Which is better, Beats or Spotify?

If you're looking to stream music, which one should you choose?

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Apple's upcoming acquisition of the Beats streaming music service for $3 billion immediately puts it into the big time. But Spotify is the reigning streaming-music king. Which is better for you?

Music selection and quality

Beats and Spotify both offer more than 20 million tracks for streaming, and both offer up to 320 kpbs quality. So this one's a tie.

Design

Spotify wins here, especially on the Web. (Beats also doesn't yet have a Mac desktop client -- obviously, that's going to change soon.) Beats is a bit cluttered for my taste, and is mainly useful if you're interested in selections that other people have chosen for you. But if you're more interested in searching for music and entire albums to play, Spotify is the clear winner.

Price

Both cost $10 per month for unlimited streaming, although Beats offers a $15 plan so that a family can share an account. On the other hand, Spotify has a free, all-you-can-eat streaming option that's tough to match.

Music sharing and the network effect

Something called the network effect says that the larger a network is, the more useful it is because of the combined value of the people who use it. That's particularly true in a music-streaming service if you care about getting recommendations from others, and sharing yours with them.

Here Spotify wins hands-down. It's got more than 10 million paid subscribers and more than 40 million active users (that includes those using the free version). Beats, on the other hand, has only 110,000 subscribers, and doesn't include a perpetually free version, as does Spotify.

The bottom line

So which is best for you? Most people should opt for Spotify, which is what I do. It's got a better interface on all platform, is superior when you're searching for individual tracks and entire albums, and has a much more larger network. But for those who want their music curated by others, Beats is a better bet, as well for entire families, because of the $15 family plan.

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