With so many music streaming options available, it’s a bit of a headache figuring out the best package for you. Luckily, we’ve done all the hard work and compared the features and pricing of the main providers, and put their mobile apps through their paces to uncover the best user experience. In SA, the definite front runners are Apple Music, Google Play Music, Deezer, Simfy Africa and now, Spotify, too.
1. What can you afford?
The leader in the music streaming business is Spotify. Between the phone app, Windows desktop app and the web browser version, there’s a lot available for free. But if the occasional adverts get to you, or you want to store music on your phone, for example, you might be happy to upgrade to the paid version at R60 per month. We were very impressed with the simple sign-up and the automatic playlists based on our music preferences.
Both Apple Music and Google Play Music are pegged at R59 a month, or R89 a month for a family plan. In both cases, the family plan is for six people in total, delivering significant savings.
Deezer is free, but it contains some ads, you can’t download tracks to your phone and it only offers curated playlists. Pay R60 a month, or R90 a month for the six-person family plan, to lose the ads and download your tracks for offline play.
Simfy Africa costs R60 a month and there’s no family plan on offer. For just R25 a month you can play music only on your PC, but the tool is a little clunky and there’s no offline functionality here.
2. Using playlists
Automatically generated playlists are a new trend in listening to music. Instead of simply combing your favourite artists or your favourite genres such as old-school hip hop, hair metal or jazz standards, you can instead choose ‘Morning Commute’ or ‘Friday Sundowners’ as a category.
Spotify and Google Play Music are the leaders here, offering excellent contextual playlist functions including everything from music to get you out of bed, to music to fall asleep with, and they easily figure out how to recommend music based on your tastes.
Apple Music compiles playlists that draw on the songs you like, but it isn’t quite as sophisticated as Google’s clever algorithms yet.
Deezer is well known for putting the human touch into its playlists, and uses actual human beings as editors to find new music and push it to you. Otherwise, Deezer’s pre-made playlists use a pretty cool feature called Flow to combine your favourite tracks with other tracks it thinks you might like. It learns and improves the more you use it.
Simfy Africa also uses a human team to curate music playlists, but otherwise, it will create your playlists based on a genre or artist.
3. Downloading music
Streaming music services relies on your internet connectivity to work, but that can get expensive here in SA, especially if you’re using mobile data and not WiFi. All these services will let you download tracks and whole albums to play without an internet connection.
In addition, they allow you to download the supplied pre-made playlists for offline listening. As far as we could tell from our testing, you can download as much as you want, but you can expect to run out of storage space on your phone eventually. In a nice touch, Simfy Africa lets you download music at a higher quality than the regular audio files you’ll listen to when you’re streaming.
4. Share the vibes
It is always important to remember that these services all place a limit on how many devices you can use. This is what stops you from pooling resources and sharing your family plan with, well, your entire neighbourhood, for example. Apple Music restricts you to six devices on the standard streaming plan, while Google’s standard plan restricts you to five phones and ten devices in total, including tablets, PCs and so on.
Deezer only allows you to use three devices, but makes it very easy to add and remove devices from your list. Simfy Africa says you can use an unlimited number of devices, but you can only use offline functionality on three of them, and you’re only able to change these twice a year.
Most services offer around 40 million tracks, but Apple Music boasts a somewhat larger 45-million track library, so odds are good that if you’re going to find that obscure Balkan house music you like, that’s the place. Well spotted!