The Best Mobile Music Streaming Services 2017

Music on the move

by Ed Selley Jul 7, 2017 at 8:53 AM


  • We all listen to music on the move these days, whether it's while we're commuting to work, exercising down the gym, flying off on holiday or simply walking the dog. But which music streaming service is the best?
    We have already done a rundown of the available music streaming services, so what we are going to do here is slightly different. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to look at the best mobile music streaming services. With competitive data packages at home, capped roaming charges abroad and high quality wi-fi just about everywhere, it has become practical not simply to have a clutch of music stored offline on a device but to keep using it for on-demand material as well.

    As such, this isn’t about desktop apps. We’re only looking at mobile versions and concentrating on the practicalities of using them out and about. What’s the best mobile option that will deliver some great tunes and avoid breaking the bank and your data allowance?

    Amazon Unlimited £7.99 – £9.99/m
    What format do I get?
    As best as can be worked out at this early stage, you get everything in 320kbps MP3. Nobody seems to have found anything that isn’t encoded in this manner at the time of writing. This means data usage should be manageable.

    What does it sound like?
    A quick test suggests it is certainly competitive with other compressed formats but as yet no blind panel test has been carried on it as it is still fairly new.

    Anything special about the service?
    The key selling point of Amazon Unlimited is Alexa integration. In return for trivialities like the sanctity of your personal space, you can completely voice control Amazon Unlimited and find songs by quoting lyrics at it. What a time to be alive.

    Are the apps any good?
    Yes – both iOS and Android seem slick, well laid out and easy to use. However when it comes to the Android app, Amazon isn’t keen on storing content on an external mounted SD card so you’ll be on internal memory only.

    Are there any deals on?
    You save £2/m by being a Prime member and there’s a four month introductory trial at 99p for Prime members.

    Rating
    8/10

    Apple Music £9.99/m
    What format do I get?
    Apple Music gives you pretty much everything in 256kbps AAC. This is smaller than the 320kbps used by many rivals but the argument goes that AAC is more efficient than other compression algorithms meaning you should get the same sonics – and enjoy lower data usage at the same time if you are streaming it.

    Does it sound any good?
    Apple Music has done consistently well in blind testing. It’s usually in the top set for compressed services and there’s at least anecdotal evidence that there’s a bit more going on than simple compression to 256kbps AAC.

    Anything special about the service?
    Considering that it’s Apple, purveyors of well packaged shiny things, Apple Music is actually quite prosaic. All the usual bells and whistles are there but there isn’t anything truly radical here. You can store videos offline which is not that common and there’s a reasonable if not spectacular clutch of curated content.

    Are the apps any good?
    Not bad. The iOS app is a default part of the suite of apps you get pre-installed and it works perfectly well although it’s not always perfectly clear where music to stream ends and music to buy begins. Strange to relate, the Android app is in some ways a little nicer than the iOS one. It’s clear, easy to follow and pretty quick. It is also generally possible to persuade Apple Music to store content on an external SD card which slows it down a bit but doesn’t fill up your phone’s internal capacity.

    Are there any deals on?
    There’s a free trial for new arrivals, an active Groupon deal and an offer for EE customers to get six free months.

    Rating
    8/10

    Deezer £9.99/m
    What format do I get?
    Deezer is another member of the 320kbps MP3 club. Data usage and speeds are therefore in keeping with the rest of the pack.

    What does it sound like?
    When tested blind, Deezer has sometimes struggled to perform to the same level as services using the same formats. There’s no clear reason for why this might be but it’s fairly repeatable.

    Anything special about the service?
    If you’re a Sonos user, there’s an ‘Elite’ lossless version that nobody else gets.

    Are the apps any good?
    If good is an absence of bad, the apps are good. There’s nothing radical here but equally there’s nothing to drive you to distraction. The Android app is happy to let you store to a mounted SD card though.

    Are there any deals on?
    A 3 month trial for 99p ought to be enough time to see if Deezer is for you.

    Rating
    7/10

    Google Play Music £9.99/m
    What format do I get?
    If you guessed 320Kbps MP3… you’re decidedly risk averse but entirely correct. It’s quick and data usage is in keeping with the others.

    What does it sound like?
    Google Play Music has performed reliably on blind tests. It’s not the out-and-out winner but it is more than capable of holding its own.

    Anything special about the service?
    It plays nice with the Google Home speaker system with voice control and other niceties. More potentially useful for music on the move is the ability of Google Play to intersperse your own music in when something isn't in the streaming catalogue – Peter Gabriel, I’m looking at you.

    Are the apps any good?
    Pretty good it must be said. The Android app in particular is a good one and both of them are stable and well laid out. You can also store to a mounted SD card with the Android version.

    Are there any deals on?
    None seem to be available at the time of writing.

    Rating
    7/10

    Qobuz from £9.99/m
    What format do I get?
    This answer depends on how much silver you cross Qobuz’s palm with but you can get 320kbps MP3 for £9.99 a month and lossless for £19.99. It’s worth remembering that if you are simply listening on the move – and streaming via cellular, the likelihood is that MP3 is all you need – your data use will increase considerably if you stream FLAC. There’s also a super premium ‘Sublime’ level that gets you discounted access to the extensive high resolution catalogue but this is a pay/download service and not something that really works on the move.

    What does it sound like?
    The 320kbps version of Qobuz sounds excellent and has done consistently well in tests. It adds to the idea that sound quality has as much to do with the compression and streaming process as the files themselves. The lossless version – as you might expect – sounds very good indeed.

    Anything special about the service?
    If you subscribe to the unusual notion of actually buying music, Qobuz probably has the best online store for high res material going at the moment. The online library also includes a few artists that don’t tend to crop up on other services.

    Are the apps any good?
    From a pretty terrible start, the apps have become slick, intuitive and stable. They have also corrected the inability to store to SD card – something that becomes important when dealing with lossless content.

    Are there any deals on?
    There’s a fifteen day free trial but no long term freebies.

    Rating
    9/10 and Recommended badge winner

    Spotify £9.99/m
    What format do I get?
    320kbps Ogg Vorbis. There’s been rumours of a lossless version since the year dot but it’s 320kbps for now. Spotify has been historically good for data consumption though.

    What does it sound like?
    Perfectly listenable. There’s a school of thought that says that Spotify has been tweaked to work better on phones and portable devices than on full size equipment but given what you’re likely to be using whilst on the move, that’s not necessarily a bad thing

    Anything special about the service?
    There’s the minor detail that it’s pretty much the byword for compatibility. It works with dozens of third party devices including cars and it has app support on a huge variety of devices – it’s the only one likely to be directly compatible with a holiday hire car for example. Spotify is the big dog in this fight and it shows. The Discover Weekly system is also scarily brilliant.

    Are the apps any good?
    Realistically, Spotify is still the standard by which other apps are judged. They work beautifully and are impressively quick and stable. One minor point is that storing your content on an SD card is possible but Spotify will make you work for it.

    Are there any deals on?
    Loads of them. In fact, you’d have to go some to pay full price unless you really want to.

    Rating
    10/10 and a Best buy badge winner

    Tidal from £9.99
    What format do I get?
    Tidal was the first readily available lossless service in the UK but like Qobuz, if you’re looking for economical mobile sounds, there’s a compressed only version too which saves you a tenner a month. You can of course use lossless on your main system and compressed on your phone to save space and data. Tidal does have a dirty little secret though. Wander outside the well known and file sizes can drop as low as 64kbps AAC and, in case you're wondering, it sounds terrible.

    What does it sound like?
    Tidal has consistently won the blind listening tests I’ve subjected it to. This also largely applies to its compressed performance too. It’s the best sounding overall service on the market.

    Anything special about the service?
    Tidal is all about curated content. If you want to listen to the best playlists going, this is where they reside. It has some interesting artist exclusives and some high quality video content too. Third party support is improving all the time as well. The catalogue is usefully extensive with few omissions and some of that catalogue can be streamed in High Res via MQA packing (although not to your phone).

    Are the apps any good?
    Pretty good. The iOS app in particular has improved dramatically and it works well enough. You can store content to a mounted SD card (even move the whole app over although it moves at the speed of mammal evolution if you do so).

    Are there any deals on?
    There’s a 30 day free trial and quite a few money off deals doing the rounds at the time of writing (July 2017).

    Rating
    9/10 and a Highly Recommended badge winner

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