The way music is consumed has changed drastically from record players and cassettes, to MP3 files and the iPod. Now we’re at the point where streaming services are how the majority of people get their music. While they weren’t the first in the game, Apple Music has become one of the more popular services available for music lovers, but why? Is Apple Music actually good? Let’s find out.
Editor’s note: This Apple Music review was updated on August 27, 2020, to include a section about how Apple Music compares to Spotify Premium.
What is Apple Music?
Apple Music is a streaming service using elements of the Beats streaming service Apple purchased back in 2014, and brought on some of the world’s most popular DJs to give it a boost in popularity. The Beats brand basically became a live internet radio station within the app, and this, along with some high profile music acts like Drake signing exclusive deals to only stream on Apple Music for a certain amount of time was how the company initially competed with other streaming services like Spotify. The exclusive deals have since died out (thankfully), but the internet radio is still one of Apple Music’s main features.
How to use Apple Music
If you own an iOS device, Apple Music is the default app for listening to music. Surprisingly, it’s one of a few Apple apps that is also available on Android but you’ll need to download it from the Play Store first. Using the service on both operating systems is fairly similar, with the biggest difference being how you search for music. On iOS there’s a separate tab in the bottom menu, while on Android there’s an ever-present search icon in the top right instead. Besides that, how you navigate Apple Music is identical on both platforms. There are icons along the bottom to help you navigate the different menus. From left to right they are the library, the “For You” section, browse, radio, and (if you’re on iOS) the aforementioned search. All of your music listening and navigating is done in one of these screens.
The library consists of all of your music, whether that’s your own personal library or songs that you searched for in the app and saved. Every time you come across a new song or album that you like you can hit the “+Add” button to save it to your library. Navigating the library is pretty intuitive as it’s essentially the same way that iTunes was organized. That main screen is also where you’ll find the recently added section, so you don’t have to go digging through screens to get to the song you just added this morning.
The one feature that I do wish Apple Music would incorporate here is the ability to collaborate on a playlist in the way Spotify does. A collaborative playlist allows you and a friend to both add music to a particular playlist that you both have complete control over. The only thing you can do in Apple Music is to share a playlist with a friend, but that friend won’t have any control over what songs are in the playlist.
How to find new music with the “For you” feature
The next section is “For You”, and this is where things get interesting because this is the screen where you’ll probably be doing most of your music discovery. By using algorithms Apple Music recommends similar artists, songs, or curated playlists based on a mix of your past listening habits and new artists that it thinks you might like. It even adds a few playlists right up top so you can quickly listen to new music or some of your past favorites.
Next is the browse tab, which is essentially the landing page of the Apple Music app. Instead of music and playlists made for you, this is where you’ll find everything that’s new and some playlists that are more topical and broad. For example, instead of a playlist of songs that are similar to your past listening habits, you’ll find a daily Top 100 playlist here separated by countries. There’s everything from Top 100 songs globally to the Top 100 songs in Uganda. The browse page is also where you can look through new releases, different genres, or even watch some Beats 1 interviews. That actually brings us nicely into the next tab.
One of the standout features of Apple Music at launch was internet radio stations, and it’s still going strong. There is always a live DJ somewhere in the world who is live. So all you have to do is click in too start listening. If you miss one, you can always just go back and listen to the DJ’s set as it’s all recorded and organized nicely in this tab. You’ll also get an upcoming schedule of so is going to be live and if you don’t feel like listening to a DJ this is also the page where you can pick a station by genre, though as far as I can tell it’s just a few more constantly updated playlists. Still, it’s just another way to discover new music if you want it.
Does Apple Music use data?
If you don’t have an unlimited plan or pay for data as you go, you’re going to want to download as much as you can over WiFi because yes, Apple Music uses mobile data when connected to WiFi. Apple Music lets you download songs, albums, or playlists onto your device by tapping the little cloud and arrow button to the right of the playlist or song. If you do this while connected to WiFi, you’ll avoid data charges and can still listen to your music while on the go. The downside to this is that there’s no option for offline playback of any of the live radio, even the ones that are pre-recorded. This is kind of a bummer seeing as it would give data-conscious people a way to listen to the radio stations afterward almost like a podcast. The only parts of the radio tab that are available for offline playback are the playlists.
Can you listen to Apple Music offline?
The answer to this is both yes, and no. As I mentioned above you can download songs and playlists for offline listening, so if you’re going to be somewhere in the mountains camping with no service but still want some sweet tunes, then this is the way to go. That said, you will need internet access at some point to get access to the songs in order to download them. Another option is that you can listen to your own personal library if you have the original files.
How to listen to your own music on Apple Music?
If you have a personal music library that you’re proud of, you don’t need to get rid of it in order to use Apple Music. You can actually upload it all to your iCloud Music Library so that you can listen to it wherever you go. Apple Music allowed you to upload up to 100,000 songs, which is pretty great. There are a few caveats though. For one, a song can’t be over 200MB in size, which seems fairly reasonable considering an MP3 is typically around 4MB depending on the length of the song.
The second requirement is that a song can’t be over two hours in length. Lastly, you should know that if your music library is filled with high ALAC, AIFF, or WAV files, you’re going to lose some quality in the process of making your music accessible via iCloud. Apple Music will convert any file into an AAC 256kbps and make a copy of it in the cloud leaving the original file untouched in your drive. If you don’t want to pay the subscription for Apple Music then get only way to get this done is to manually sync over a USB cable with a computer.
Is Apple Music free?
Like the other major streaming services, Apple Music doesn’t require a subscription to use. You don’t have to pay a dime in order to listen to your own music if you sync it manually or have already paid for it in the past via the iTunes store. You also don’t have to pay in order to listen to the live radio stations in the radio tab. That’s where it ends though because access to the massive music library for streaming is behind the pay well. The free trial will last you three months, but then you’ll have to pay $9.99 moving forward. This will let you stream any song and you sync your personal library with iCloud as well.
Does Apple Music have a family plan? A student plan?
|Streaming Service||Free Model Available||Basic Plan||Premium Plan||Hi-Res Plan||Family Plan||Student Plan||Military Plan|
|Amazon Music HD||No||-||$12.99 with Prime|
|Amazon Music Unlimited||No||-||$7.99 with Prime|
|Apple Music||Yes||Radio is free||$9.99||-||$14.99||$4.99||-|
|Deezer||Yes||Free with ads||$9.99||$14.99||$14.99||$4.99||-|
|SoundCloud Go/Go+||Yes||$4.99||$9.99||-||-||$4.99 for premium||-|
|Spotify||Yes||Free with ads||$9.99||-||$14.99||$4.99||-|
|YouTube Music||Yes||Free with ads||$9.99||-||$14.99||$4.99||-|
If your family wants to go all-in on Apple Music, you won’t have to pay per person. Instead, sign up for the family plan which will give access to up to six people for just $14.99. If you’re a student, you’re likely short on cash. Luckily, Apple Music has a plan for you too. Once you prove you’re a student, your pricing will be just $4.99 per month for up to four years. Once you reach that time limit or you graduate then the pricing will be bumped up to the standard $9.99. Congratulations.
How much does Apple Music pay artists?
Not much. Sadly, that isn’t uncommon in the streaming industry. If you look at the chart below the data collected by thetrichordist.com shows that streaming music is not the most profitable business for a musician. This shows how much each service pays per stream, and keep in mind that doesn’t go entirely to the artist.
|Digital Service Provider||$ Per Stream|
|24/7 Entertainment GmbH||$0.01050|
|Amazon Digital Services Inc.||$0.00395|
|YouTube Content ID||$0.00028|
What is the steaming quality of Apple Music and is there a hi-res option?
|Streaming Service||Max streaming quality||Supported Formats|
|Qobuz||24bit / 192kHz||AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WAV, WMA Lossless|
|Amazon Music HD||24bit /192kHz||FLAC|
|Tidal HiFi||24bit / 96kHz||AAC, ALAC, FLAC|
|Deezer HiFi||16bit / 44.1kHz||FLAC|
|Google Play Music||320kbps||AAC, ALAC, FLAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WMA|
|Spotify Premium||320kbps||AAC, Ogg Vorbis|
|YouTube Music Premium||256kbps||AAC|
Apple Music streams using AAC 256kbps, which is more than enough for most people even if it doesn’t quite have the specs that Tidal or Deezer has. At the time of writing this article, there is no high-resolution streaming option for Apple Music but that may be changing. The company has basically re-branded its “Mastered for iTunes” library of high-quality files to “Apple Digital Master.” Does this mean they’re getting ready to stream lossless files through Apple Music? Who knows, but it’s a step in the right direction even if most people probably won’t care or be able to tell the difference.
Is Apple Music worth it?
If you don’t have a subscription to a music streaming service already, then Apple Music is definitely a strong option. Whether it’s worth the money or not depends on whether or not you care about the limitations of the free tier. For me, I think it’s definitely worth. It costs just about the same as all the other services and if you don’t care about high-res streaming that you can get with Deezer or Tidal, then Apple Music has pretty much the same music library as the likes of Spotify. Plus, because it’s Apple you can be fairly certain that the service is going to be around for a while in one form or another so you won’t lose your music library anytime soon. It also works fine on both iOS and Android which is surprising coming from Apple, so regardless of which operating system you choose in the future you’ll still have your music.
How does Apple Music compare to Spotify Premium?
You can read our full Apple Music vs Spotify article, but here’s the low-down:
Both streaming services offer the same lossy audio compression format (AAC), but Apple Music’s bitrate is 256kpbs whereas Spotify’s is 320kpbs. This just means that Spotify Premium’s sound quality is very slightly higher than Apple Music’s, but it’s unlikely to be noticeable.
The main reason some people opt for Spotify Premium is because of its social and music discovery features. Spotify allows users to make collaborative playlists as well as view their friends’ live listening activity. Both Spotify and Apple Music have features for music discovery, but Spotify seems to have algorithmically suggested music embedded into all of its features as well as editorial playlists created for almost any mood or situation.
Lastly, Spotify offers a free, ad-supported version whereas Apple Music only has paid subscriptions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Any songs you purchased and downloaded from iTunes are available in Apple Music. You can still purchase songs if you prefer to own them rather than access them through a streaming service, and iTunes giftcards are still usable. However, iTunes as an app no longer exists. It has essentially been swallowed by Apple Music.