Apple Music vs Amazon Music Unlimited: which is best for hard rocking Hi-Fi fans?

Apple Music vs Amazon Music
(Image credit: Amazon/Apple)

Apple Music effectively reinvented its streaming service with the introduction of Spatial Audio, an umbrella label for Dolby Atmos Music, but it’s not the only immersive audio champion in town. Rival Amazon Music has a comparable 3D sound offering for subscribers to its Unlimited tier, with Dolby Atmos and 360 Reality Audio tracks nestled alongside high-res music and regular stereo streams.

If you’re looking for a music streaming service with an enviable content catalogue and an ear to future tech, these two giants look evenly matched.

Apple Music vs Amazon Music Unlimited: At a glance

Apple Music

  • Price: £9.99/$9.99 monthly; £14.99/$14.99 Family Plan monthly; Voice Plan £4.99/$4.99 monthly;
    Student plan £4.99/$4.99 monthly
  • Sound Quality: CD quality 16-bit/44.1kHz, Apple Music Lossless
    24-bit/48kHz, Hi-Res Lossless
  • Spatial audio: Yes
  • Sign up at Apple Music (opens in new tab)
  • Read our full Apple Music review

Amazon Music Unlimited

  • Price: £7.99/$8.99 monthly (Prime users), £9.99/$9.99 monthly (non-Prime users; £14.99/$14.99 Family Plan monthly; Single device plan £3.99/$4.99 monthly
  • Sound Quality: HD quality 16-bit/44.1kHz, UHD quality up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Spatial Audio: Yes
  • Sign up at Amazon Music Unlimited (opens in new tab)
  • Read our full Amazon Music Unlimited review

With a comprehensive catalogue of some 90 million songs, excellent genre reach and plenty of high-quality options, Apple Music is an excellent choice if you’re an Apple devotee. Tracks labelled Hi-Res lossless and Apple Digital Master are about as good as it gets when it comes to streaming quality (We Are Not Your Kind by Slipknot is a stunning example), but Apple reserves its best listening trick, Dynamic Head Tracking, exclusively for iPhone users.

Undercutting rival Apple, but offering a comparable library, Apple Music Unlimited can be considered superior value if you already subscribe to Amazon Prime (opens in new tab). It oddly labels CD and Hi-Res quality tracks as HD and UHD, and also offers a comprehensive range of Dolby Atmos albums. But its music curation engine could be better.

Apple Music vs Amazon Music Unlimited: Musical offering

Apple Music vs Amazon Music Unlimited: Woman listening to music

(Image credit: Westend61 - Getty)

There’s precious little difference between the catalogue offerings of Amazon Music and Apple Music. Both claim around 90 million tracks, and there’s comprehensive representation from the metal, prog, punk, classic rock and alternative archives. You may stumble across a few discrepancies if you look really hard, but even when we got eclectic, both services rose to the challenge.

They also have a comparable number of high-fidelity encodes, with substantial 16-bit and 24-bit quality libraries. So in terms of content then, there’s not much between them.

Apple Music vs Amazon Music Unlimited: Prices

Apple Music
Apple’s Individual Price plan costs $9.99/£9.99 a month, and there’s a $14.99/£14.99 Family Plan. There’s also a University Student plan, which costs $4.99/£4.99 per month. The latest addition to Apple’s subscription options is a Voice Plan, for $4.99/£4.99 a month, but you can only access it via voice and Siri on on iPhone.

Amazon Music Unlimited
We rate Amazon Music Unlimited as good value. While there’s no free tier, Prime subscribers can subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited for $8.99/£7.99, which makes the service cheaper than Apple music (it levels up if you don’t take Prime). There’s also a $14.99/£14.99 family tier, and a single device plan which will cost just $4.99/£3.99 monthly.

Apple Music vs Amazon Music Unlimited: Usability and interface

When it comes to general usability, Apple starts to show its class. As part of the setup process, the Apple Music app invites you to favour musical genres and artists. This really helps with music curation and recommendations. If you tell it you like Powerwolf, it’ll quickly get the message, and point you to the likes of Sabaton and Hammerfall. Your ears are in good hands.

It’s also easy to add artists, albums and tracks to your library. However, Amazon Music takes a little longer to get to know your tastes. 

The ‘My Soundtrack’ station home page default is populated with artists and bands from your playback history, plus seemingly random additions (I play The Darkness so I get The Killers?). There’s also a ‘You Might Like’ rail which suggests I should listen to Subvision as I like Ghost’s Impera album. (Amazon’s AI is clearly working hard here as it reasons, ‘If you like Tobias Forge here’s some more Tobias Forge. 

Both Amazon and Apple will please audiophiles with their clear labelling of Hi-Res and Dolby Atmos. Which brings us to sound quality.

Apple Music vs Amazon Music Unlimited: Audio quality

Apple Music vs Amazon Music Unlimited: Man listening to music

(Image credit: Marko Geber - Getty)

Amazon Music Unlimited and Apple Music are great choices if you want your playlists to sound crystal clear. They have extensive libraries in CD quality – that’s to say 16-bit with a sample rate of 44.1 kHz – and Hi-Res 24-bit (with sample rates up to 192 kHz). What’s more, both services also offer Dolby Atmos mixes on an increasing number of releases. For example, Machinery Of Torment by Skullflower from the Metal Lords soundtrack is a must-listen in fully immersive Dolby Atmos.

So nothing separates either service, you might think? Well, Apple has one trick that Amazon can’t match, but not everyone will be able to take advantage of it.

It’s called Dynamic Head Tracking, and it came as part of Apple’s iOS 15 firmware update. This new processing mode adds even greater realism to spatial audio, because it follows the movements of your head, creating the illusion that music is coming from all around you. 

With regular spatial audio/Dolby Atmos, you get the sense of sound being steered all around you, front, back and overhead. With Dynamic Head Tracking you can move your head within a fixed 3D audio soundstage, for greater realism.

But here’s the catch: only iPhone users can use it, and you need Apple AirPods Pro or Apple AirPods Max (opens in new tab) headphones!

Apple Music vs Amazon Music Unlimited: Verdict

Both Amazon Music Unlimited and Apple Music have loads to recommend them. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber already, then opting for Amazon’s Unlimited offering will save you a few quid every month. Sonically, there’s plenty of high quality hardcore to leap around to, although we’re not blown away with the music curation. It’s a good choice for Android users, but we also recommend Tidal and Qobuz (opens in new tab) when hi-res quality is a prerequisite.

If you’re already an iPhone user, then Apple Music is the obvious service to opt for. It has superior content curation and recommendations, and complements its Hi-Res and Spatial Audio library with Dynamic Head Tracking, which is about as near as you’ll ever get to listening to your favourite band lay down tracks in a recording studio.

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Steve May

Steve is a home entertainment technology specialist who contributes to a variety of UK websites and mags, including Louder Sound, Yahoo UK, Trusted Reviews, T3, The Luxe Review and Home Cinema Choice. Steve began his career as a music journo, writing for legendary rock weekly Sounds, under the nom de plume Steve Keaton. His coverage of post punk music was cited in the 2015 British Library exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, as a seminal influence on the Goth music scene.