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Apple Music is a music streaming service similar to Spotify. It gives you unlimited streaming access to a library of millions of songs. Unlike most competitors, Apple Music offers lossless and hi-res audio at no extra cost, so you may want to subscribe if you're interested in high-quality audio.

At first glance, all music streaming services are the same. This may be true on some level, but Apple Music takes a different approach than some of its competitors. Let’s take a look at what makes Apple Music special.

What Is Apple Music?

Apple Music is a streaming music service, where instead of buying individual songs or albums, you pay a monthly fee for all the music you can listen to. You can download the songs for offline listening as well. At the time of this writing, Apple Music’s library has more than 100 million songs, the most of any music streaming service except SoundCloud.

In terms of experience, where Apple Music differs from competitors like Spotify is how you discover new music on the service. While Spotify focuses heavily on music discovery, Apple Music focuses on exclusive radio stations like Music 1, which feature new music, interviews, and breaking news. In addition, Apple Music offers curated playlists covering different genres of music or even moods.

Apple Music on macOS Monterey

Apple Music is, as you’d expect, available on iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch devices running any recent version of the operating system through the AppStore. It’s also available on any modern Android device through the Play Store. On Macs, since the arrival of Catalina, you get a bespoke Music app. On older versions of macOS and on Windows, you can access Apple Music via the iTunes app.

Speaking of iTunes, while you can find Apple Music in the iTunes app and the iTunes Store in the Mac Music app, the two services are not one and the same. iTunes is still the way to purchase individual songs and albums, as well as movies and TV shows, on Apple devices.

Apple Music is supported in more than 100 countries worldwide. If you’re curious whether Apple Music is available in a given county, you can check on Apple’s media service availability listings.

Fidelity and Features

As we mentioned earlier, Apple Music at the time of writing is one of only a few services that offer lossless audio as part of the base package. This alone gives the service an advantage, but keep in mind that you’re only going to be able to take advantage of lossless audio with wired headphones. Enabling lossless audio in Apple Music is a simple process.

Hi-res audio (audio with better-than-CD quality) is available, but it’s not exactly easy to access. Apple’s Lightning adapter and similar adapters support up to 24-bit / 48kHz audio. For anything higher, like 24-bit / 192kHz, you’ll need an external digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and a headphone amp, assuming one isn’t built into the DAC.

Enabling hi-res audio on Apple Music for macOS

That said, if you’re listening on AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or other supported headphones, you can access Spatial Audio, which is powered by Dolby Atmos. This is becoming available with more and more albums, and can make headphone listening feel like listening to speakers in a room. Other services like Tidal also support Atmos, but in Tidal’s case, it’s not part of the base tier.

Finally, there are the radio stations that Apple championed at the launch of Apple Music. These are still popular, but Apple’s curated genre playlists are a highlight of the service, especially if you enjoy diving into different genres of music and exploring their roots.

RELATED: What is Dolby Atmos?

Plans and Pricing

Apple Music costs $10.99 per month or $109 per year for an individual plan. A family plan is also available that lets up to six people listen for $16.99 per month, with no yearly subscription currently available. College students get a discount, paying $4.99 per month for an individual subscription.

Apple Music is also available as part of the Apple One bundle. This starts at $16.95 per month for individuals and bundles Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and iCloud storage. The Apple One bundle for families starts at $22.95 per month, with a $32.95 per month Premier subscription that adds Apple News+ and Apple Fitness+.

Apple Music doesn’t charge extra for lossless audio, which was added to the service in 2021. The service also doesn’t charge an extra fee to listen to music in hi-res audio when available, while many competing services do.

Finally, Apple Music Voice offers a limited version of Apple Music for $5 per month. This is an individual subscription, with the limit that you can only interact with the service using Siri, so you’ll need a compatible device.

Apple Music offers a one-month free trial to anyone who isn’t already a subscriber. That said, sometimes you can get longer trials along with new headphones or a similar purchase.

Can You Use Apple Music Without a Subscription?

Aside from the trial, you can technically use Apple Music without a subscription, though it doesn’t have much to offer. You can listen to Beats One and some other radio stations available on Apple Music, but with limited skips. This is mostly it.

Spotify gives users without a subscription ad-supported access to most of the service with some caveats like limited skips, and only playing playlists and albums in shuffle mode. Apple Music doesn’t offer an equivalent service to this.

That said, if you own digital music, whether purchased from iTunes or elsewhere, you can play compatible music on your phone with the Music app. This doesn’t give you access to the service, but you are using the app without a subscription.

Should You Use Apple Music?

If you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem, Apple Music is an instant recommendation. Not only does it offer more for the money than many competing services, but it’s heavily integrated into various Apple products, which makes listening to music on any of your devices easy.

Even if you’re not an Apple user, Apple Music is nearly tied with the $9 per month Amazon Music Unlimited as the most affordable way to stream lossless and hi-res audio. Of those two, Apple Music is the superior service in terms of catalog and features.

Finally, if you prefer real radio stations and curated playlists to Spotify’s algorithmic music discovery features and exclusive podcasts, you may find Apple Music works better for you. It’s not for everyone, but it is absolutely among the best music streaming services available today.

Profile Photo for Kris Wouk Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk is a freelance tech writer and musician with over 10 years of experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience as a gadget fan. He has also written for Digital Trends, MakeUseOf, Android Authority, and Sound Guys. At MakeUseOf, he was Section Editor in charge of the site's Mac coverage.
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