SoundCloud vs Google Play Music: The Complete Comparison14 min read27/09/2019
Music streaming services like SoundCloud and Google Play Music have never been that popular as now. The era of pay-to-download has been replaced with the subscription-based music buying model. According to the 2019 Music Listening Report by IFPI, 89% of users listen to music through on-demand streaming. An average person spends 18 hours weekly on listening to music compared to 17.8 hours in 2018.
The main reason why such services become more widespread is that they have been globally recognized as a convenient way to listen to music. 62% of respondents say they prefer on-demand streaming because it provides “instant access to millions of songs”. Although, online music streaming platforms vary with their features and benefits. Here’s CyberPulse’s SoundCloud vs Google Play Music comparison to learn before subscribing for one of them.
SoundCloud is a music streaming service that enables users to upload, listen, promote, and share music. Created as an online platform for budding musicians, SoundCloud helped a wide variety of artists like XXXTentacion and Lil Pip become famous all over the world. The online audio distribution service provides both free and paid subscription plans and it’s available on mobile and desktop devices.
With 76 million users worldwide using SoundCloud, this platform is one of the major players on the market of music streaming. According to a survey conducted by Statista, 21% of the U.S. adults prefer listening to podcasts using SoundCloud compared to 33% of people choosing Spotify. Furthermore, the music streaming platform offers such social network features as messages and comments.
On the other hand, Google Play Music appeared in 2011 as Google’s answer to Spotify that started luring iTunes users at that time. Besides music streaming, Google Play Music allows users to listen to tracks uploaded to their music library stored on a mobile device or desktop computer. With the mobile app, users can purchase particular songs and listen to them in an offline mode.
“Google’s subscription music services are struggling to grow… Subscriptions across Google’s paid music offerings have been essentially flat over the four most recent months…”, The Wall Street Journal
With its 15 million users, Google Play Music is well behind Spotify and Apple Music. Regardless of the growing music streaming market, Google Play Music is experiencing issues with its number of subscribers to grow. However, these statistics have probably resulted from Google’s plans to replace the service with YouTube Music. The company claims that this won’t affect current Google Play Music users.
SoundCloud used to provide music streaming with the sound quality of 128 kbps. However, they lowered the bitrate to 64 kbps for free plans in 2019 and assured the audience they “hadn’t altered their approach to audio quality”. Anyway, these changes gave rise to serious indignation among users claiming they had noticed the difference.
Despite SoundCloud relies on the advanced Opus codec instead of the outdated MP3 used in Google Play Music with its 320 kbps, 64 kbps are a too low quality for music streaming. However, SoundCloud offers 128 kbps and high quality streaming audio encoded in 256 kbps for Go and Go+ premium plans accordingly. The company also claims that their 256 kbps AAC are equivalent to 320 kbps encoded in MP3.
It’s worth saying that you may not notice the changes in SoundCloud audio quality if you use standard mobile audio accessories or your in-car media system relies on simple speakers without a subwoofer. By the way, Android Auto, Google’s in-car infotainment system, as well as Apple CarPlay don’t support SoundCloud which adds another point to Google Play Music’s balance. When it comes to sound quality, SoundCloud is suitable for those striving to discover emerging talented musicians rather than for those appreciating high quality music.
The output sound quality also depends on the quality of the initially uploaded track. Amateur artists may upload their songs and remixes to SoundCloud with low bitrate whereas Google Play Music provides high quality original or professionally remixed tracks. That’s why SoundCloud user experience can sometimes be poor when facing low quality songs. This makes users carefully manage their playlists.
On the other hand, Google Play Music limits the audio quality on mobile devices by default to save bandwidth and ensure music playing even with a bad Internet connection while avoiding skips and stops. That’s why you should make sure that the “Always High” option is set in the “Settings – Quality on mobile network” menu. With options chosen, you can experience buffering in locations with poor network conditions.
Creating a SoundCloud account enables users to create their playlists and synchronize progress on any device. Starting playing any music is easy and requires no search which is especially convenient while driving. You just click on a recommended playlists and then tap on the Play button. All playlists are separated in clear vertical blocks which makes easy to navigate between them with scrolling.
On the top of a home screen, the service offers a playlist called SoundCloud Weekly based on a user’s listening history. The second block contains tracks suggested automatically and based on user activity: likes and playing. The third playlist called The Upload contains the newest tracks that may interest a user, unlike Google Play Music that displays them in a separate main menu option. Below, SoundCloud shows predefined playlists dedicated to a particular mood: chill, party, relax, study, workout, and sleep. Top charts are placed on the bottom of the user interface.
Google Play Music has a similar block-based structure of a home screen. However, it offers different types of playlists. The top playlist called Playing Near You contains tracks of artists having a concert in your area soon. This is an amazing way of discovering music you can enjoy live. However, the app can incorrectly determine user location or its database isn’t complete since it often offers artists having concerts in a different city than you live in.
The SoundCloud control panel contains four main button icons: home, stream, search, and library. When opening the SoundCloud mobile app for the first time, stream for following artists and music library buttons looking like lightning and two parallel vertical lines with one slash can confuse you since they aren’t intuitive. You may not understand what these icons mean until you click on them. However, they are easy to get used to.
The music library screen contains four menu options: liked tracks, playlists & albums, followed artists, and liked radio stations. Below, you can find your listening history while Google Play Music provides access to it right on a home screen where you can tap on the Recents button and review your recent activity displayed as separate playlists rather than a list of recently played tracks.
On all screens, SoundCloud user interface has music controls you can expand by swiping up. By default, they display a currently playing track and play/pause button. When expanded, they show the following buttons: play/pause, previous/next track, the number of likes, comments, sharing options, view a full tracklist, and three dots that can call additional menu that allows you to add a track to your playlist, go to an artist profile, etc. Google Play Music has similar expandable music controls with a dislike option in addition to the same list of functions.
Most music streaming platforms including has a number of the same basic features that make listening to music online possible. They include music controls, playlists, availability on both mobile desktop devices, etc. That’s why it makes sense to focus on the difference between SoundCloud and Google Play Music.
When it comes to features, diversity lays in a target audience developers created these services for. One of the key features of SoundCloud is providing access to tracks via unique URLs. Thus, users can embed songs in Facebook/Twitter posts and websites using a widget while Google Play Music’s sharing options are limited with links to songs that can be played via the mobile or web app within Google’s service.
SoundCloud displays playing tracks as waveforms and allows users to post their comments pinned to a specific part of a song. All users who listen to the audio track can see these comments at the moment where the corresponding part is played. Berlin-based service also enables users to upload their own tracks with total length up to 180 minutes for free to make their songs available for the wider audience while Google Play Music allows uploading up to 50,000 songs for personal offline use.
One of the key features of Google Play Music is integration with such in-car infotainment systems as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Therefore, you can manage your tracks using voice commands while driving instead of taking your smartphone with one hand and focusing on a display rather than the road which can be dangerous. However, with SoundCloud connected to your in-car media system via AUX or Bluetooth, you may never need skipping tracks when listening to your playlists.
Like Shazam, Google Play Music can identify songs playing around you. Just tap the search bar and click on the microphone icon. The app will start listening to the sound and then display a track title and artist in search results once it identifies this data. You can play the identified track, save it to your library, or add to a playlist.
Winner: Google Play Music
SoundCloud platform has over 200 million tracks while Google Play Music catalog size is from 30 to 40 million songs according to different data compilations. However, Google’s service offers mostly original tracks whereas Berlin-based company provides either remixes or songs written by emerging musicians with rare exceptions. High quality remixes can sometimes be even better than original tracks.
Google Play Music has an advanced search feature that allows you to search tracks by title, artist, and even genres. When you enter “jazz” in the search line, the app will offer suitable radio stations, artists, albums, songs, and even videos. The search algorithm generates search results by genre instead of providing tracks and playlists that contain this keyword in their title or description as SoundCloud does.
On the other hand, SoundCloud allows users to follow their favorite artists, bands, and podcasts which is a convenient way to stay up-to-date about new songs and albums. When following artists, a user will see their new tracks, albums, and reposts on the Stream screen accessible through the corresponding button on the control panel.
SoundCloud places recommended tracks in the SoundCloud Weekly playlists on the top of the home screen. The service forms this playlist on a base of user activity.
“Tracks are selected by an algorithm that returns recommendations through a network of relations and interactions on SoundCloud (for example a user liked a track, a user followed another user, a track is reposted, etc.). The recommendations for a track can be both directly or indirectly related to tracks in this network”, SoundCloud Customer Support
Regardless of such a simple algorithm, recommendations are quite accurate and will usually fit well your music preferences.
When signing up for Google Play Music, the service asks you for setting your music preferences by genres or artists. The app offers you to select artists you like from the lists in order to provide proper recommendations. Furthermore, you can improve your recommendations at any time in the settings menu.
Google uses machine learning to deliver proper recommendations. Besides your preferable genres and artists, its algorithms take into account when you like to listen to specific music. It means that Google Play Music recommendation system will offer different tracks at different time depending on your listening story. For example, if you often enjoy relaxing music in the evening and party-styled tracks in the morning, the app will adapt its recommendations according to your preferences.
Moreover, with location history enabled, Google Play Music can offer songs that fit the place where you are. For example, when you’re in the gym, the service will provide you with workout tracks. Compared to SoundCloud with its activity-based approach, Google Play Music has a more advanced recommendation engine.
Winner: Google Play Music
SoundCloud offers separate subscription plans for ordinary users and creators. SoundCloud Pro for creators costs €5.25 per month billed yearly or €7 charged monthly. This plan allows artists to upload up to 6 hours of their audio, monetize their tracks, replace tracks without losing stats, and get access to advanced statistics as well as additional configuration options like turning off comments or enhanced embed controls.
SoundCloud Pro Unlimited provides creators with unlimited upload time, better reports and embed controls, scheduled track releases in addition to Pro plan capabilities. The Pro Unlimited package costs €8.25 billed yearly or €11 charged monthly. Released in 2016 and 2017 accordingly, SoundCloud Go and Go+ packages for ordinary users cost almost the same.
For Android users, the Go plan price is $4.99 while Go Plus costs $9.99. The difference between these ad-free packages, which both provide offline listening, lays in the number of available tracks. The more expensive plan offers the other 80 million tracks in addition to basic 120 million songs. iOS-based mobile device users will have to pay $5.99 and $12.99 per month for each plan accordingly. In 2019, SoundCloud released a 50% Go+ discount for students.
The key benefit of SoundCloud is that it offers free plans for both creators and ordinary users, unlike Google Play Music that provides only paid subscription plans with a free 30-days trial period. The unpaid SoundCloud plan includes reduced audio quality. For free, Google Play Music users can listen to the songs they upload or ad-supported curated radio stations.
The price of the premium plan depends on a country. For example, a personal premium package and family plan for up to 6 users cost $9.99 and $14.99 accordingly for U.S.-based users. In Australia, the price of these packages is $11.99 and $17.99 accordingly while Ukrainians will have to pay only $3 for a personal plan and about $5 for a family package.
However, there’s a way how to get Google Play Music for free. Those users who will subscribe for YouTube Premium for $11.99 per month will also get access to other Google’s media services like YouTube Music. Does YouTube Premium include Google Play Music? Yes, it does for a variety of countries including the U.S., UK, and Canada.
|Google Play Music vs SoundCloud|
|Characteristics||Google Play Music||SoundCloud|
|Audio Bitrate||320 kbps||64 kbps, 128 kbps, 256 kbps|
|Catalog||30-40 million tracks||200 million tracks|
|Recommendations||Based on artificial intelligence||Based on user activity|
The advantages and disadvantages of SoundCloud over Google Play Music
- Free subscription plan
- Large catalog of audio tracks
- You can follow your favorite artists
- Embedding tracks in websites as well as Facebook and Twitter posts
- Users can upload and share their own songs
- Advanced audio codec
- SoundCloud Pro subscribers can get a discount for the Go+ plan
- The platform contains mostly remixes and songs written by emerging musicians
- Android Auto and Apple CarPlay don’t support SoundCloud
- Simple search algorithm
- Premium plans are available in a limited number of countries
Google Play Music
The advantages and disadvantages of Google Play Music over SoundCloud
- Advanced recommendation system
- Synchronization with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
- Identification of audio tracks playing around you
- Family subscription plan
- Users can upload tracks to the cloud and play them in an offline mode for free
- YouTube Premium subscription provides free access to Google Play Music
- You can discover artists having a concert near your location
- Advanced search algorithm
- No free subscription
Both music streaming services gained the same number points in our SoundCloud vs Google Play Music comparison. However, Google’s platform has a single drawback – it provides no free subscription. If you are looking for a free tool to enjoy music online, then SoundCloud is exactly what you need. In this case, you will have to sacrifice original tracks and sound quality which is worthless anyway if you have an outdated in-car media system or mediocre headphones.
If you’re ready to spend some funds to get the best experience you can, then go for Spotify Google Play Music by subscribing for YouTube Premium to get both services for $11.99. In addition, you will be able to listen to original tracks at home with Google Home, a smart speaker and element of V-commerce, or in your car with Android Auto and manage music controls with voice commands.