you never own these, you merely stream.

Streaming argument and playlists

Spotify
Spotify

Much has been written about streaming killing the musicians’ life. I was lucky, for many years, to host radio shows, and interview many high-profile performers and artists. Streaming is something that would often be discussed, and there were two sides to it.

Firstly, yes, the pittance they get paid from royalties is a crime. There is no way that most can earn a living from it. But, I was told on more than one occasion that if an artist made it in to a major playlist, that, in turn, could open doors for them. Again, not from the royalties from being streamed, but it could help them to be introduced to a new, wider public. From that introduction to their music, it is possible, that listeners may go to gigs, buy merch, or even their albums direct from Bandcamp.

Where I had heard good things about Spotify, was about their AI and suggested playlists. I have subscribed to it since the start of the year, and have to say, I find their servings somewhat repetitive. This year, I have probably used Spotify, in the studio, more than Apple Music to give it a fair try, but can see myself going back home to Apple Music soon.

With Spotify, you can’t upload and play your albums, but are restricted to the music found on the Spotify servers. The UI is much better than Apple, though, and gives a more intuitive user experience.

Pandora

Pandora
Pandora

This service was bought to my attention, at least, from one of my readers on Medium.

In its early life, it came to market as an internet radio station. Their USP was that they would create personalised channels based on the likes & dislikes that you would give the music. Think of it similarly to giving a thumbs-up or down to a video on YouTube. All these recommendations were based on the Music Gemome Project.

This service, like Spotify, was formed in the early 2000s, and is now owned by Sirius XM Holdings. Although much smaller in numbers (56 million users with 6.4 million paid subscribers). Users of Pandora, seem to like the almost family feel of the way their likes and dislikes, go toward creating stations. The Pandora algorithm is built on more than 450 attributes, which help to align what song will be played next. Some of the factors it looks at are syncopation, key tonality & vocal harmonies.

They have gone through many odd iterations over their time, such as limiting listeners to 40 hours of content per month before having to pay. Pandora Premium was launched to bring it more in line with the larger, more popular streaming services. Other basic UI such as rewind and fast-forward were added in 2016, but are both linked to how many songs you’ve skipped in an hour.

Apps are available for Android, iOS, and Apple Watch. Although not for everyone, and a little quirky, if you are after a more personal experience, Pandora may be worth exploring.

Apple Music & Podcasts

Apple Music
Apple Music

For the last short while, podcasts, and music have been separated in to different apps on Apple. It took me a little while to get used to this, but now, I quite like that I have to make a distinct choice between music or podcasts.

One of the biggest wins for Apple Music, is the fact that you can upload music from your library. As far as I am aware, this makes it unique as a music player service.

At the top of the blog, I mentioned HomePod Mini. Apple Music and Podcasts are the native built in players in HomePod OS. This of course means, that you can ask Siri to play anything in either its, or your library.

Although Spotify and Pandora are not native to HomePod, in using the Handoff feature (that I use all the time), you can play music from both services on the speaker.

Like Spotify, there are four plans available (with free periods normally given too);

  • Voice Plan for £4.99
  • Student for £5.99
  • Individual for £9.99
  • Family for £14.99 (share with up to five family members)

The family choice represents tremendous value. Each family member having the option to create their own library. The Individual & Family plans are also available as part of Apple One, which bundles up five other Apple apps in to a single subscription.

It is primarily the audio, though, which is starting to make Apple Music my go-to player once again.

Dolby Atmos is an innovative technology that immerses you in music. Whereas with stereo, you are limited to left & right channels, Atmos frees you from that. Artists that record in Atmos, make the decision where the music comes to you from, and how loud, quiet or vibrant every individual element is. It helps to create a very nuanced music listening environment.

Dolby Atmos is currently available via compatible Apple or Beats headphones, iPhone, iPad, MacBooks, and Apple TV 4K.

Lossless Audio is a method Apple have developed to reduce the original file size of a track while preserving all the data perfectly. The entire 90 million songs on the Apple database are now available in lossless at different resolutions. In Apple Music, “Lossless” refers to lossless audio up to 48kHz, and “Hi-Res Lossless” refers to lossless audio from 48kHz to 192kHz.

AirPod Pro looks set to be getting their first refresh in the fall. Coming to the new gen AirPod pro, will be Find My, USB-C charging and, most crucially, lossless audio. It doesn’t compute with my brain how lossless can be squeezed down the bluetooth pipes, but apparently, the Apple boffins are on it. I guess that is why they are paid the big bucks. Maybe those guys on the big bucks could do something about the interface? It really is an outdated mess currently.

Carplay

Apple Music & CarPlay
CarPlay

All these apps are available to use through the CarPlay app. CarPlay brings these apps to your car’s interface for safer and easier navigation.

At WWDC last month, CarPlay was targeted as being given a major facelift from 2024. Rather than just the limited apps that are currently available, CarPlay, with a compatible car, will soon be responsible for running the entire systems.

In a fully customisable way, you will be able to access the speedo, rev counter, fluid temperatures, navigation, and climate controls. It’s suggested that widgets and Home apps will also be accessed via CarPlay and the cars’ infotainment system. Not many manufacturers have yet got on-board, but one of the first to confirm was Polestar.

Whether Apple eventually comes through with the Apple Car is unclear, but as CarPlay is rolled out in a few years time, it will help give us a clearer vision of their auto-related future.

The choice is yours

I have only highlighted the three apps here, all of which were mentioned by readers to a blog of mine from earlier this year. There are many others including Amazon Music, Qobuz & Tidal.

It is a case of deciding what suits your listening needs and lifestyle best.

If Apple does indeed manage to bring effective Lossless to the new AirPod Pro, I am certain that will be the tip of the iceberg. Surely, it would then follow to HomePod Mini, and if the new HomePod too.

With further integration to CarPlay around the corner, no ads on any plan, and Atmos, I think Apple is slowly pulling me back to their native platforms.

What about you, though? Have you switched music apps recently? What do you make of the audio on Apple Music, and what is your favourite music & podcast app? Let me know.

Getting involved

If you fancy supporting my work here on Medium, and would like to enjoy a world of other writers, why not subscribe? If you join via this link, I will get a little bit of your subscription, and you will be unlocking a wonderful world of talented writers.

Fancy receiving my weekly video newsletter?

It’s free, and simple to join. Just leave me your details here, and every Sunday lunchtime, I will drop in to your inbox, catching up on the last week.

Finally, I keep all my Mac as new with CleanMyMac – my go-to tool for making sure my Mac stays match-fit (affiliate link)

Are you subscribed to Medium yet?

I am only one of a whole host of writers here on Medium, the premium blogging site. It is such good value, and you can join below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *