It’s been a busy two years since our 2021 article about classical music streaming. One of the two dedicated classical music platforms, Primephonic, has been acquired by industry giant Apple – and they have just released the new Apple Music Classical, based on Primephonic’s technology. The other, Idagio, has announced important initiatives outside their core streaming business. A third platform has been launched by Presto Classical, a UK retailer of CDs and sheet music.

Meanwhile, the music streaming market has come under intense scrutiny from a UK parliamentary committee. Spotify has come under similar pressure from members of the US Congress. And not a week goes by without someone making an announcement about concert or opera video streaming. It’s time for a refresh.

Once again, I’ve chosen six platforms to compare, each of which has an extensive collection of classical music recordings available on a “full catalogue” basis. From the list last time, I’ve added Presto Music and Amazon Music Unlimited. (Primephonic has merged into Apple, and I’ve omitted Qobuz.) I’ll also comment on various platforms that I haven’t included in the main comparative review.

Here’s the list:

  • Idagio – the original app which set the bar for classical music streaming, with extensive classical-oriented metadata allowing you to search by composer and work. Its user interface is unashamedly aimed at packing in as much information about each recording as it can into the available screen space.

  • Presto Music – launched this year by this long-standing retailer of CDs, downloads and sheet music. The service also contains extensive classical-oriented metadata. Its distinguishing feature is that many recordings have press reviews and awards information attached to them, to help you find your way through the maze of options for much-recorded works.

  • Apple Music Classical – a newly launched free app which bolts on to the paid-for Apple Music service. The main Apple Music app covers all genres; the bolt on provides classical-oriented metadata and curated content. For now, it’s only available on iPhone/iPad, with an Android version to follow at some point in the future.

  • Spotify – the original all-you-can-eat music streaming app. It’s included here because it’s still the largest and has the most extensive hardware compatibility. However, it has no dedicated classical features, and some users (myself included) won’t touch it because of its links to the far-right Joe Rogan podcast.

  • Tidal – in my opinion, the best of the Spotify equivalents and the one that I use daily. It has options for higher quality audio and a substantial list of curated playlists, including classical ones.

  • Amazon Music Unlimited – worth investigating to see what another tech giant provides. Its distinctive feature is relatively large album cover artwork in its search results: if the thing you remember about a recording is how the original cover looks, its search works well.

All of Tidal, Idagio and Presto claim to remunerate artists more fairly than Spotify, Apple or Amazon.

A reminder before we start...

For classical listeners, the big issue is metadata: the format of the information your service keeps about each recording. The traditional format for streamed music metadata is “Artist, Album, Track”. If you are looking for “Taylor Swift, Midnights, Anti-Hero”, that works fine. But if you’re looking for Maria Callas’s 1955 recording of Bellini’s Norma at La Scala, or to pin down a specific recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in C minor, Op.37,  “Artist, Album, Track” isn’t going to cut the mustard: the concerto has been recorded by over a hundred different pianists, orchestras and soloists in hundreds of combinations.

The selection process

I’m going to cover six questions that should help determine your choice.

  1. What music do you listen to?
  2. Is it compatible with your platform and any need for offline use?
  3. Does the audio quality meet your aspirations?
  4. How effectively can you find a selection of recordings for a given piece (and a recommendation, if available)?
  5. How easy is it to find a specific recording?
  6. Can it help you learn more about the music?

Question 1: what music do you listen to?

  • Idagio only does classical music
  • Presto Music only does classical music and jazz
  • Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify and Tidal do all genres

Assuming that you only want a single subscription:

  • If you listen to classical only, you can choose any of the six. Idagio is slightly cheaper than the others, in the UK.
  • If you listen to classical and jazz only, you can choose any except Idagio
  • If you listen to all genres, you can choose any except Idagio and Presto
  • If you listen to all genres and you insist on dedicated classical metadata, your only current choice is Apple

If you can afford two subscriptions, a viable option is to have a subscription to Idagio or Presto for your classical needs, plus one to Amazon, Apple, Spotify or Tidal to use for other genres.

Question 2: is it compatible with your platform and any need for offline use?

You can use all of these services on iOS and Android phones and on your desktop browser, with one exception:

  • For now, Apple is iPhone/iPad only. An Android version is coming, but they haven’t said when. You can’t use Apple Classical on your desktop computer (although you can use the main Apple Music app).

If you often use music when you’re out of range of decent Internet (e.g. on a plane or train) or if you’re worried about data plan usage, you’ll want to download tracks to your phone while you’re safely in WiFi range. This works on all six platforms, but Apple makes you jump through some hoops, switching between Apple Classical and Apple Music. The process is clunky, to say the least.

Idagio, Tidal and Spotify all have desktop apps (for MacOS and Windows). The others don’t. 

Question 3: does the audio quality meet your aspirations?

Several platforms offer different maximum quality levels for different recordings. I’ve just looked at one relatively recent recording (Rachmaninov 2 with Khatia Bhuniatishvili and the Czech Phil) across all the platforms to see what was on offer. 

  • Spotify’s highest quality is equivalent to 320 kbps compression
  • Idagio offers 320 kbps compression for all paid subscriptions; they charge extra for HiFi quality
  • Apple offers HiFi quality
  • Tidal offers HiFi quality; they charge extra for 24-bit quality
  • Presto offers 24-bit quality
  • Amazon offers 24-bit quality

“HiFi quality” is the quality you get from a CD – lossless compression at 16-bit resolution and 44.1kHz sample rate. “24-bit quality” is also lossless, at 24-bit resolution and 96 kHz or higher sample rate.

How much any of this matters to you is down to your ears and the quality of your listening equipment.

One complaint that has been made about streaming in the past concerns audible gaps between tracks. On the Krystian Zimerman recording of the Beethoven Emperor Concerto, the second movement runs into the third – you can hear the steady pp horn note and Zimerman’s breathing as he limbers up for the big theme of the rondo. 

I tried this transition out on all six services: all passed without a hitch, except Amazon and Spotify, where a clear break was audible.

Question 4: how effectively can you find a selection of recordings for a given piece (and a recommendation, if available)?

  • Mahler Symphony no. 2 “Resurrection” (much recorded symphony)
  • Janáček Jenůfa (well known to opera buffs, but not one of the genre’s greatest hits)
  • Pärt Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten (key work by important living composer)

When finding out what’s available, Idagio on the desktop is the clear winner here. You can navigate to the work, showing significant details such as what language an opera is sung in, or whether the work is performed in a non-standard arrangement. The desktop platform provides a sidebar listing ensembles, conductors and musicians of various types. Idagio on the phone isn’t bad, but you’re missing that crucial sidebar.

Presto and Apple both perform perfectly well in giving you a variety of recordings for a given work. Idagio, Presto and Apple all had reasonable selections (Presto’s list was slightly shorter).

If, however, what you want is a recommendation, Idagio isn’t going to help; nor are Amazon, Spotify or Tidal, whose software isn’t even aware of what a “work” means in the first place.

The clear winner here is Presto, which flags recordings recommended in the press or in published guides. If a recording has been flagged, there’s a “reviews” section which shows you where it was recommended, with excerpts from what was said.

Apple gives you an “Editor’s choice” for the Mahler (Rattle/CBSO from 1987), but not for the others.

Search results on iPhone: from left, Idagio, Presto, Apple

Bear trap: vintage recordings

When surveying available recordings of a popular work, it can be frustrating to find the same recording showing up many times in the list – often with dates that cannot possibly be correct. For example, in the list for the Mahler Resurrection Symphony on Idagio, the Lorin Maazel recording with the Philharmonia shows up five times. The Bruno Walter recording shows up three times, two of them with the correct date of 1957, but the third dated 2020 (Walter died in 1962).

The most common reason for multiple appearances of the same recording is that the original has gone out of copyright, and other labels, who were uninvolved in the original recording, are happy to rebadge it and upload it to the streaming platforms. In doing so, labels are able to make money without the tedious business of actually recording a performance. This is an intractable problem for streaming platforms which, as far as I can tell, no one has attempted to solve.

Question 5: how easy is it to find a specific recording?

  • The 1961 Rigoletto with Joan Sutherland and Cornell MacNeil (obscure-ish recording of famous work)
  • The Boieldieu Harp Concerto played by Nicanor Zabaleta (obscure-ish work)
  • The 2019 Beethoven Emperor Concerto played by Martin Helmchen (recent award-winning recording of famous work)

For all six platforms, typing “rigoletto sutherland macneil” into the search bar delivers the desired result. Presto is the best in that it’s the only result shown; Tidal is the worst in that it’s some way down the list of results, with several instances of the wrong Sutherland recording shown first.

For all six platforms, typing “boieldieu harp concerto zabaleta” into their search bar gave the right result in top position.

For all six platforms, typing “beethoven emperor concerto helmchen” into the search bar gave the desired result. Once again, Presto filtered out all the others. For Amazon, it came some way down.

In summary: this task can be accomplished fine on all six platforms by choosing the right thing to type into the search bar.

Question 6: can it help you learn more about the music?

Amazon and Spotify provide no added material that I can see.

Tidal’s “Explore” section provides playlists in many categories. To be honest, I need more than just a playlist to persuade me that something should leap to the top of my list of things to listen to.

Apple provide a large number of playlists in various categories: “Composer Essentials”, “Undiscovered”, “Hidden Gems” and so on. (I can’t honestly say that any of them interested me hugely.) Also included is editorial content, both text and audio, and Apple have recruited some big names to do it. These often seem quite shallow: having Yo-Yo Ma give 40 seconds worth of thoughts on Bach’s Cello Suite no. 2 didn’t really add much to my experience.

Idagio provides an extensive series of playlists which, at first glance, look considerably more appealing than Apple or Tidal’s. They’re still just playlists, but several of them did pique my interest.

Presto is the clear winner here again: their “Articles” section contains full length interviews which are far meatier, and their inclusion of liner notes for 70,000 of the albums makes it far more likely that I’m going to find information that’s new or useful to me.

Idagio “Discover”, Presto “Articles”, Apple “Listen Now”

Other platforms

In addition to these six platforms, there are a lot of alternatives around. Here are the ones I’ve come across, in alphabetical order.

  • Classical Archives: dedicated classical site with good metadata, good usability and some very loyal users. However, their catalogue is a small fraction of the number of recordings available on all of the platforms reviewed here. If you’re happy not to pick and choose between multiple recordings of any given work, they may be fine for you.
  • Deezer: another all-genre streaming service, which claimed 9.6 million paid subscribers as of December 2021. No obvious classical emphasis, but could be worth you evaluating.
  • Qobuz: my top pick for all-genre services in my previous article. I switched from Qobuz to Tidal last year because I didn’t like the way Qobuz was handling iPhone downloads.
  • Tempso: this is a wrapper app for Apple Music or Spotify. If you’re an Apple user, it’s pretty much trounced by the new Apple Classical. If you’re a Spotify user and don’t want to change, it may be a valuable addition.
  • Vialma: could be interesting as a lower cost alternative. The catalogue is less extensive than the six services in my main review and the website was a bit slow when I tried it, but it was nicely laid out and you may like the way it works.
  • Youtube Music: the replacement for the previous Google Play Music. It was a toss-up between this and Amazon as to which of the tech giants I included in the comparison. I doubt that they’re massively different from each other.


Here is the UK price for a basic single user monthly subscription. I’ve given a link to each platform’s full UK price list wherever I could find one: Amazon and Apple seem to be trying to hide theirs.

Amazon, Apple, and Presto are all £10.99 per month.

Spotify and Tidal are cheaper at £9.99.

Idagio is the cheapest at €9.99 (£8.73 at time of writing). Commendably, they are the only platform who don’t just change the dollar or Euro sign to a pound sign and leave the number unchanged, penalising UK customers by 25% compared to their US counterparts, or 15% compared to Europeans.

My choice: use two subscriptions

My circumstances: most of my listening is on a desktop computer; some is my car or via a Sonos box in my living room. I also listen to music while travelling, in which case I need it downloaded to my phone.

For the last year or so, I’ve been happily using Tidal and Idagio: Tidal for general listening and Idagio when I need to research available recordings or find a specific one. That choice is going to stay unchanged for now.

Apart from classical metadata, Tidal does everything I need and neither Spotify nor Amazon is going to displace it.

Presto is a close contender for replacing Idagio. At the end of the day, I value Idagio’s more detailed metadata-driven search more than Presto’s more attractive user interface and additional liner notes. But it was a very close call and I would be happy with either.

It would be nice to have a single subscription to replace both Tidal and Idagio, and that’s what Apple Classical provides. But for now, it doesn’t do what I want: the lack of a desktop player and the extremely clunky process for downloading classical albums for offline use mean that for me, at least, it’s not worth the financial saving of switching over.

Single subscription choices

  • Require classical only at minimum cost and/or with the most accurate browse function: Idagio

  • Require classical and/or jazz only with an attractive interface, press recommendations and liner notes: Presto Music

  • Require all music genres and classical metadata (on iPhone/iPad only) in a single subscription: Apple

[Update: 6-Apr-2023: Presto Music have informed me that they pay artists per second rather than per track. This is important because classical tracks are often longer than those in other genres, so I've added Presto to the list of services who are making an effort to be fairer.]