We reveal how different free music streaming services stand up to each other, and whether you’re better off paying to access your favourite tunes without restrictions.
Music streaming services can be great for listening to your favourite songs on the go. If you don’t want to pay a monthly subscription, most companies will offer a free version with certain restrictions, like unskippable adverts or playlists always being shuffled.
But are these free services any good? We surveyed over three thousand music streaming users who use free services and over four thousand who have a subscription to find out which free and paid-for services are the best*.
One thing to bear in mind with free services is that, based on our survey, we know people get wound up by ads and locked features. But they are a good way to find out whether a service is for you.
Plus they’re free – so you’ve nothing to lose. Here, we’ve rounded up the most popular free music streaming services, Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music and YouTube, to put them head-to-head and see how they compare to each other.
Spotify vs YouTube Music
These are two of the biggest streaming services, both in the UK and worldwide. Both Spotify and YouTube Music provide a free basic service with the option to upgrade to a Premium service for a fee. If you want to try either subscription service before you buy, YouTube Music offers a one-month free trial of its Premium service, while Spotify offers a three-month trial of Spotify Premium.
Our survey showed that both of the free versions of these services fared almost identically in terms of the wide selection of music, a great search function, and a range of both exclusive and original content.
Both great contenders, Spotify Free cinched a win over YouTube Music in terms of better audio quality. However, both contenders featured annoying adverts interrupting their streaming, something which is not found in Premium subscriptions. Spotify Free also limits the amount of songs the user can skip. While YouTube Music features unlimited skips, you must have the app open to continue streaming. Once you close the app, the music stops.
Amazon Music vs Spotify
Amazon Music is another popular music streaming service – its paid version is called Amazon Music Unlimited. You don’t need a Prime membership to access Amazon Music. But if you do have one, you may prefer to use Amazon Prime Music instead because it features personalised streaming stations. Amazon Music fared well in our survey in terms of sound quality and ease of use, scoring the same as Spotify. However, the catalogue of songs to choose from is far more limited than Spotify, and there’s less original and exclusive content to browse.
Deezer vs Spotify
Deezer is a slightly less well-known music streaming service, with Deezer Premium as its paid version. Deezer was fairly popular with our survey, sitting just below Spotify and YouTube Music in our best free music streaming services results table. The selection of music is impressive, and although you can’t stream offline, Deezer provides plenty of free downloadable podcasts to listen to at any time.
Plus, while you’re limited to six skips an hour on a mobile device, skips on a computer are unlimited. Spotify still proved to be superior in terms of its larger catalogue of music and content, plus users found it easier to use with a better search function. However, if you stream on a desktop or laptop and don’t want to be limited to a certain number of skips, Deezer Free may work for you.
Our free music streaming services verdict Spotify Free certainly tops our charts as the best free streaming service, with its huge catalogue of songs, podcasts and exclusive content. The app is also easy to use and understand, and it’s a great way to stream your favourite songs for free – if you don’t mind the adverts.
YouTube Music also impressed in our survey, with a great selection of music and unlimited skips, although having to keep the app open to listen could become tedious.
Deezer featured a great selection of songs but had less exclusive content, and Amazon Music’s library of content could be bigger. While these free music streaming services have their perks, we think the way to get the most out of your music streaming is to pay for a subscription, provided you have the budget for it. Annoying adverts and locked features like offline streaming will be a thing of the past.
Best music streaming services
Our latest survey results and expert reviews reveal the best free and paid-for music streaming services.
Music streaming services will have you bopping away to your favourite songs wherever you are. But with so many services available, should you try a free one or opt for a subscription?
Our independent survey reveals which free and paid-for music streaming services top the charts, including which are best for a large selection of music, search functionality and ease of use. However you access your favourite anthems, you can use our results to find the service that’s right for you.
While our results do reveal the best free music streaming services, be aware that longer term you may prefer a paid-for service. In our survey, people who had upgraded did so because they got frustrated by ads and locked features.
Best free music streaming services
Many music streaming services offer a free version to reel you in. You’ll have access to extensive libraries but will be interrupted by adverts. Our survey has rated five free music streaming services. These are ranked by their customer score – this is based on whether people are satisfied with their service and if they would recommend it.
Spotify Free is the best, with a customer score of 69%, followed by YouTube Music with 66%. Spotify Free and YouTube Music were in harmony for most star ratings – both were rated five stars out of five for their selection of music. But YouTube Music was awarded three stars for audio quality to Spotify Free’s four stars.
There are other services to consider, such as Deezer Free (64%), Amazon Music Free (63%) and SoundCloud (59%). They have their own pros and cons; each received two four-star ratings and three stars for everything else.
Our table below will help you choose one or two free services to try, but we would recommend paying for a subscription for peaceful ad-free listening on and offline. Scroll down further to see which music streaming subscription services are top of the pops.
What annoys people about free music services?
Free services are great if you’re making your music streaming service debut. But our survey found 75% of people with a paid-for service had upgraded from the free version. Most of these people told us they started to pay for music streaming after getting wound up by adverts and locked features.
Free versions tend to offer lower bitrates (fewer kilobits per second – kbps) – their sound quality will never be as good as their paid-for counterparts. Some will have restrictions, such as a limit on the number of times you can skip a tune. You also won’t have a seamless experience; on both desktop and mobile you’ll see banners or pop-ups proclaiming the benefits of paying for a subscription.
Another pitfall is the lack of downloadable content and offline listening. Some will allow you to download podcasts for free though. If you’re interested in trying music streaming for free, keep reading for more information on the brands in our table.
Spotify Free is a popular service – almost 3 in 10 people in our survey told us that they use it. Spotify is one of the most reputable music streaming services, with 30% of listeners saying they chose the free version because it was recommended to them.
Spotify Free has more than 70m songs. But it’s not all about the music; its library of podcasts is huge and they can be downloaded free of charge. The free version looks the same as Spotify Premium, although there are limits on the number of times you can skip tracks (only six per hour) and playlists are shuffled. You won’t have complete control over your playlists, but many other features strike a chord with listeners.
Spotify Free was one of the only services to receive a full five stars for selection of music and also scores four stars out of five for range, search function, ease of use and quality of audio. It’s a great all-rounder if you want to try music streaming or are unhappy with your current provider.
Due to its restrictions, we would only recommend Spotify Free if you occasionally listen to background music or if you’re happy to go with the flow.
Spotify Free pros:
Rated as the best free provider in our survey, with a customer score of 69% One of only two brands to get five stars for its selection of music Received four stars for most aspects (range, search function, ease of use and quality of audio) Many survey respondents said it’s easy and enjoyable to use
Spotify Free cons:
Many users in our survey told us adverts were irritating There are limits on how many times songs can be skipped Playlists are shuffled You cannot listen to music offline Audio quality is 128kbps on desktop and 160kbps on mobile. For Premium it’s 256kbps on desktop and 320kbps on mobile.
You can stream unlimited music with YouTube Music. One drawback is the app needs to be open when using it, which multi-taskers would find frustrating. Unlike Spotify, skips are unlimited – you’ll have more control over your precious playlists. YouTube Music had similar star ratings to Spotify Free.
It received five stars for its selection of music and four stars for range, search function and ease of use. The one area where YouTube Music falls behind others is audio quality, where it scored three stars. YouTube Music is worth trying if you enjoy a large selection of music and don’t need to use your phone or tablet for anything else in the meantime.
YouTube Music pros:
One of only two brands to get five stars for its selection of music Received four stars for most aspects (range, search function and ease of use) Unlike Spotify, skipping is unlimited Easy to watch music videos.
YouTube Music cons:
Many users in our survey told us adverts were irritating Received three stars out of five for quality of the audio You’re unable to continue listening to music when you leave the app Audio quality is 128kbps, whereas it’s 256kbps for YouTube Music Premium.
Other free music streaming services to try
Spotify Free and YouTube Music are top of our table, but there are other free streaming services available.
With Deezer Free you can’t stream music offline, however there are tonnes of podcasts that are free to download. On mobile you’re limited to six skips an hour but on a computer you can skip as much as you like – so try Deezer Free if you mainly use your desktop or laptop to stream.
Amazon Music Free
Amazon Music Free has a limited catalogue compared with Amazon Music Unlimited (the version that you pay for). If you already buy music from Amazon, your songs will be stored within Amazon Music Free and you can download them to your device.
You don’t need Amazon Prime membership to access this service, so if you do have Prime, use Amazon Music Prime instead for its personalised streaming stations. Amazon Music Free received four stars for ease of use and audio quality; this isn’t bad, but it’s best to use Amazon Music Free if you buy songs from its website to make the most of its features.
SoundCloud was last in our survey with a customer score of 59%. It’s worth trying other services first unless exclusive content is important to you – listeners enjoyed finding unique artists through the app. It’s best to only download SoundCloud if you want to impress friends with your knowledge of up-and-coming artists.
Music streaming subscription services rated
Our exclusive research has ranked nine music streaming subscription services. Whether you’re dissatisfied with your current service, or are trying one for the first time, our independent survey results rate aspects from selection of music to audio quality.
You can use our results to pick the right one for you. Two music streaming services take the top spot, and there are other services that get a full five stars for availability of downloads and ease of use.
How to choose a music streaming service
With so many music streaming services available, it can be difficult to decide on which one to try. Below are some of our tips to help you choose.
Find the right music streaming plan for you
Most music streaming services have a few different subscription packages that you can sign up for, including a free version. If there will be a few of you listening, then a family subscription will offer better value than individual accounts. If you’re a student, then check whether the service offers a student discount.
Look for deals
Some services will include music streaming as an added bonus, so when you take out a new mobile phone, broadband or TV contract you will get it for free. Some services will also offer you a month of premium for free, or at a discount.
Check which artists and genres are available
Some music streaming services have exclusive relationships with particular artists, so it’s worth checking that your favourite singer or band is available before signing up. If you like a particular genre of music then it’s good to check what the choice is like – you can do this by signing up for a free trial. Many of those in our survey were very satisfied with their service for including their favourite genres, from classical to underground DJs.
Streaming vs downloading
Streaming lets you listen to your favourite tracks instantly, online. But if you’re not connected to wi-fi – for example, in the car or on the train when you’re commuting – then it can eat into your data allowance on your mobile phone contract. Streaming service subscriptions that let you download songs, albums or podcasts mean that you can listen to your content offline – so you save on your data, and can listen even if you have no signal. It’s a useful feature if you’re flying and need to have your phone on airplane mode, too. It’s a good idea to download content while connected to wi-fi, to save on eating up your data allowance.
Streaming vs other methods In our survey, many people told us that they enjoy listening to CDs in the car. Why not try using Bluetooth to link to a streaming service? You’ll have a lot more choice, and you won’t have to trawl through your glove compartment to find the particular CD you’re after.
With such an array of songs available on all music streaming services, your main library can get cluttered easily. Use playlists to arrange your music, so that you can easily pick songs depending on the situation and your mood.
Pick the right device
Some Bluetooth speakers come with a music streaming app installed, although you’ll still need to pay for a subscription. Others can support certain streaming services, but not all. See our Best Buy wireless and Bluetooth speakers to find out which devices will support your chosen streaming service.