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GUIDE | The Best Classical Music Streaming Services Online

By Anya Wassenberg on March 24, 2021

Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

What’s the best streaming service for classical music lovers? With so many options available on the market, it’s a good question.

There’s no denying that music streaming has taken over the industry. Physical CD sales have dropped by a stunning 97 percent since 2000. But, an industry designed for quick access to massive sales does not necessarily serve the complex architecture of the Western classical music repertoire particularly well.

Bucking the general music industry trend, physical CD sales continue to be more robust for classical music than most other genres. Despite its smaller niche numbers overall in terms of sales, classical accounts for about as much, percentage-wise, in physical CD sales as genres such as Hip-Hop, and far more than Latin or EDM. It may be due to some of the disadvantages of streaming.

Streaming Vs. Classical Music

Modern pop music can be reliably indexed by composer and performer, and even if more than one person has recorded a hit like Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, for example, there is a manageable list to choose from.

When it comes to Western classical music, however, it’s an entirely different story. The majority of classical repertoire incorporates pieces that have been recorded dozens, sometimes perhaps even hundreds of times, by different performers — and in some cases, also the same performers at different times in their careers. There are several other details that make indexing classical music a challenge.

  • Many recordings include the work of multiple composers.
  • Title tracks can be very long, and include multiple details that don’t fit into the track title box, such as both conductor and performers.
  • Spotify and other big mainstreaming services focus on singles (songs) and albums. Classical music, on the other hand, is broken down by movements. Their systems and database compares a pop song with an entire symphony, for example.
  • There are so many sub-categories within the classical music genre that lumping it all together makes searching for something very specific quite onerous.

Sound quality is another area where the larger streaming services have sacrificed to a point that it can be noticeable in orchestral works. The beauty of an orchestra is its huge range of tones, colours, and dynamics — all of which are crushed by the usual digital compression.

The best choice really comes down to priorities.

The Most For The Least

For music lovers who only listen to classical music some of the time, and aren’t looking for very specific pieces or subgenres, then the big services like Amazon, Tidal, Apple Music and Spotify still offer the biggest catalogues of classical music for the lowest cost.

  • It’s the most budget-friendly choice, with free streaming options.
  • It will take time and patience to search for specific pieces.
  • For newcomers to the genre, it will be difficult and perhaps confusing to find new releases or truly delve into the classical music world.
  • Spotify and others do offer many classical music playlists — for listeners open to their algorithmic suggestions, it can be a good solution to curating music.
  • Some services can be upgraded for high-quality audio support from FLAC files, such as Amazon Music HD, Tidal HiFi, and Deezer HiFi plans, at about twice the cost as any of the classical music dedicated services.
  • Tidal includes a Welcome Mix function that can be tailored for classical music.
man-listening to music
Image by FireFX from Pixabay

High Quality Audio For Classical Connoisseurs

The three services dedicated to classical music offer the best audio quality, and the most classical-friendly database and catalogue of works. Searching for works and artists is made easy, with a good depth of supplementary material to enhance the experience. There is one caveat: if you want high-quality audio, you also need high-quality headphones and/or system to hear it on.

IDAGIO has recently signed violinist Maxim Vengerov as a brand ambassador, with an exclusive contract to release recordings on the service. It’s a sign of things to come, and IDAGIO has indicated its willingness to step up to the plate when it comes to providing exclusive content.

  • Playlists are curated by stars from the classical music world.
  • The IDAGIO community includes professional musicians, who offer insights, original interviews, and a wealth of other exclusive content.
  • Maximum audio quality is FLAC 16b 44.1kHz.
  • There are about 2 million tracks to choose from, and counting.
  • Search results are displayed with a wealth of information to choose from.
  • Includes extensive album credits and some liner notes.
  • Mobile or desktop app available.

Primephonic focuses on the user experience, with a friendly interface. The service is becoming known for its system of playlists that welcomes newcomers to the genre and helps them explore it easily.

  • Maximum audio quality is FLAC 24b 92kHz.
  • Primephonic has the larger catalogue of the three services, including 3.5 million tracks.
  • The catalogue includes more obscure and little known recordings.
  • Includes extensive album credits and some liner notes.
  • Primephonic playlists are robust and offer lists curated by musicians around specific themes.
  • Mobile app only – no desktop app.

Naxos Music Library
The Naxos Music Library includes access to more than 160,000 CDs and nearly 2.5 million tracks, with the numbers constantly growing. Designed for music professionals and serious collectors, their approach is to provide a broader range of classical music repertoire, rather than focusing in on multiple versions of the same pieces.

  • The subscription service is pricey ($210USD for standard and $315USD for premium quality audio), but also available at many libraries and educational institutions.
  • Works include the entire Naxos and Marco Polo catalogues, along with that of over 940 other labels, including Decca, Deutsche Grammophon and many others.
  • It’s easy to find even specialist repertoire.
  • Used by many professional musicians, music programmers, and educational institutions.
  • Corollary material includes artist biographies, music notes, cover artwork, libretti, pronunciation guides, and much more.

For Musical Omnivores And High-Quality Audio Lovers

For true music lovers whose tastes run the gamut from classical to jazz and pop and 9 more genres, Qobuz, based in France, offers a premium solution with the highest quality audio available.

  • It’s not so cheap at about 50 percent more than Idagio or Primephonic
  • Qobuz has a surprisingly deep classical music catalogue (along with the same for its other 11 genres).
  • Despite the fact that it still uses the Artist/Album/Track search model, the company has enhanced metadata for classical music to include full details.
  • Like the classical-dedicated services, Qobuz offers curated channels and a sense of community, along with interviews, articles and other enriched material.
  • The sound quality is excellent, offering maximum audio quality support at FLAC 24b 192kH.
  • The search results include a good deal of information about track credits to help make choices, along with a short review of the recording.
  • Their New Releases section is flexible and can be filtered by genre or even multiple genres and other parameters.
  • It has a better presentation than other multi-genre services like Tidal or Apple when it comes to classical music.

It should also be noted that dedicated and premium services like IDAGIO, Primephonic, and Qobuz also pay the artists higher rates for their streams — a consideration that is vital for the future of the music industry as a whole.


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