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The 5 best free music services: Top streaming apps and radio picks

What is the best free music service? ZDNet chose Spotify. We researched and used these services ourselves, to compare factors like audio quality, reviews, different features, and each service's library size. We found there are plenty of other free music services to listen to your favorite tunes without having to pay. Here are our top five recommendations.
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Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

Music is one of the many joys in life. It brings people together, can make or break your mood, remind you of a specific memory or time in your life, and make us dance. So whether you require tunes to work and keep you focused or when you are out for a drive, clearing your head, there are numerous music streaming services available today. 

While they are well worth paying for, there's also plenty of stuff you can access for free.

Most of the paid services also offer free trials. We've listed services here with completely free tiers, though you can upgrade to a higher level of service to remove ads, increase the size of the music library, allow more skips, or improve stream quality in bitrate.

Spotify Free
CNET

Quality: Up to160kbps for mobile device users | Files: MP3, M4P, MP4 | Library size: 82+ million | Platforms: iOS and Android apps, desktop app, web player, smart TV apps, connected speaker support, and cars

Our pick for the best free music service is Spotify. Even though it has paid subscription options, the free version can be easily integrated into streaming devices such as Sonos, which uses its own native UX. But there's a lot of content here to enjoy and focused genres for rock, pop, indie, moods, new releases, throwbacks, and charts. The free tier is ad-supported, but I do not find it overly intrusive. 

Pros: 

  • Integrated with streaming devices 
  •  Access all your playlists, discover new music, and share tunes with friends
  • Listen to podcasts

Cons: 

  • Has ads 
  • Cannot listen to songs or playlists offline
Amazon Music

Quality: N/A | Files: N/A | Library size: 50+ million (2 million in the free library for Prime users) | Platforms: iOS and Android apps, desktop app, web player, connected speaker support, cars

The free tier for Prime users features more than two million songs and more than 2,000 playlists and stations—with unlimited skips and available for offline playback. The full tier comes at an incremental cost to Prime Customers for an additional $7.99 a month. Non-Prime customers pay $9.99 a month. Amazon also provides a lossless quality streaming service, Amazon Music HD, for $12.99 for Prime members.

Pros: 

  • Already comes with an Amazon Prime subscription 
  • Unlimited skips and offline playback

Cons: 

  • Have to pay for Amazon Music Unlimited for the newest artist releases and exclusive songs and albums 
YouTube Music

Quality: 128kbps | Files: AAC | Library Size: 60+ million | Platforms: iOS and Android apps

The search giant has a wide variety of music, with good mobile apps, but it's heavily ad-supported. It has excellent search features too, with lots of live music recordings. A stand-out feature of YouTube Music is that you can search for songs by their lyrics. 

Pros: 

  • Search for songs by lyrics 
  • Smart downloads feature 

Cons: 

  • Little non-music programming like podcasts
  • Lacks in audio quality compared to others
Pandora

Quality: 64kbps | Files: N/A | Library size: N/A | Platforms: iOS and Android apps, Web UX, smart device integration

Pandora has been owned by satellite radio provider SiriusXM since 2019. With Pandora, music is created "thematically." You chose a bunch of artists, and it figures out what tastes you have, and it gives you music based on that music style. Ads are frequent.

Pros: 

  • Curated playlists based on what you like 
  • Listen to podcasts 

Cons:

  • Frequent ads
  • Limited skipping and no custom playlists 
iHeartRadio

Quality: 128kbps, 16-bit | Files: MP3, FLAC | Library size: 20 million | Platforms: iOS and Android apps, smart device integration, Web UX

iHeartRadio is something of a hybrid between a streaming platform and a radio service, as it has over 20 million songs in its inventory that are classified and searchable by artists. It has over 1,500 browsable radio stations. Stations/Channels can be chosen based on the performing artist (i.e., The Rolling Stones). Music is determined based on that artist's music style -- not necessarily the artist itself, similar to Pandora.

Pros: 

  • Over 1,500 browsable radio stations
  • Personalized music playlists and offline listening

Cons:

  • Limited amount of skips in free tier

What is the best free music service?

The best free music service is Spotify since you can access all your playlists, discover new music, and share tunes with friends for free, as well as listen to a wide array of award-winning podcasts. 

Free music service

Audio Quality

Library Size

Spotify

Up to160kbps 

82+ million 

Amazon Music

N/A

2 million 

YouTube Music

128kbps

60+ million

Pandora

64kbps

N/A

iHeartRadio

128kbps

20 million

Which free music service is right for me?

Since price isn't a factor in this situation, the right music streaming service for you will come down to your own preferences. Each service has different interfaces and features, so compare these to what matters the most to you. You can try out each service (since they are all free) and make your decision from there. 

Choose this free music service...

If you want...

Spotify

The best overall option

Amazon Music

A free music service along with Amazon Prime benefits

YouTube Music

The ability to search for songs by their lyrics

Pandora

Curated playlists based on your music taste

iHeartRadio

To listen to live radio 

How did we choose these free music services?

We chose these free music services by a mix of research and using the services ourselves. We compared factors like audio quality, reviews (both good and bad), different features, and each service's library size to make our final picks. 

What is a streaming platform?

A streaming platform is a cloud-based service with a catalog of music typically sorted by genre or artist. These contain playlists of albums or other thematic ways of sorting (such as by decades, style, or mood) so that the music can be randomly accessed. They either have apps or websites and can be integrated with a smart speaker device (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Sonos), but some (such as YouTube or Deezer) require paying for the premium tiers.

Who has the largest streaming music library?

The music streaming service with the most tracks is Apple Music with 90 million songs at the time of this writing. However, Apple Music does not have a free tier option, so you'll have to pay monthly to access its massive library. 

Are there alternative free music services to consider?

Here are a few other options to look into: 



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