The Best Free Music Apps for Android [January 2021]

Listening to music is all but an essential part of your day, but to really make the most of it, you need a great music app. Android’s selection of music apps has only gotten bigger and better over the last decade, with countless options for streaming and local playback alike. The sheer number of apps available on the Play Store might make Android newcomers feel overwhelmed when they’re just trying to listen to music, but thankfully, we did the hard work for you. We’ve narrowed down our favorite free music apps on Android, with options for both streaming and local playback, to get you back to jamming out on your way to work.

Whether you’re looking for a basic player or something that can handle all of your media, there’s an app that’s right for you. These are the best free music players on Android.

 

Everyone else

If you’re missing the old school days of Android, you’re going to want to grab AIMP. A fantastic combination of fresh design language with file-based music players, AIMP began its life way back in 2006 on Windows, and it’s really come into its own on Android. Plenty of users still love using basic files for their music, and AIMP has you covered. Manually adding songs to your queue from folders may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the interface offered by AIMP has really come into play over the last few years, making it surprisingly usable in 2021. Despite a lack of library, AIMP’s completely free of both ads and in-app purchases, and both the built-in EQ and sleep timer are two great features that help make this a fantastic alternative to many of the apps on this list. It might not be the music app for everyone, but for an app that began life as freeware in the halcyon days of Windows XP, it’s pretty solid.

Compared to Eon, Musicolet leaves something to be desired from its interface. It’s good, and doesn’t feel quite as difficult to use as something like AIMP, but it doesn’t quite have the visual polish of something like Eon. Still, Musicolet is great for local playback. It’s completely free from the get-go, with no ads and just a single option in-app purchase. The app allows you to browse for music through both traditional music player layouts (displaying albums, artists, etc.) and through an included file browser. An easy-to-use queue is made once you select which music you want to listen to, and the now-playing display looks clean with the exception of the tabs remaining at the top of the screen instead of offering a fullscreen player. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to like here, and if something like Eon doesn’t match your visual style, Musicolet is a great ad-free option.

Pulsar first caught our attention back in 2018, and it continues to be one of the best looking music apps on Android three years later. With a standard material design, it doesn’t quite match Google’s current aesthetics in 2021, and it doesn’t need to—from the library design to the Now Playing screen, it looks phenomenal. The tabs make it easy to brows through your artists, albums, song list, and more, with playlists kept off to the side menu in their own bubble. It’s not quite as fully featured as an app like BlackPlayer, which offers EQ customization under its free tier, but on the flip side, it completely lacks ads no matter whether or not you choose to pay for the app. If you do decide EQ support, presets, and visual themes are worth an upgrade, Pulsar’s pro plan is just $2.99.

Just because the days of rocking an iPod are long gone doesn’t mean you have to leave the classic interface behind. retroPod faithfully recreates the feeling of using a mid-2000s iPod, complete with a click wheel interface, playlist support, and much more. With a multitude of themes both free and paid, retroPod does a great job in bringing back the experience of a classic iPod, especially on OLED displays where the screen can display a full black background.

It might come off as a gimmick—and to a certain extent, it is—but retroPod commits wholeheartedly. The clickwheel offers great haptic feedback that really feels like a physical clickwheel, while small features like clicking the center button on the now playing screen to switch between views make an appearance here. The developers have even included Brick, the classic game included on all iPods, available in the extras folder  (only the first level is available for free, though).

Despite the in-app purchases, it’s easy to use retroPod as a free music player without dropping a dime, a factor helped by the lack of ads within the interface. Though the novelty of retroPod may wear off after a couple days, what you’ll be left with is a solid throwback audio player, and that’s good enough for us.

We’ve praised BlackPlayer for years as one of the best music players on Android, regardless of price. And although BlackPlayer EX, the paid version of the app, adds a ton of eatures that help to make it one of the best apps on the Play Store today, the free version of BlackPlayer is still worth checking out. Though its interface isn’t quite as fresh as it felt a few years ago, it’s still a great free player with a default dark theme that looks fantastic on modern AMOLED displays. Playlist and album displays do look phenomenal though, using the color from the album artwork to bleed into the menu. It’s a theme that continues into the Now Playing interface, although it doesn’t quite work as well thanks to the hard line along the top banner of the display.

Minor qualms aside, it’s a solid looking app, and it’s certainly one of the best music players available for free on Android. A huge settings menu allows you to tweak almost every aspect of the app, from basic colors and font selections to equalizers, crossfading, and much more. You do have to buy into the EX in-app purchase to unlock the entire suite of customizations, but all in all, it’s a packed app that makes it easy to listen to your entire local library. It might not be made for an audience that has moved to streaming, but if you still prefer your music in MP3 form, BlackPlayer needs to be on your list.

With Google Play Music dead, GPM users have had a serious choice to make: transfer your library to YouTube Music, warts and all, or find a new platform that does everything GPM used to do. Unfortunately, there really aren’t any other apps that function as both a streaming music service and a music locker, which makes YouTube Music the only option for a lot of people. It’s come a long way in the last few years, and while the general design looks a lot better than the stale interface Play Music was stuck with for years, it’s still not quite where we want the app to be. Count in a complicated price structure and it becomes difficult to recommend YouTube Music without reservation.

Although YouTube Music’s paid plan is what most people will end up using if switching to the app, this is a recommendation of the free app specifically. That means we’re only looking at what the app can do with a standard YouTube plan, as opposed to what YouTube Music Premium can grant you. Like Spotify, YouTube Music grants you access to on-demand listening in a limited capacity. YouTube Music lets you choose the exact song you want to listen to from an artist, a major leap over Spotify, and you can even skip songs in radio mixes at will, without having to be worried about skip limits or being unable to find the specific song you want. So far, so good.

However, YouTube Music includes some major roadblocks as well, including one that will be familiar to anyone who watches a lot of YouTube on your phone. Despite YouTube Music trying its best to be an alternative to Apple Music or Spotify, you can’t leave the app to listen to music without Premium. That means turning off your screen while falling asleep or checking your messages with a radio mix playing is impossible. For a lot of our readers, that’s all you need to know to write off this app, and frankly, we can’t blame you. It’s a silly limitation placed on YouTube Music because of its music video integration—something we would bet most users don’t even really care much about.

But okay, let’s say being unable to leave the app is something you can accept. At that point, YouTube Music becomes a lot more appealing in its free form than Spotify, thanks to on-demand listening. YouTube Music also features support for device files—just like Google Play Music before it—but without the ability to be added to playlists featuring YouTube Music songs. To add your local music to playlists, you’ll need to upload your library through YouTube Music’s desktop website (with up to 10,000 songs allowed). All local and cloud music can be listened to in the background, regardless of paid account status, though casting is limited to premium subscribers.

At the end of the day, YouTube Music’s free tier is a big step backwards in a lot of ways. It’s not surprising to see the same company that is ending support for free photo backups this year also take steps to limit how their free music service works. Most people are likely to find the lack of background play on its free tier a deal breaker, but if you’re willing to work around YouTube Music’s major limitations, there are some interesting features—like cloud libraries and on-demand listening—that do make it an interesting alternative to Spotify.

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