Spotify vs iTunes Match (comparison)

Background

The Apple iCloud service debuted toward the end of last year and isn’t a music streaming subscription site, but rather acts as a music locker service where the emphasis is on the music you already own. Instead of streaming music, you download it and purchase music on a track-by-track basis with storage limits to consider when you want iCloud to manage non-iTunes purchases. Spofity started in 2008 first in Europe and has become a huge success in the States. The DRM-based music subscription service streams millions of tracks and can be used on a variety of platforms when purchasing the premium option. Throw Rhapsody into the mix too by taking a look at our Spotify vs Rhapsody review. However, if you need another reason to pick Spotify, Spotify offers video, podcasts, and more in a massive update.

Compatible Devices

iTunes match obviously works with Mac computers iPhones, iPads and iPod touches and even works with Windows, but the service isn’t compatible with Android, Blackberry, Palm or anything that isn’t iOS based. Spotify, on the other hand, is available on many more devices. Not only is it compatible with all iOS devices and Windows, but it’s available on Android phones and home devices, including Logitech’s Squeezebox Touch or Radio, Onkyo home cinema receivers, Sonos wireless music systems, Boxee, WD TV Live or WD TV Live Hub media player, Philips Streamium Wireless Hi-Fi component systems and TeliaSonera digital TV.

Winner: Spotify has many more devices than iTunes Match

Computer Application

Since iTunes Match is built right into iTunes on your computer, it’s interface is very familiar and easy to use. When it’s in iCloud, it’s available on all your devices. So you can enjoy all your music anywhere, anytime—on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, PC, or Apple TV. Uploading songs is easy since the system finds file matches from your hard drive instead of uploading songs already in the cloud. Hit play on a song in the cloud, and it plays pretty quickly. You can stream or download with up to 10 devices (five devices can be computers). Anyone in the U.S. and select other countries with an Apple ID can use iTunes Match, and they’ll need iTunes 10.5.1 or later on their Mac or PC to use it. Just go to your iTunes, choose iTunes Match in the sidebar and enter your Apple ID and password to subscribe. iTunes match will then begin to scan and match your library and upload your music to the iCloud right away. When it’s finished there will be an iCloud icon in your iTunes library next to songs that are now stored in the cloud.

Spofity actually modeled their desktop interface after iTunes, so it’s also very familiar and fairly easy to use. Just set up an account with a username and password, decide if you want premium, unlimited or the free version, download it to your computer (PC or Mac) and you’re ready to go. There’s even a trial run for free if you’d like to test out the subscription services. The interface has its preferences on the left side and the homepage of Spotify shows new releases and top feeds of what your Facebook friends are listening to. Overall, searches are fast and music streams as soon as you click on it. There’s no recommendation engine, but you can still see info on related artists by going to their specific page. Artists’ pages include tabs like Bio, Overview and Related Artists so you can continue your own music discovery. There’s even various Apps you can install into the desktop version like top lists from music magazines and more. Those who aren’t interested in a subscription service from Spotify can use the free desktop app, but with limitations.

Winner: iTunes Match is incorporated right into your iTunes.

Mobile Application

iTunes Match is incorporated into your iOS devices via the Music app, making it, again familiar, and easy to use. Since it works with your Music app, just go to Settings on your iOS devices and tap Music to turn on iTunes Match. Your iOS devices need to have iOS 5.0.1 or later to play. When you create, edit, or delete a playlist on your Mac, PC, iPhone, or iPad, those changes will sync across any iTunes Match-enabled device you own. However, playlists with videos, voice memos, or PDF files will not sync. In most cases, music is available instantly, but there are some times when it takes a while. But the delay only seems to happen when you play the first song on an album or playlist — there’s no hesitation from song to song. Another nice trick: the songs don’t stream, but download to a cache on your device, so if they’re playing and you go into a tunnel or where service might get cut off, the song won’t stop. You also always have the option to download anything from your iCloud library to your iPhone or iPod.

Spotify’s mobile app is an extension of the desktop version, but doesn’t have any extra apps or the ability to connect via Facebook. Searches can take a minutes and more than one device can access a mobile account if you have the premium subscription, but only one person (or device) can use it at a time. However, you can get around this issue if you go into offline mode (which allows you to download music to your device). The mobile app doesn’t feature a related artist tab or many of the tabs found on the desktop version, which can make discovery a bit frustrating.

Winner: iTunes Match does make it easier to have music on the go given it works with the Music app.

Sound Quality

Spotify provides exceptional sound for its premium subscription users, who can stream their favorite tunes at a higher bitrate of up to 320kbps on their computer, while mobile has 160kbps (but there is a “low bandwidth” option of 96kbps for mobile devices). All the music iTunes Match plays back from iCloud are at 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality — even if your original copy was of lower quality.

Winner: Spotify has a higher bitrate of up to 320kbps

Social Capabilities

Ping is Apple’s social feature in iTunes and it’s pretty blah. It’s not widely used and doesn’t really enhance your social music listening experience. Spofity has triumphed in incorporating social networking into its service, since it built Facebook right into the desktop app. Plus, you can also easily share your favorite playlists via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.

Winner: Spotify’s integration with Facebook is huge

Catalog

Both services have licensing agreements with the major record labels, so you’ll be benefiting from a vast music selection with either Spotify or iTunes Match. Since Apple was the first company to get all four major record labels on board, iTunes Match is able to push its library of more than 20 million songs in the iTunes Store to any iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. Spotify says they have 15 million songs, adding about 10,000 new tracks every day.

Winner: iTunes Match has more songs, including stuff from The Beatles, Metallica and more that Spotify doesn’t have.

Membership Perks

The “match” feature for iTunes Match is quite unique and unlike what other cloud storage services have. If the songs in your library are also in the iTunes store, you won’t have to spend a lot of time uploading your tunes to the cloud since iTunes scans your library and your songs are good to go. But the only time it does need to upload a song is if you have something that isn’t carried in the iTunes Store. You can also store up to 25,000 songs in iCloud (more if songs are purchased from the iTunes Store), but only what you want to play is stored on your device.

Spotify allows you to stream or download any song, even if you don’t own it, while Apple will make you purchase a song if you don’t already own it. Since Spotify allows you to stream or download any song regardless if you own it or not, you can easily create better playlists that will also sync to your mobile device. Spofity also integrates with Last.fm, which is a great service for discovering new music. It also works with Shazam, the iPhone app that identifies songs by listening to it. Spotify also has a free version for those not interested in subscribing to its premium or unlimited versions.

Winner: Spotify offers a free version and even a trail one for those interested in testing out its subscription services.

Limitations

Sorry Apple lovers, but iTunes loses major points since it lacks streaming. iTunes Match requires you to download songs to your iOS device before you can listen to them, while Spotify allows you to stream instantly and even download music to your device for when you want to listen to stuff offline. Apple’s Scan and Match isn’t so clear even though it says that iTunes will recognize tracks taken from CDs, but said nothing about other files. Sure you can upload them to your iCloud account, but you’ll be using your free 5GB of storage. Spotfy has no problems recognizing tracks downloaded from other services. ). Syncing iTunes Match playlists or files is also sort of rough if you’re not an Apple lover and it doesn’t work on mobile device not made by Apple. Apple also has a limit on the number of songs you can have in the cloud, which is 25,000, not including anything purchased in the iTunes store. That can be a problem for those who have huge music libraries. Also, enabling iTunes Match erases all the music you already have loaded into your iPhone and iPad, but you’re warned about this beforehand and have no other choice about it. Spotify’s only real limitation is that is doesn’t have an up-to-par music discovery system.

Winner: Spotify has way less limitations than iTunes Match.

Pricing

Pricing for iTunes Match is only $25 per year. Spotify charges $4.99/month for Unlimited, which includes add-free listening on your computer ONLY and offers a $9.99/month for their Premium service, which includes ad-free listening, better sound quality, and mobile app accessibility on one device at a time.

Winner: iTunes Match is way cheaper for a year’s subscription.

Overall Winner

It was a close race (5 vs 4) and Spotify came out on top! It seems Spotify is still a better music subscription service to put your money toward given its wide selection of tunes, fairly easy usability and more! However, for die-hard Mac fans, you really can’t go wrong with only $25 a year for iTunes Match, making it pretty affordable to do both if you can’t make up your mind!

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Kristie Bertucci

Kristie Bertucci is an L.A.-based writer, who can't live without her MacBook Pro. When she's not writing, she's either reading or shopping (online, of course) and loves lazy days so she can catch up on her DVR-recorded shows and movies. She's definitely a Mac girl, she loves music and is currently on a mission to to have an insane and enviable iTunes library.

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24 Comments

  1. Even though iTunes Match is cheaper price than Spotify, I chosed Spotify over iTunes Match due to streaming capability and easier to make playlist from music I don’t own already. Spotify is unpredictable and more interesting when discovering new music from its service. I’m a huge fan of Apple products but iTunes has its shortcoming when it comes to their music services. Perhaps, iTunes should team up with Spotify so they can learn from these guys. They know what music service is all about.

  2. I’m confused. If I have 10,000 songs in iTunes and most of them are tracks ripped from my old CD collection, will either service ever DELETE ANY of that music from my hard drive if I never pay either of them a penny? That’s the impression I’m getting from some of the comments – I don’t really OWN any of the music, even if I bought the CD and ripped it. I’m still just licensing it and it’s all at risk if some terms are not met.

    And, what about music I got from a friend’s library of tracks? I have music a friend gave me on a CD as a file – not a CD track. Any of that at risk of being deleted from iTunes or Spotify? Or, from my hard drive?

    If I only want the Spotify free service – can I create a playlist in Spotify on my Mac, upload it somehow to my Android and listen to it on my Android – all for free? That’s all I really want to do. I can do that without any service by connecting a USB cable to my phone and transferring the music to the phone. What’s the difference with Spotify? Is it that it happens via WiFi with Spotify? Is it that my playlists are updated automatically from my Mac to my Android any time I modify a playlist? If so, is that free? That’s all I really want. [email protected]

  3. But what about the fact that if you ever want to stop paying for Spotify, you lose your rights to all the music, and start from zero?

  4. If you want to own your music in spotify…purchase it like on itunes, but why?
    music is about listen to it and you CAN do that over and over again in spotify wherever you are!!

  5. Spotify screws musicans by only paying them a small fraction of a cent for each play. Perfect for the kids who think they deserve everything for little or nothing.

  6. good review. Im a long time itunes user, but im also a dj and i have 3 libraries: 1 for my preferred listening music, 1 for mainstream djing and 1 for drum & bass djing. i use a little software called libra to switch between them. i cant get any information about how i could use itunes match. itunes match would be nice for me if i could have just a certain part of music in there that i want to use frequently, but i dont want it to be one of my 3 libraries. it doesnt look like this works and apple makes me feel like a nerd alien with exotic wishes. for my daily music enjoying music spotify unfortunately is so much easier….i can simply decide spontaneously which playlist i want to have available offline on my 150 euro android phone or computer. and next day–i can turn that off and use another. this way i have 1) a well organized collection with playlists in spotify and 2) smaller temporary libraries grabbing parts of the big collection whenever i want. I say unfortunately cause i dont understand why apple doesnt make it better and why it is more uncomfortable to manage music i bought than to manage music i didnt buy. this is bad for labels and artists, they cant earn money this way.

  7. good review. Im a long time itunes user, but im also a dj and i have 3 libraries: 1 for my preferred listening music, 1 for mainstream djing and 1 for drum & bass djing. i use a little software called libra to switch between them. i cant get any information about how i could use itunes match. itunes match would be nice for me if i could have just a certain part of music in there that i want to use frequently, but i dont want it to be one of my 3 libraries. it doesnt look like this works and apple makes me feel like a nerd alien with exotic wishes. for my daily music enjoying music spotify unfortunately is so much easier….i can simply decide spontaneously which playlist i want to have available offline on my 150 euro android phone or computer. and next day–i can turn that off and use another. this way i have 1) a well organized collection with playlists in spotify and 2) smaller temporary libraries grabbing parts of the big collection whenever i want. I say unfortunately cause i dont understand why apple doesnt make it better and why it is more uncomfortable to manage music i bought than to manage music i didnt buy. this is bad for labels and artists, they cant earn money this way.

  8. Great comparison- here is the problem- my wife had iTunes on her PC with Windows 7 Pro with a ton of music. She down loaded Spotify which proceeded to disable iTunes. She wants to delete Spotify and re-install iTunes which will download but not install. Any suggestions – how to or where to go for help ? Thanks

  9. These two services are completely different. Spotify allows you to listen to any song in their catalogue, iTunes Match only lets you listen to songs that you own. So while iTunes Match is only $25 per year, it’s actually a lot more than that if you want to buy music. Granted, once you do you own forever unlike Spotify, but if you wanted to listen to as much new music as you can with Spotify, it would get very expensive, very quickly.

  10. If like me you are intersted in downloading your Spotify playlist on your computer (so in mp3 format), take a look at Spotydl. Worth the try i think.

  11. “Apple’s Scan and Match isn’t so clear even though it says that iTunes
    will recognize tracks taken from CDs, but said nothing about other
    files. Sure you can upload them to your iCloud account, but you’ll be
    using your free 5GB of storage ”

    That is totally false, songs uploaded do not count against storage space. The rest of this review is also garbage, for the most part.

  12. I did my own comparison of iTunes Match, Spotify and Google Music. All lose points if you have a large library for not allowing ALL music to be available. Sure, with Google you have to upload all your music, but my experience with iTunes Match was that it needed to upload significantly more than half of our library (my wife and I have a combined 70 years of collecting music and are music junkies) as much of our collection wasn’t “matched.” The upload process for iTunes was also buggier. YMMV. I’ll call that a draw. Finally, on-the-go performance was ranked 1. Spotify; 2. Google (close second though); 3. iTunes Match (distant third). In fact the performance of the iTunes Match was so poor (on a drive from Colorado Springs to Denver, CO) that it is a non-starter for us. We had one one minor drop out using Google Music on the exact same route (just going the other direction). 

    * Devices used 2011 Mac Mini for uploads. Motorola Droid X for Google Music Mobile and Spotify. Apple iPhone 4S for iTunes Match Mobile and Spotify.

  13. They are not comparable.  Spotify smokes iTunes match.  You can listen to almost any song regardless of if you own it or not.

  14. You forgot the most important point, which is that with iTunes/iTunes Match you actually OWN the music that you listen to, while with Spotify you have lots of variety, but if you decide to cancel the service, you “cancel” your music.

    Thanks, but no thanks.  If there’s a choice between two services, one where I own my music, and another where I just listen, essentially renting it, I will always choose to own. 

    1. Even with iTunes, you don’t own your music. You only own a licence to listen to the music in the format that iTunes specifies. In that way, it’s no different to Spotify.

      The big difference is that Spotify are up front about it (if you stop paying, you won’t be allowed to listen to any more music through us), while iTunes put loads of restrictions onto your music files, but lets you pretend that they are yours.

      Personally, I use Spotify, but I’m not sure which is better.

      1. I have had this debate with someone at work. I am confused by your stand because I have all my music downloaded, and can even re-download it, if necessary.

        How is it that it’s not mine? I could understand your point if they could, literally, take it at any time (like what happened in the case of an Amazon ebook) but I haven’t heard of anything like it in the case of Apple

        1. Just trying to make the point that music doesn’t really belong to you as such, you just have a licence to listen to it that can be revoked at any time. In that respect, it’s the same as iTunes. The only difference is that with Spotify, you have a licence to listen to all of the music in their catalogue that will exist for as long as you have to pay for it, while with iTunes, your licence is for a few select tracks, and the criteria for the revocation of the licence aren’t clear.

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