Top Music Streaming Apps

Who needs a radio when you can stream music from anywhere? There are dozens of options out there to get instant access to any kind of music you’d like on your computer, smartphone or tablet. And with many of them, you can listen without paying a cent — provided you don’t mind a few ads or restrictions. Streaming services have different methods of allowing users to find music and different rules for their free options. I will focus here on services that have long-term free streaming options for a variety of devices — Pandora, Slacker Radio, Songza, iTunes Radio and Rdio.


Pandora is one of the oldest music streaming services available, and it’s still going strong.

Pandora’s main selling point has been automated music discovery via an analysis of more than 400 potential musical attributes, such as beats per minute, lyrical style, instruments, tone and more. You can get this analysis for any song with a click.

That means Pandora does a good job of finding you new music based on what you already like. Starting with the quirky, bass-heavy band Primus and giving a thumbs up on one of their songs could then lead you to other quirky, bass-heavy artists like Tom Waits or Morphine.

You begin by selecting stations based on musical genres as broad as alternative and dance or as specific as rockabilly and salsa, and you’ll hear a variety of music in each type. You can also pick stations based on specific artists, and the stations will play similar-sounding artists in addition to the marquee one.

Read more here.

Check out Pandora.


Slacker Radio
This music service splits the difference between Pandora and Songza. You’ll pick from stations that match genres or moods, though each one is curated by music experts.

Each station starts up when you want, and it almost feels like listening to traditional radio. You even get DJs kicking off the music or introducing certain tracks.

This service is also the only one I’ve encountered that has stations devoted to live sports reporting and analysis, news and weather reports. If you’re nervous about moving on from a radio experience to something unfamiliar, this might be a good choice.

Slacker also falls between Pandora and Songza when it comes to customization. Free subscribers can give songs thumbs up or down to try to steer the experience within each station, though you can skip songs only a certain amount of times, and you can’t request specific songs.

Read more here.

Check out Slacker.


Aside from the fact that it also plays music, Songza is opposite Pandora. Users pick music based on moods rather than genres, and the songlists are chosen by people, not algorithms.

When you start Songza, it gives you a list of suggestions based on the time of day. Tuesday morning might get you suggestions for exercising or driving to work, and Saturday night will produce suggestions based on relaxing or partying.

Pick a suggestion and you’ll get more suggestions — music for work could get you today’s hits, easy-listening country or country chart-toppers. Then you’ll get a series of setlists to choose from. Guilty pleasures might include “The Golden Age of Boy Bands, “’80s and ’90s Guilty Pleasures,” and “The Worst Songs of All Time.”

Read more here.

Check out Songza.


iTunes Radio
The newest streaming music option comes baked into iOS 7: iTunes Radio is a new option within the music player of iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads and doesn’t require additional downloads.

At first, iTunes Radio behaves much like the other station-based streaming services. Pick from 250 stations sorted by genre or guest DJ and go. Free users can move a slider on each station from “hits” to “variety” to “discovery” depending on how adventurous you are.

Although the 250 suggested stations are a great starting point, iTunes Radio shines with the freedom to create a station in a variety of different ways.

Read more here.

Check out iTunes Radio.


This is a last-minute addition to the list after Rdio launched its free-streaming option about a week ago. But in my short time with the app, it quickly became my favorite.

Rdio also uses a station-based system for its free service, with a decent selection of preset genre stations. You can also start your own stations from individual artists, which mixes in things from similar artists.

Nothing too unusual there.

Like the others, you can’t select specific songs under the free service. Paid subscribers can get their own songs or albums and even create specific playlists, and the app keeps those options visible at all times. You’ll also get occasional audio ads.

Read more here.

Check out Rdio.