Music. Like the O’Jays, I love it, and so do most of us. It’s around when times are good and bad, during celebratory moments and achingly sad ones. When our favorite artists depart this earth for the next dimension, we’re heartbroken as they’ve been such an integral part of our lives.
At one point, listening to music was as simple as going to a record store, or ‘wrecka stow’ as Prince unforgettably dubbed them in Under The Cherry Moon, and buying a vinyl LP. Or, as technology changed, heading to the same store to buy a CD.
But now, music comes to you via streaming media for the most part. Even though vinyl is becoming popular again, streaming is definitely here to stay. Here’s a look at which platforms are best for which listeners and which headphones you should have on when you’re listening to the one of your choice.
Best For: Amazon Prime users
Cost: $99 annually for Amazon Prime $49 if you’re a student
Amazon Prime has a pretty significant music library, but it works best for those who are already getting Amazon goods and services under the Prime umbrella. Like most streaming services, they have a good mix of music playlists as well. You can also, if you buy a physical CD via Amazon, download it your music library.
$9.99 monthly, $14.99 family plan
Best for: Those with an extensive iTunes purchase history
If you are a former iPod user or still use one and have either purchased or added music for a comprehensive iTunes library, that’s one reason to use Apple Music since you can simply add to your existing collection and include streaming. But truthfully, with all the changes Apple has made to iTunes, the interface has become confusing and unwieldy and IMHO, it’s just not worth the effort. Although they do have some music exclusives and some great podcasts (many of which are free anyway, if you have iTunes) both Tidal and Spotify are just more user-friendly these days.
Best For: Casual music listeners
You can pay for Google Pay, but I wouldn’t, although it depends on what you listen on. If you’re on a laptop or desktop, you can just go to play.google.com and fire up a playlist. It doesn’t really have anything else that I’ve found to be extra special, but it does offer nicely curated playlists and the ads are not as annoying as Pandora’s can be.
$4.99 a month
Best For: People who enjoy curated music, but without the commercials
Pandora cues up playlists based on your favorite artists or preferences which seemed great when they debuted, but that specificity was undercut when streaming services like Spotify and Tidal came along. Pandora’s upgraded premium service, Pandora Plus, (which replaced Pandora One) kills their annoying ads, and costs less than everything else at $4.99 a month. It’s not bad, but with all the stuff people are paying for, you might want to get something that offers more personal choices, instead of just algorithm selected playlists. There is QuestLove’s show, though.
Best For: Personal playlists, music choice
Until Tidal came along, Spotify was pretty much the gold standard for streaming music. It offers a nice looking interface, the opportunity to follow your friends’ playlists and most artists you’d want to hear, old and new, are on the platform. There’s a choice between Premium without ads and regular, with ads, and they offer a 30-day free trial for new users.
You can also add the Spotify cost to your Sprint bill, which makes it easier to forget you’re paying for it. Their interface is easy to use, they offer up all the latest music and overall, its likely the best bang for your buck for streaming music. Like most services, you can play music off and online, which means you can listen without an internet connection. Also you can share unlimited (!)Spotify logins, but you can only stream on one device at a time. Offline listening can be shared by no more than three devices at a time.
Best for: Artist exclusives, hip-hop/contemporary R&B and overall music choice
Tidal offers a premium audiophile experience but its doubtful many folks are taking advantage of it. They are also the only service not to offer free streaming with ads. And it does not have a desktop app, which means you have to listen on a web browser that is stops randomly (or it did when I shared Tidal with my niece, possibly because others we shared with were listening at the same time, which sucked.) So why do I now have Tidal? Because, Prince.
At the moment, despite the release of his Warner catalogue to all streaming services, Tidal has the most of his 39 studio releases (even though Emancipation is no longer one of them) including some ones most people don’t know about including Chocolate Invasion, Rainbow Children and Kama Sutra. But Tidal may not be able to keep them, pending the settlement of the lawsuit the Estate has against them that says they never had exclusive rights to those recordings. Sigh. Tidal does a great job with exclusive playlists and video from contemporary artists, though. And its partnership with Sprint may mean Sprint users will get a free or discounted membership. We’ll see.
Sennheiser Momentum noise-cancelling headphones with Bluetooth $499
Whatever streaming service you use will only sound as good as the headphones you listen on. The latest in headphone technology is wireless headphones. It sounded like a dumb idea when Apple lost the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 but hey, progress.
And a wireless, noise-cancelling headphone sounds pretty damn good if you want to block out a noisy world. What’s pretty much a given is that Bose is the industry standard in noise-cancelling headphones and Beats headphones are more costly than their sound deserves. Well, enter Sennheiser, a German brand you may not have heard of, but should. I tried out the Momentum noise-cancelling over-ear headphones and I’m a changed woman.
I’ve listened to Bose headphones and they would likely block out a hospital ward of screaming babies. But as a city dweller, I don’t feel comfortable walking the streets with that level of noise-cancelling. The one place, though that great NC would be welcome is on a plane. I took the Sennheisers on a 6-hour trip to L.A. and almost forgot I was in the air. The roar of plane engines is way louder than you think, but with headphones on, it was nicely muted.
Then, I traveled around on a city bus and trolley, something I mostly despise, and something strange happened – I craved spending more time on them to listen to the concerts now playing in my head.
As you may have guessed from above, I’m all about my Prince and testing the headphones out to his music reminded me again what a genius he was. I swear heard new things in his music I’ve never heard quite as intensely, or at all, before. On the flip side, thinner-voice singers (here’s looking at you, Solange and Janelle Monae) were exposed much more.) I already own a pair of Beats wired in-ear headphones, which I now relegate to workouts, where the thicker over-ears just seem too bulky, even without wires.
Although I couldn’t really grasp the ins and outs of the controls from the graphic instruction booklet, Sennheiser Momentum headphones are pretty intuitive. One button controls the off/on switch, which activates the NC feature, the other is a toggle that you can use to turn volume up and down, mute and activate voice dialing with your Bluetooth connected phone, among other features.
Although you can play the headphones with headset off and just turn up the volume, the sound is richer and fuller with it on. The headphones are comfy to my ears with a their nice memory foam cushioning and they are foldable and adjustable. But because of the expense of the headphones ($499, though Amazon and Wal-Mart have some cheaper deals) they are NOT for teens or anyone else who won’t treat them like a baby.
They do come with a carrying bag and case, but are not the kind of headphones you can just throw around. They are a great and special gift for a loved one who loves music and/or travels frequently and really likes hearing a full musical range with the outside world of noise muted. I have worn them in the streets but sparingly, as in a city, you want to hear your surroundings, which makes them a bad choice for runners, etc.
It should be noted that they can be worn wired as well and Sennheiser provides all the charging, USB cords and even an airplane attachment, that you might need. Some have noted issues with Bluetooth connectivity. I lost the connection to my iPhone and couldn’t readily get it back, although it picked up my laptop and my neighbors’ devices and connected to them easily, even with my phone nearby. If it’s a glitch, its one that I’m sure Sennheiser will credit or return for, as these ain’t cheap. Still, they’re great to listen to wired as well.
I’m not an audio expert, but this Amazon reviewer is a professional musician, so if you need those kinds of specs, click HERE.
PHOTOS: Tonya Pendleton