Music streaming is listening to a song or album in real time without having to download it first.
We might be showing our age here but there was a time when you had to put on a coat and a pair of shoes to buy music. There was a time, too, when listening to a playlist in the gym meant carrying the player and the music in together: tapes loaded into walkmans, CDs into Discmans or files transferred onto MP3 players. Now we can create and curate music and playlists on the fly via the apps on our phones. We don’t so much buy our music anymore (although, people do) as rent it: paying a subscription fee to access tens of millions of songs from streaming service providers like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon and Deezer.
Which one to choose, though? That’s a tough one. And there’s no right or wrong answer, only what’s right or wrong for you and what you want out of your subscription.
For sound quality, for example, it’s probably going to be Tidal. For integration with iOS devices then it’s Apple Music. If you’re already paying for Amazon Prime, then it probably makes sense to add-on Amazon Unlimited. If you like the idea of a music ‘flow’ to create playlists, then it’ll be Deezer.
One great way to work out which is right for you is to make use of a free trial. Ranging from 7-days to 3-months, they’re actually easy to cancel so long as you make a note of the date your paid subscription is due to start. Spotify and Deezer offer free membership, too, so long as you’re happy to skip the premium features.
Spotify is probably the most well known of all the streaming services. On April 3rd, 2018, the Swedish company, founded in 2008, began trading on the New York Stock Exchange with an estimated value of more than US $20 billion. With 157 million active users around the world, Spotify created the streaming model that we’re now familiar with. With a library of more than 30 million tracks, there’s no shortage of choice on what to load your workout playlist up with.
There are two subscription tiers: one that’s free and Spotify Premium priced at £9.99 per month.
The former is slimmer on features, playlists punctuated by adverts and there’s a limit on the number of times you can skip a track: just 6 each hour. Spotify’s premium subscription removes the ads, lets you listen with clearer quality (and at a faster speed than Apple Music), download tracks to enjoy offline and listen wherever you are in the world.
If you’re a runner, Spotify has teamed up with Runkeeper allowing an integrated approach to tracking your running stats with music and matching the beat to your pace. Interestingly enough, research supports the long-held belief that a good beat can increase athletic performance.
Downsides? Spotify has been in some pretty high profile spats with artists over royalties and payment. You might remember Taylor Swift removed her entire back catalogue because of it. Exclusive rights with other streaming services mean that Spotify isn’t home to every track or album you might want to listen to but with 30 million others to listen to, you’re sure to find something worth playing.
Free OR Spotify Premium £9.99 per month.
When Apple released the iPod back in October 2001, it revolutionised the way we listened to music. Even for those who’ve never owned one, the iPod is symbolic of modern music consumption. Apple has announced that when demand bottoms out, at some as yet unknown date in the future, it’s going to scrap iTunes completely, but Apple Music, already three years old, seems more than capable of filling the shoes left by its trailblazing older brother.
As Spotify’s biggest competitor, Apple Music has a catalogue of over 40 million songs and if you’re using IoS, then expect near-seamless integration between multiple devices. As expected, you can ask Siri to play certain songs: brilliant when you’re in the gym and need to be hands-free.
And as Apple owns Beats headphones, it couldn’t be easier to slip your Beats Studio 3 Wireless cans over your ears, snap on your EarHugz and enjoy the impressive battery life of the Apple W1 chip.
Apple has used its muscle in the industry to sign artist exclusives with big names like Taylor Swift, Drake, and Britney Spears.
The popular Beats 1 radio station hosted by live DJs like Zane Lowe is a useful addition for anyone easily bored by their own playlists or in need of some musical gym-spiration. Whilst there’s no free service, Apple does offer a free trial. One complaint that we’ve heard doing the rounds is that the user interface isn’t as intuitive as Spotify or Deezer which can be confusing for first-time users.
£9.99 per month.
Jay-Z bought Tidal back in 2015 for the eye-watering sum of US $56 million. Originally, artist owned, Tidal saught to give musicians greater control in how they price their own music and, therefore, ticked a box that Spotify didn't: it’s fairer to the people producing the songs we love.
Tidal has a two-tier subscription option. It doesn’t have a free version like Spotify or Deezer but a £9.99 package and a £19.99 Tidal HiFi membership where users can stream “lossless high fidelity” rather than compressed MP3.
Pricey, sure, but if sound quality is important to you, then Tidal’s the one to take to the gym. Just remember to pop a pair of EarHugz over your speakers before you start your session to protect your headphones from sweat damage. With 25 million songs in its library, Tidal has some way to go to catch up with Spotify and Apple but it does have a catalogue of Hi-Def music videos, too, and Tidal Rising which helps you to discover the artists and songs flying under the mainstream radar.
£9.99 per month OR £19.99 per month for HiFi.
Amazon has two tiers of membership: Prime which is £79 a year and includes access to a 2 million ad-free song catalogue (as well as free delivery on Amazon purchases, access to the Kindle library etc) OR Amazon Music Unlimited which gives users access to 40 million songs.
Prime members can access Music Unlimited by paying an additional £79 per year with everyone else paying £99.
In the course of our research, we discovered that a number of people were happily jumping ship from Spotify to Amazon as they already had Prime membership (presumably taken for reasons other than music) and found that the chance to save £20 per year by switching made sense to them.
Amazon has the advantage, too, of the integration with its echo voice controlled devices meaning you can ask Alexa to cue up your music.
£7.99 a month or £79.99 for a year if you have Amazon Prime OR £9.99.
Deezer has a catalogue of 35 million songs and it taps into a lot of regional music, too.
Similar to Spotify, Deezer offers a free subscription allowing users to listen to music with adverts at lower quality. Its paid subscriptions offer either a premium package like Spotify for £9.99 a month or Deezer HiFi which gives lossless audio for £19.99 per month.
Deezer has an intuitive and easy-to-use interface, too, and Deezer Flow adds your favourite tracks to recommendations it thinks you’ll like based on your previous song choices or popular tracks you haven’t played in a while. It’s a great way to connect with new music. And when you’re looking to workout to something a little less melodious than your favourite album, there are plenty of radio stations with content curated by DJs and podcasts, too. You never know, you just might learn something.
There’s no clear answer as to which streaming service is the best. It will depend on what you want as a music consumer: a superior sound quality or a greater range of songs? A free subscription with adverts or a premium package?
What’s great about music streaming is that it fits so well into the athletic lifestyle. Grabbing your phone, picking up your headphones and just running, or squatting or cycling or whatever your exercise of necessity is, technology is making it even easier to get your head in the right place to give 100% to your workout. Whether you're working out with headphones, in-earphones or earbuds, music is a great motivator for performance.
But it isn’t all high-tech.
If you’re using headphones to listen to music in the gym, then you’re probably worried about sweat damage. Caring about sound quality is tough when you know moisture can ruin your favourite pair of headphones within a year. Lucky, there’s EarHugz: reusable, antibacterial headphone covers that protect your sound from excessive sweating during exercise.
Which streaming service do you use in the gym? Would you pay £19.99 a month for higher quality audio?