No, this is not a complete apology to Spotify. The reason why I am trying to leave the platform, after almost 15 years using it, is because although I enjoy the product, I am not happy with the company. It is no secret to anyone how little artists earn on Spotify, and the most recent controversy in which Neil Young has been sacrificed for an anti-vaccine is perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The point is that I am disappointed that, despite the large number of alternatives out there, none cover all the bases as well as Spotify. Obviously it is my personal experience and I have quite specific needs, but what I will do is highlight everything that the other services that I have tried do well, and although I explain why they are not enough for me, perhaps they will be for you if you’re also looking to quit Spotify.
What do I look for in a streaming music service
As someone who uses Spotify 100% for music, I have little interest or joy in the more than $1 billion the company has invested in its podcast empire. 100 million of them just to guarantee the exclusivity of a podcast that has been spreading misinformation to a huge audience and that has earned it criticism and calls for responsibility from human rights organizations. All this while the musicians get a thousand listeners for a coffee.
In addition to everything I’ll mention below, I think I’d also want a music service that didn’t do those things. But that is another topic. Since music is what really matters to me, I’m looking for:
- A wide catalog (the widest possible)
- good sound quality
- good recommendations
- Quality cross-platform apps
- Support for all kinds of smart devices
- Remote control and voice controls
Systems and devices I use to listen to music: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, iPadOS, Android, Android TV, WebOS, Google Home, Alexa (Echo + Fire TV), PS5, Xbox , Raspberry Pi (with Volumio).
[Spoiler alert] Services that offer all of the above and work on all of those devices: Spotify
HiFi or not HiFi: the test that tells you if your ear can tell the difference between Spotify quality and lossless audio
What do the alternatives offer and which are the best
Services I’ve tried: Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, and YouTube Music.
In terms of catalog size, most of these services are fairly even. All are above 70 million, with Apple Music leading with more than 90 million songs and Spotify in second place with more than 82 million.
When it comes to sound quality, YouTube Music is the worst in this respect. Music on Google’s platform is available at 256 kbps, and if you have even the slightest bit of an audiophile in you, you’ll find compression and noise extremely unpleasant.
Interestingly, the second worst place is Spotify, whose maximum quality is still 320 Kbps for Premium users, the detail is that even without being high fidelity, Spotify tends to sound good/acceptable in everything, and it’s pretty hard to distinguish between this and lossless quality, especially if you don’t have headphones or speakers that squeeze every last bit.
If you want the absolute best sound quality, the winner is by far Qobuz. My experience with this platform is that its Studio quality at 24-Bit up to 192 kHz sounds even better than Tidal’s Master quality. And, both Deezer, Amazon Music HD, and Apple Music offer music in lossless quality, as well as songs with Dolby Atmos and 360 audio, depending on the device with which you use the service.
In price they are all even, most basic subscriptions cost 9.99 euros per month, except Qobuz, which starts from 12.50 euros per month. Amazon Music and Apple Music give you “more for less,” as both services offer lossless quality for the same base price. While Deezer charges 14.99 for high fidelity, Tidal offers HiFi also for 9.99 euros, but its Master quality (lossless at 24 bits and 192 kHz), Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio are part of its plan. Plus of 19.99 euros per month.
How to create a HiFi streamer with a Raspberry Pi and Volumio to listen to music from Spotify or your own FLAC files
When in my life will I have listened to India’s hit songs?
In my case, Spotify has an advantage of more than a decade knowing my tastes and creating a profile to recommend what I will like the most, it is difficult to compete with that, but not impossible. However, the recommendations and playlists that the rest of the services offer me have fallen far short, with the exception of some very fine-tuned lists on Qobuz (which I sincerely miss).
Even YouTube itself (where I pay Premium for the annoying ads, but not for Music) that I use constantly and where I watch more than one music video, is unable to recommend music that goes more with me and less with what others listen to too much individuals on the platform.
The Amazon Music and Deezer apps are perhaps the worst of them all. They lack many basic things, the interface is chaotic and there is a lot of wasted space, especially on the desktop. Apple Music, if you dare to leave the Apple ecosystem, it is a no. And the worst isn’t just Windows and Android, in macOS it’s not the best app either, despite the fact that they’ve taken weight away from the old iTunes, although it may soon improve.
I don’t even want to talk about the random music that Alexa plays on Amazon Music when she doesn’t understand something or she gets possessed by a spirit and ends up altering all my recommendations there
The only one of these services that has a native app for Linux is Spotify, for those who care
The Qobuz app seems to me to do a pretty decent job on both desktop and mobile. But so far, apart from the Web Player, Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, there is not much else. They recently added Qobuz Connect and it works with Google Cast, AirPlay and Bluetooth, but no talking to your voice assistant.
On SmartTVs and video game consoles things get even more limited. Spotify has an app for everything, the rest have an app for some things. On Xbox there is a Deezer app, but it leaves a lot to be desired. Spotify has some deals with Microsoft and the way Spotify integrates into both Windows and Xbox is on another level. On a PS4 or PS5, look no further than the YouTube app, while Spotify integrates beautifully into the system.
Android TV suffers the least from shortcomings because it is Android, and most of these apps are compatible with Google Cast or AirPlay. On my LG TV in the living room, where I have my HiFi system, the app that works best is again Spotify, Tidal I have had to choose to listen to it through Plex (for which I have a Plex Pass) because the app for WebOS it works very badly, and the songs are interrupted by themselves every so often.
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If Spotify wasn’t an option, I’d probably just use…
Tidal. If I was forced to choose any service other than Spotify, I would most likely go for Tidal. In fact, I currently have a subscription to the service, but I still have Spotify too, because Tidal doesn’t cover all my needs.
Leaving aside whether or not it is worth paying for music in high fidelity, something that Spotify still does not offer, but in practice we do not distinguish most of the time, Tidal in its most basic plan costs the same as Spotify Premium: 9.99 euros per month.
With the equipment I have, the Master quality of Tidal is noticeable when I use it with my headphones and my dedicated DAC on the computer, and also through my HiFi speakers connected to a amplifier. Where it doesn’t matter a bit (sound quality) is when I listen through Bluetooth devices, or the Amazon Echo and Google Nest Mini. And the thing is, I use all these devices constantly.
No Tidal for my Alexa app 🙁
I’m one of those people who turned their house into a spy hell smart speaker shelter. I currently have three Google Nest minis spread across a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Every time I go to take a shower, cook or do the dishes, I tell them without fail “Hey Google play Spotify”. This doesn’t work on Tidal, because Tidal doesn’t support voice commands on Google Home. With wet, soapy hands, I’m certainly not going to control the music.
Something I also do a lot is leave one room and go to another and tell the speakers to play Spotify, this simply makes Spotify stop on one speaker and pick up the music exactly where I left off, on the other. It’s something that works even when the speakers are no longer from Google, since in my office I have two Echos (for stereo) and an Echo Sub to listen to while I work.
That’s the setup I use the most, I only put my headphones on if it’s too late or if someone else in the house is sleeping or taking a nap. Tidal cannot be configured from the Alexa app, it is only compatible with Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and of course, Amazon Music.
Tidal Connect works with Google Home but not my Amazon Echo
However, Tidal has something that the others don’t: Tidal Connect, and this at least works to send my Tidal music from the mobile or desktop app, to my smart devices, but just the ones from Google. Nothing from Alexa. And Alexa also lives in more parts of my house, since in the main room I have another Echo, and on the TV in the living room there is also a Fire TV Cube connected to which I also speak and ask for music when laziness strikes.
And I still have to tell about my adventures with the HiFi streamer that I put together with a Raspberry Pi. This is a device that I have connected to some speakers in another room.
The operating system this uses is called Volumio, and Volumio Free works with 1. My local library on a server and 2. Spotify. If I want to use Tidal or Qobuz I have to pay for Volumio Premium, another subscription.
In addition to all these things, I need the service to be compatible with Last.fm, something I have used for more than 10 years to keep track of music statistics, and for which I also pay a few euros a month. I also need to be offered a decent family plan because I share my account with my partner. The only service, for now, that does everything I ask and does it well, is unfortunately Spotify.
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Time to copy from Spotify Connect
My list of devices in Spotify Connect (and not even all of them)
The reality is that the most groundbreaking feature of all of Spotify is Spotify Connect. How satisfying and user-friendly it is to have a button in all your apps to send your music to any device you have with Spotify, it’s just amazing.
And the point is that Spotify has more and better apps for everything, that’s how it is. Tidal Connect, AirPlay and Qobuz Connect are on the right track, but they are a world away from reaching that level. Spotify is the only one that doesn’t make you feel tied to a system, brand or platform. It goes in everything, even if you have a salad of systems and devices at home that have nothing to do with each other.
Unlike AirPlay, for example, Spotify Connect sends the music signal from Spotify’s servers to the device you tell it to, so you can turn off all the other Spotify-enabled devices you have and the music will still play. With AirPlay, for example, you send what you’re playing on your iPhone to a smart speaker, and if you turn off the iPhone, you turn off the music. Or, you can’t tell Alexa to switch from the bathroom to the kitchen.
Depending on your priorities, Spotify can go from irreplaceable to completely expendable thanks to the plethora of alternatives.
Sound quality is not my absolute priority here, because Spotify offers a satisfactory one (with room for improvement, but far from intolerable like YouTube). When I want to listen to music at the highest level, I opt for my local FLAC files, or I go to my living room and put on a vinyl that sounds sweeter and I can take it in my hands and watch it spin.
I’m interested in convenience and not having to give up listening on devices I already paid for. It’s time to copy the best of Spotify and start eating a bigger slice of it. If you don’t suffer with all these peculiarities, it’s good that you know that there are plenty of alternatives, and although for me personally none is completely up to what Spotify offers me, in many other aspects not only are they, but surpass the Swedish service.