If you’re looking to gift your loved ones something they’ll actually use, a subscription to a streaming music service is a surefire winner. While most offer the same thing — access to tons of songs on demand — many come with unique features and exclusive content to entice discerning listeners. A few offer something totally different, whether it’s a library that caters to a specific audience or an experience with curation you can’t get anywhere else. If you’re having trouble figuring out what the right service is for the music lover in your life — or even for yourself, if you’re paralyzed by the breadth of choices — here’s what each one offers, so you can make holiday shopping as stress-free and tune-filled as possible.
The gist: Spotify’s popularity is a big selling point, and not just in the “It’s what all the cool kids are using” way. You should definitely factor in the social aspects of this streamer because chances are your giftee’s friends and family will already be using it and have songs and playlists that can only be opened in this app. Spotify encourages this, most notably with its year-end Wrapped and discovery playlists that allow users to compare and share their listening habits. But if even if the social aspects aren’t a selling point, Spotify’s curated playlists, from both algorithms and actual humans, are great for finding new songs and artists or getting mixes of your old favorites. Then there’s the exclusive content — in addition to Spotify Singles and other live performances by a number of cutting-edge artists, the service has a number of exclusive podcasts, most famously Joe Rogan’s. Whether that last example is a selling point or a red flag is up to you, but simply put, there’s plenty of content and social experiences you’ll only get here.
How to gift it: You can buy Spotify gift cards online and in stores from multiple retailers including Amazon, Target, Best Buy, CVS, and PayPal. For the digital version, you’ll just need the email address of the recipient, and all of the gifts can be redeemed online at spotify.com/redeem. The only catch is that while cards can come in a number of monetary denominations, they can only be used to pay for Spotify’s $9.99 premium subscription, not the $4.99 student or $15.99 family plans. In the latter case, a user can start with their individual subscription then upgrade to the larger plan that allows up to six users to access the service and have their own individual libraries, so you could always give them the equivalent gift of cash to cover the bill for however long you choose.
The gist: The selling points of Apple include high-quality audio options, a library of 90 million songs and plenty of exclusives from some of the top artists in the game. The lossless audio is a step above the quality you’d get from other services, plus there’s the option of hearing songs in Dolby Atmos spatial 3-D sound, which requires some specific hardware like the AirPods Pro and Max. There are also exclusive songs and performances, plus radio stations like Apple Music 1, where top DJs and artists broadcast their favorite tracks, live shows, and interviews you won’t hear anywhere else.
There are the variety of plans. The newest option, Apple Music Voice, costs only $4.99 a month with the trade-off being you have to use Siri on your phone or home device to control it. Still, that gives you access to the full library, curated playlists, radio, and more. There’s also a $4.99 student plan, a $9.99 “premium” (the standard plan), and a $14.99 family plan for up to six people. With those three, you get the option of saving up to 100,000 tracks for off-line use plus use on other devices, so you’re never too far away from your unique library. Then, of course, Apple has a habit of bundling its services, so users can find plans that add in Apple TV+, News+, Arcade, and iCloud storage for a slightly increased fee.
How to gift it: There’s no specific gift card — physical or digital — for this service, but Apple’s cards can be spent any way you’d like in the company’s store. You can buy them in stores, usually found in the electronics section or near the checkout counter, and online, and the recipient just needs to redeem it at checkout when they sign up for the plan of their choice.
The gist: The main selling point of Tidal has always been its high-quality audio, though it now has some competition in that area with Apple and Amazon upping their offerings. Still, there’s the HiFi Plus plan that, at $19.99 a month, offers Master Quality Audio, which requires added decoding gear to play but boasts a listening experience that’s exactly as the musicians intended it to be heard. And speaking of artists, Tidal pays them the best of the traditional streamers with 10 percent of the $20 subscription fee going to the user’s top-streamed artist each month. There are also $9.99 individual plans with standard-quality sound, a $14.99 family plan, and a $29.99 family plan for the HiFi Plus level.
How to gift it: Tidal gift cards are available online and in select stores including Walmart and GameStop. They can also be applied to existing subscriptions if your recipient is already signed up.
The gist: Qobuz is all about audio quality. With 24-bit, 192-hertz sound, it rivals Tidal in quality and doesn’t require any sort of decoder for the files, allowing you to enjoy the app with any device. The downside is it doesn’t offer spatial audio or any other fancy-pants features, but it’s perfect for audiophiles with its library of 70 million songs. Individual subscriptions run $12.99 a month or $129.99 for a full year, while the family plan is $16.67 monthly.
How to gift it: The only gift options are three-, six-, and 12-month subscriptions to the individual plan, and the recipient has to live in the same country as the gifter to redeem it.
The gist: Amazon Prime members automatically get access to 2 million songs, but for something that competes with Spotify and the rest, Amazon Music Unlimited is the service to get. It features 75 million songs on demand plus curated playlists and exclusive tracks and performances with varying subscription options. The standard version is a $7.99-per-month upgrade for Prime members that can be bought independently for $9.99, and there’s also a discounted one for $3.99 for use on a single device like an Echo or Kindle.
How to gift it: Pick up a digital or physical Amazon gift card for the desired amount, and your recipient can redeem it when they sign up.
The gist: The long-running streamer has stayed in the streaming conversation with upgrades to its original formula of selecting a song or artist and getting a customizable radio station comprised of similar tracks you can revisit at any time. While the regular Pandora is still free with ads, there are two paid subscription levels: There’s the ad-free Plus at $4.99 a month and the $9.99 Premium, which allows on-demand and off-line listening, plus $14.99 family, $4.99 student, and $7.99 military discount options. Really, the key to Pandora’s success is its Music Genome Project, which, thanks to a combination of expert musicologists and artificial intelligence, analyzes every song for its nitty-gritty attributes and recommends songs based on the user’s listening history. If you like starting your day with medium-tempo prog-rock sung by a raspy-throated front woman, that’s what you’ll get as the algorithm learns more about you.
How to gift it: You can buy a gift card online or in select stores that, for $54.89, supplies a year of ad-free listening.
The gist: Surprisingly, millions of people rely on the standard YouTube for much of their music-listening needs, and its music service offers an upgrade to that experience. Unlike using the free YouTube app, this $9.99-per-month subscription lets you listen to songs on demand without ads off-line while using other apps and with your device’s screen locked. YouTube Music is also included in the $11.99-per-month premium subscription, which basically gives you the same app features but for all videos on the platform. There are also music family and student plans for $14.99 and $4.99, respectively.
How to gift it: Buy a Google Play gift card online or in select stores and the recipient can spend it on whatever YouTube subscription they want.
The gist: Idagio doesn’t compete with the other streamers because it’s dedicated solely to classical music. Aficionados can find curated playlists and filter out versions of a favorite piece by instrument, among other features. The standard subscription is $9.99 per month, while the $29.99 version includes video and exclusive concerts.
How to gift it: Buy a gift card online and choose one of six subscription options, three at varying lengths for both tiers.
The gist: It’s the home of a huge variety of satellite radio stations with music, sports, comedy, and talk including, of course, Howard Stern. The basic streaming version lets you listen to over 400 stations on your device for $10.99 a month with podcasts, video, and Pandora included. The more expensive tiers include the ability to listen in your car if it’s equipped for SiriusXM plus various sports packages.
How to gift it: Pick up a prepaid gift card online or in stores and let the recipient decide how to spend it.
The gist: This isn’t a regular streaming service. You can stream music on it, both in a browser and the Bandcamp app, but mostly, it’s a place where you can buy tracks, albums, and sometimes full discographies directly from artists. What really set this service apart in recent years has been its Bandcamp Fridays, when the company waives its cut of purchases in order to support artists, plus other days when proceeds go to charitable causes. Simply put, if you want to support artists and help make the world a better place, buying through Bandcamp is the way to go. For indie-music fans, it’s a treasure trove — many artists will offer digital releases you can’t get anywhere else like live shows, demos, and B-sides, and all purchases are available for offline listening in the app. Each artist’s Bandcamp store can include physical releases (vinyl, CDs, and tapes) and merch, so there’s always plenty of stuff to buy.
How to gift it: Buy a Bandcamp gift card and let your loved one decide how to spend it. Or select an album, individual track, or bundle and click “send as gift.” If it’s a digital present, the recipient will receive it via email, while you’ll need their home address to send any physical items.
If you subscribe to a service through our links, Vulture may earn an affiliate commission.