The best music streaming services in South Africa

Musica, one of South Africa’s most recognised entertainment brands particularly well-known for its long history of selling CDs, recently announced that it would be closing its doors in 2021.

Its owner – the Clicks Group – said the company has been operating in a declining market for several years owing to the structural shift globally to the digital consumption of music, movies, and games from the traditional physical format.

The expansion of broadband connectivity across the globe has driven immense growth in the various types of streaming services that allow for this consumption.

Music streaming services are enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people, and the reasons are evident.

These platfroms offer a convenient way to listen to and store one’s favourite music either via apps or on desktop-based browsers.

Instead of keeping your entire music library in a cabinet at home, or having to carry CDs or flash drives along for your drive, you can use your smartphone to listen to your favourite tracks and the latest big hits.

The world’s biggest streaming service is Spotify with 286 million subscribers, of which 130 million pay for its premium offering.

According to estimates from from MIDiA Research, the second-largest service, Apple Music, had around 72 million subscribers in Q1 2020.

Another major player in this segment is Google, which last year replaced its Google Play Music service with YouTube Music. The service racked up 30 million users by October 2020.

All three these services are offered in South Africa, with pricing adjusted specifically for the region.

We’ve compared their libraries, playback quality and other features.

Libraries and playback quality

Spotify claims to offer a library of over 50 million official songs from record labels in addition to 700,000 podcast titles.

Apple Music has around 10 million more official tracks than Spotify, but does not offer podcasts.

While Google does not disclose exactly how many songs or albums it offers on YouTube Music, estimates have put the number at more than 40 million.

However, this does not include the heaps of covers, live performances, and other alternative versions of songs not available on the other two streaming services.

YouTube Music is on the back foot when it comes to playback quality, however.

Music purists may be put off by its 256kbps bitrate, which is lower than the 320kbps offered by both Spotify and Apple Music.

None of these services get close to the high-fidelity sound available from Tidal, however, which boasts up to 1,441kbps playback to provide lossless CD quality audio.

Music lockers

An important feature available with both Apple Music and YouTube Music is the ability to upload your personal collection of music and listen to it from wherever you log into your account.

Both services allow for up to 100,000 songs to be added to the user’s collection in this way.

Spotify does allow users to upload music to their library, but these tracks will be stored locally and are not carried over to other devices.

Free options and data usage

Those who cannot afford or do not want to pay for their music streaming, will have to choose between ad-supported versions of Spotify and YouTube Music.

Notably, Spotify’s free version does not allow you to select specific songs for playback, but only lets you choose an album or playlist and shuffle the songs on it.

Non-premium YouTube Music users are free to choose which songs they want to play, similar to how YouTube works.

Meanwhile, Apple Music is only available for free on a one-week trial before you have to start paying.

Another factor to consider is the amount of data you will be using while streaming music.

This will be determined by the bitrate of the streamed music, as well as the sizes of downloaded tracks.

All three services offer ways to reduce data consumption by lowering bitrates for streaming and downloaded tracks.

Pricing

Spotify Premium, YouTube Music Premium, and Apple Music are all priced at R59.99 per month for an individual user.

Apple Music also offers a special discounted rate for students – R29.99 per month.

Those who wish to sign up for this option will have to verify their eligibility on the UNiDAYS website.

Family plans for multiple users will set you back R89.99 on YouTube Music Premium and Apple Music, while Spotify’s Premium family plan costs R99.99 per month.

The table below compares the various features of these three music streaming services.

Music streaming services compared
Spotify YouTube Music Apple Music
Number of songs 50 million 60 million
(not counting unofficial covers and live performances)
60 million
Free option Yes – with ads Yes – with ads Free 1-week trial only
Maximum streaming quality 320kbps 256kbps 320kbps
Upload own music No Yes Yes
Maximum upload n/a 100,000 100,000
Offline listening Mobile and desktop Paid only Mobile only
Podcasts Yes No Yes
Music videos No Yes Yes
Price Single – R59.99

Family – R99.99

Single – R59.99

Family – R89.99

Student – R29.99

Single – R59.99

Family – R89.99

Now read: Spotify wants to suggest music based on your mood

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The best music streaming services in South Africa