Choose the best music streaming service for your family

Once upon a time, yours truly flat-out refused to even consider a streaming music service. Pay a monthly fee? For life? No way.

Then a few things changed. First, I grew disenchanted with the huge hassle of maintaining a library of MP3s, ripped CDs and countless song and album downloads. Second, my kids got older and started to want their own music libraries.

Finally, I realized that the price of a streaming service was, all things considered, pretty low. I pay a lot more for Internet, cell service and cable TV. And I’ll be doing so for pretty much the rest of my life. Is another $10 per month going to break me? Especially considering what I get in return?

What I get in return is a massive library of unlimited on-demand music. No storage to deal with, no backups to worry about, no syncing or copying or ripping. My phone? Bam, all the music of the world. My tablet? Same. Laptop? Same. I’m in it as much for the convenience as for the catalog.

The benefits seem even larger when you add a family into the mix, which is why I’m here to talk about which streaming service is best for a household. The candidates: Apple Music, Google Play Music and Spotify.

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  •’s guide to Internet radio services

What about Amazon, Rhapsody and Tidal?

Why no Amazon? The company’s Prime Music library is a nice value-add for Prime subscribers, but its million-song library simply doesn’t compare. Plus, there’s no family-plan option to speak of, and only one device can stream Prime at a time.

Why no Rhapsody? Simple: It’s not competitively priced. Family plans start at $14.99 per month, which nets you just two user accounts. And each additional user adds $5 to the subscription charge, so a family of four would be on the hook for $25 monthly.

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Apple Music has finally made its way to Android, but is it the best option for families?

Nate Ralph/

Amortize that out over a year and you’re looking at $300, versus $180 for one of the other three services. Is the added expense justified? Rhapsody does boast a library of some 35 million songs, versus 30 million from the others. But I don’t think that’s worth an extra $10 per month.

Why no Tidal? At the risk of offending fans of the service, it doesn’t strike me as particularly family-oriented. Rather, it’s all about high-fidelity streaming, with a pricing model identical to Rhapsody’s. In fact, if you were to choose the Hi-Fi option, Tidal would cost you $19.99 per month and $9.99 per additional user — so $50 for the family.

I’m not saying you should rule out any of these three streamers, merely that there are better and/or less expensive options. In fact, just yesterday Spotify dropped its family-plan price to $15, putting it in a three-way price tie with Apple and Google. So let’s take a closer look and see if there’s any compelling reason to choose one over the other.

Apple Music vs. Google Play Music vs. Spotify

I’m going to make this simple: All three services charge $14.99 per month for up to six users, a truly excellent value for any family. All three services boast catalogs of 30 million tracks — more than enough music for a family’s diverse tastes. And all three have apps available for Android and iOS, each with support for offline listening if you want to reduce your mobile data consumption.

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If you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, you’ll be able to use the service on Echo, and ask Alexa to play your favorite tracks and playlists.

Chris Monroe/

However, Apple Music won’t play in a browser, though you can get dedicated desktop apps for Windows and Mac. Google Play Music, conversely, can run in a browser, but has no desktop apps. Spotify wins the accessibility contest by offering desktop, browser and mobile options.

Ultimately, however, I chose Spotify for a different reason: It’s platform-agnostic. It’s not an Apple, Amazon or Google product. Thus, it’s widely supported by third-party devices and services, most notably the Amazon Echo, a popular product in my house. Spotify is the only large-library, on-demand music streaming service that works with it.

That means we can say, “Alexa, play some Billy Joel on Spotify,” and she will. The service also plays on Roku streamers; Apple Music and Google Play Music do not. Alas, Taylor Swift still hasn’t made nice with Spotify, but I’m not going to let her obstinance ruin what is otherwise a great streaming service for families.

That said, I suspect you and your family would be happy with any of these options. If you’ve already chosen one of them, hit the comments and tell me what you like and/or don’t like.

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