Derek Malcolm/Digital Trends
It’s a jungle out there when it comes to music streaming services, and it can be a daunting task to try and figure out which one might be the best option for you. There are so many contenders right now, with two of the most prominent being Spotify and YouTube Music. Both offer libraries of 100 million songs, friendly user interfaces, and similar plan options ranging from ad-supported free tiers to a variety of premium paid plans.
- User interface and devices
- Library and discovery
- Features and functions
- Sound quality
- The price
- VerdictShow 1 more item
While Spotify may be the world’s most popular music service — with podcasts, audiobooks, and slightly better audio quality than YouTube Music — millions of users worldwide have relied on YouTube videos for their music over the years. YouTube Music is a polished, feature-rich extension of that, making it perhaps a better choice for those already all-in on the Google ecosystem.
Spotify and YouTube Music might be closer than you think, though. So before you make your decision, let’s dig into both and see how they compare.
Spotify still growing, still losing money — and still without a hi-res option
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Is there a Spotify free trial? Get Spotify Premium for free
User interface and devices
Launched in 2008, Spotify has had some time to get good at building a friendly user interface, and it continues to be one of the best. Spotify is available in a variety of ways, including via a web browser, through mobile and desktop apps for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux and Kindle, for starters. In fact, it’s harder to think of ways Spotify can’t be accessed. It’s compatible with many smartwatches and network speakers like Sonos, available in the car via CarPlay and Android Auto, on gaming consoles, smart TVs and streaming devices such as Apple TV and Roku, and more.
The UI has changed several times over the years, and continues to do so. But at its core, its separated into three main areas. Home is kind of the hub of all things, with tabs up top for music, podcasts, and audio books. Its scrolling design brings together everything from recently played songs to suggested mixes and new releases (more an all this below). Here, you can also access features such as Spotify’s new AI radio station-like feature called DJ, and its new TikTok/Instagram-like interface that brings in animated album artwork, video clips, previews of songs, playlists, podcasts, and more in a cool visual way. Your Library is where all your created, saved, and downloaded playlists, songs, albums, artists, podcasts, and more are organized. And lastly, Search is just that, a search field for finding what you’re looking for, but it also lists out your recent searches, which is handy for going back to.
The web and desktop versions of the Spotify interface are more or less the same. Since there is no desktop version of the YouTube Music app (just the web player), it must be pointed out that if desktop will be your main usage point, the Spotify app is superior here.
YouTube Music’s UI is similar to Spotify’s in that it is well-designed, visually appealing, and utilizes a scrolling architecture as well. While YouTube Music can be accessed in a number of ways, it’s not quite as broad as Spotify, but still casts a wide net. Tied into a user’s Google account, the dedicated YouTube Music app is available for iOS and Android devices (including CarPlay and Android Auto), compatible smartwatches, Sonos speakers, and Chromecast. Its web player can be accessed through any browser or through the YouTube app on smart TVs. You can also cast the web player to other compatible devices from the web player or apps for another level of convenience.
Whether you’re using YouTube Music’s app or the web player, the UI is broken up into several main sections, just like Spotify. Along the bottom (or top in a web browser), you’ll find the Home section that is a smorgasbord of usage-based content, including your top artists, mixes, radio streams, playlists, new releases, trending music, and more. Explore is a more focused section of new releases, charts, and trending songs that you can parse out by mood and genres if desired. Library, like in Spotify, is where all your playlists and liked songs, albums, and artists can be found. There’s also a Search magnifying glass icon up top, where you’ll also find your familiar Google user icon and the cast icon.
Spotify and YouTube Music are very similar in their UI design and offer much of the same organization and discovery tools. But with Spotify, you feel like the well is just that much deeper as the app gives you seemingly endless suggestions and categorizations in more visually appealing and creative ways. Plus, it nudges ahead of YouTube Music with slightly more options for connectivity.
Library and discovery
Derek Malcolm/Digital Trends
Many of today’s music streaming services are offering music libraries in the 100 million tracks range, Spotify and YouTube Music included. So where once you could use that as a key decision-making factor, the fact is that now it would be hard to not find something you’re looking for on both services. With that being said, let’s look at some of the other factors that set these two apart.
Spotify’s expansive library is just the beginning of what it offers. The service is also now a leader in the podcast realm with more than 5 million titles, and it recently started offering audiobooks in its lineup as well.
But where Spotify still shines brightest is in the many ways its users can find and discover its content — it kind of wrote the book on it. Always evolving based on your listening habits, the Made for [your name here] category in the Home section is right up top and is a constantly revolving space for those who like to just let the algorithm do all the work. Playlists like Discover Weekly, Daily Mixes, and Release Radar are go-tos when you don’t have a particular album or artist you want to hear, and there’s almost endless mixes, playlists, and radio station recommendations that are auto-generated from the genres, moods, artists, and content that you’ve liked or listened to most. New episodes of the podcasts you like are front and center, as are audiobook titles.
The Search section can, of course, be used to search, but scrolling down opens up a long list of categories you can browse, like Made for You, soundtracks for your day, Live Events, Charts, and Decades, as well as the aforementioned TikTok/Instagram Stories-like scroll of videos and music previews to check out. Spotify is always adding new discover features as well, and while they’re sometimes hit-and-miss, like the new DJ feature that creates a radio station hosted by an AI version of Xavier “X” Jernigan, it’s nice that it’s always adding new things. It’s crazy, but that’s just a fraction of what you can find.
Derek Malcolm/Digital Trends
YouTube Music’s library is just as vast as Spotify’s, with pretty much everything you can think of at your fingertips. And while it’s not doing the audiobooks thing yet, just this year the service started adding podcasts to the platform’s Home screen — for U.S. users only at the moment. But how does YouTube Music stack up against Spotify for finding things to play? Similar to pretty much every streaming service, the more you use it, the more it learns your tastes, which makes for better suggestions. And while the Home section does deliver some great generated playlists like its ever-evolving Discover Mix, the excellent My Super Mix, a New Release Mix, and a load of “Similar To” lists based on artists you might like, it’s just not as vast as Spotify’s yet. The Explore section does a decent job at offering up new albums and singles, trending tracks, and mood and genre-based music, and the integration of YouTube videos adds a unique element. But overall, it’s hard to compete with Spotify’s experience with discovery — it just feels like you’re getting more, especially when you consider they’re priced almost exactly the same.
Features and functions
Spotify and YouTube Music share a lot of the same basic features and functions, including everything from the way you play, pause, shuffle, and skip tracks to adding things to your library and liking things to help organize what you’re listening to. Both services even offer lyrics, when available, and easily connect to speakers and devices in your home. The play window is more or less the same, displaying album art and very similar options in the dropdown menus, including the ability to download (more on premium tiers in a bit), share, launch “radio” stations based on your selection, view the artist or album, create playlists, and more. Spotify does offer the option of creating collaborative playlists with friends, and even though YouTube Music does offer its own year-end Recap, it pales in comparison to the frivolity of Spotify’s highly anticipated Wrapped event, but we don’t think that’s a deal breaker. Functionally, both Spotify and YouTube Music are very similar.
Derek Malcolm/Digital Trends
We’ve pitted Spotify and YouTube Music against each other for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that they are among the only music streaming services that have yet to offer an option or plan tier for lossless or high resolution (hi-res) formats like competitors such as Tidal, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited do. Spotify has long teased a hi-fi option but has yet to deliver, and so far YouTube Music hasn’t mentioned it, so in the meantime, these two services remain very similar in their sound quality offerings.
Technically speaking, Spotify offers better sound quality than YouTube Music. For their free versions, YouTube Music’s maximum streaming quality is 128kbp, while Spotify’s is 160kbps (it maxes out at 128kbps if using the web player).
Graduating to the premium tiers of both services, if playing Spotify Premium in browser with the web player, you get 256kbps. Using Spotify’s apps, you get a range from 24kbps to it’s peak at 320kbps. YouTube Music Premium is the same no matter where it’s played, ranging from 48kbps to its peak at 256kbps.
So, which one is better? On paper, Spotify. But unless you’re an audiophile (in which case you wouldn’t be considering either of these platforms), most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference or wouldn’t care. Spotify wins on a technicality.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends
This brings us to the exciting conclusion: price. To start, both Spotify and YouTube Music offer free tiers of their services that give you access to their entire libraries, but you’re going to have to contend with ads popping up between songs, and you can’t download anything for offline listening. Spotify’s free tier only lets you listen to music on shuffle, with the exception of certain playlists, and you can only skip six tracks per hour. Spotify has a range of premium plans that unlock all of these restrictions, allowing for downloads, doing away with the ads, and letting you have the full experience.
Spotify’s Premium plans include:
- Individual: $10 per month
- Duo: $13 per month (good for couples, or two people in the same household)
- Family: $16 per month (for up to 6 accounts)
- Student: $5 per month
YouTube Music free lets you skip tracks as many times as you like after 5 seconds, but the ads are arguably worse and more intrusive than on Spotify. Happily, though, the YouTube Music app now lets you play music in the background when your lock screen is active or when you’re using other apps, a feature that wasn’t possible before. Upgrading to YouTube Music Premium, as with Spotify, removes all the ads, allows for downloads, and gives you the full features of the service. Plans include:
- Individual: 10 per month (or for $2 more per month with a YouTube Premium membership)
- Family: $15 per month (or for $5 more per month with a YouTube Premium membership)
- Student: $5 per month (or for $2 more per month with a YouTube Premium membership)
Spotify and YouTube Music are pretty equally matched in their pricing, with their Individual plans coming in at under $10, so we’re calling this one a tie because while Spotify offers an additional convenient Duo tier for that demographic, YouTube Premium customers get to leverage their memberships to get a great add-on, which is something Spotify can’t offer.
With its 515 million users, 210 million of which are paying subscribers, Spotify is the world’s most popular music streaming service. But with YouTube already having a music listenership familiar with its stature, we can see why they, and other music lovers, might be weighing it as an option against other streamers — YouTube Music’s 80 million Premium subscribers as of September last year is a good sign.
But even with their oh-so-close pricing and music quality, as well as their comparable library sizes, Spotify’s beautifully designed big green wall of music discovery, podcasts, and new features is just a bit too high for YouTube Music to hit a home run over just yet. Don’t get us wrong, if you’re already a YouTube Premium subscriber, adding Music is a no-brainer for the extra few dollars. And if you don’t care about the flashier UI or podcasts, YouTube Music might be your jam. But for the price, it’s hard to ignore Spotify’s refined experience and the extras you can get for the same price.