The Best Free Music Apps for Android – April 2018
There’s no shortage of music applications available for your Android phone. Whether you’re looking for a streaming service that requires a monthly fee, or you want to listen to your full collection of local music, there’s plenty of options that allow you to listen to your entire collection of songs, albums, audiobooks, and more. The amount of options available on the Play Store might feel overwhelming to newcomers to Android, but we think most users will find the ability to select the perfect music application for their uses. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to figure out where to start in the Play Store, and with most of the top results inside of Google Play based on streaming or ad-supported music services and players, it might leave Android users confused about where to start.
When you’re trying to listen to your music or other audio files, constantly receiving advertisements or interruptions to your collection can be seriously annoying. So, we did the hard work here and narrowed the Play Store’s music listings down to the best of the best free music apps on Android. These are apps that don’t just lack a price tag, but they also contain no visible advertisements, and come with a feature set designed for playing back audio files of all type and size. Whether you’re looking for a basic player, something designed for podcasts and other spoken-word files, or even some streaming content, there’s an app that’s right for you, without an upfront purchase, in-app purchases, or gratuitous advertisements. These are the best free music players on Android.
Here's the thing about Google Play Music: for most people, it's the best option for anyone looking for the complete package in music. It has local playback, it has the ability to upload your collection to the cloud for free streaming, and it has a nearly endless collection of free streaming radio stations that, yes, do have some ads on them. We'll get into all that below, however, because the important takeaway is this: Google Play Music is probably already on your phone, and no matter what you're looking for in a music app, it's likely one of the best options available on Android today.
We've reviewed Google Play Music as an independent music app on Android before, so instead, we want to look at Google Play Music through the prism of a completely free music application. This means looking at the Play Music app without considering the paid streaming service at all, and discounting YouTube Red as an advantage entirely. To do this, we'll divide this review into looking at three features from the app using the context of someone looking for a free music application: local playback, cloud playback, and the app's free radio station feature.
There's no shortage of music applications designed for local playback on the Play Store, as you'll see in our reviews below. Even if you're looking for ad-free music players, you still have a decent selection to choose from. That said, local playback on Google Play Music works really well, automatically detecting the music saved on your device and making it easy to begin listening right away. The app's layout is modern enough, even if it's been around to have people asking for more from the app (and the delayed merging between Play Music and YouTube Music hasn't helped). Still, it looks pretty decent, so long as you can get behind the orange theme and the cut-off album art on the Now-Playing display. Any music files saved on your phone populate Google Play Music's listings and allow you to begin listening to content.
The biggest problem Google Play Music suffers with its local playback options is, in turn, an Android problem we'll see throughout most of the apps on this list. Android's music players don't discriminate with music files, so anything on your device that falls under a supported audio type will appear there. This includes ringtones and alarm sounds included by your manufacturer (a real problem on Samsung and LG phones), anything downloaded from user-based apps like Zedge, and even podcast files depending on your choice of podcast player will find their way into your music library. These files can be hidden on Android, but you need to dive into your device's file system and add a .nomedia file into the folder where these files are contained. It's not difficult, but it is a hassle for users and a headache for Android overall.
Cloud playback might be the area Google Play Music succeeds at more than anything. It's basically unparalleled in the music app industry; as far as we can tell, no other application on Android, iOS, Windows, or any other operating system allows for free cloud storage at the level of Google Play Music. If you have a wide library of local music that you might not want to carry on your phone's limited storage (for obvious reasons), you cannot beat the cloud feature offered by Google Play Music.
At its core, this feature is pretty simple: you head over to the web interface of Google Play Music, sign into the application with your Google account, and select "Upload Music" from the left-side menu. From here, drag and drop your music collection here to upload your favorite albums to Google's servers. Songs that can be matched are mirrored from Google's storefront for free. Meanwhile, songs that can't be matched are uploaded directly; they're the exact files you choose to upload, so everything from your collection of CD rips to obscure SoundCloud rappers whose music you picked up through Bandcamp can be added to your library. This obviously makes the service a strong alternative to iTunes Match, but the differences don't stop there.
The biggest advantage Google Play Music has to any other cloud lockers on the market currently—which, to be clear, is becoming less and less by the day—comes from its free tier. Google allows you to upload up to 50,000 songs for free. If your library has more than 50,000 songs, you might consider this a disadvantage, as 50,000 is the cap no matter whether you pay for Google Play Music or not. But we think it's safe to assume this will cover all but the most dedicated of music fans' needs, offering a way to take your collection of local music on the go no matter where you are. These songs can be downloaded back to your phone, and can also be streamed to any additional Android, iOS, or web-enabled device, played through a Chromecast or Google Home device, and so much more..
When it comes to detailing any of the potential problems you might run into with Google's cloud service, there's really only two. First, as mentioned, Google will match the content of your upload to their own servers so long as the soundtrack is on their storefront, and though this can occasionally cause some mismatches, we've never seen Google Play mess up the upload in our time testing the product. If there are any mismatches, you can report the problem to Google, and any album art or information misreads can also be corrected using the web app's built-in metadata editor.
Second, Google Play Music has a limitation on how many devices you can use with it, so make sure to keep that in mind when using the app on other devices. This includes your computers through your web browser, any tablets or secondary phones you may have, and anything else. Five smartphones can be used, and ten total devices of any kind is the max amount you can link your account with at once.
If you have any kind of interest in cloud playback on Android, Google Play Music is basically the only game still around. iTunes Match is designed for iOS devices, though paying for an Apple Music subscription and using the Android app is, we suppose, a possibility. But looking at this comparison of online music locker services, it's clear Google is truly the only mainstream choice left for consumers interested in using non-Apple devices. Amazon Music storage, Microsoft's Groove Music with OneDrive, and Style Jukebox have all been discontinued, leaving only Google, Vox Cloud (which doesn't support Android currently), and iBroadcast, a smaller company that does feature a free storage tier and an Android app, but the app is fairly dated in its design.
Google's third and final free aspect of the app comes in the form of radio stations, similar to what you might expect from Pandora. Play Music's radio stations come from their acquisition of Songza in 2013, which was folded into Google Play Music in 2014. This gives you access to the standard style of radio stations you might expect from a web radio player, like artist stations (Drake Radio, Imagine Dragons Radio, etc.), album stations (Take Care radio, etc.), and even song-specific radio stations ("The Motto" radio, etc). This is in addition to general genre stations, basically giving users a Pandora-style option directly from Google.
The Songza component of Google Play Music is in the form of recommended stations for specific moments and moods. You can find stations for pregaming, for hanging out with friends, stations that provide atmosphere to a snowy night or a rainy afternoon, and so much more. Songza was an excellent Pandora alternative prior to being bought by Google, and it remains a solid option for anyone using Google Play Music, paid or otherwise.
Unfortunately, the radio station aspect of Google Play Music breaks the "no purchase, no ads" rule we set-up at the top of this article. The truth is that Google's radio stations have ads, unless you're a paid subscriber to their unlimited service, which isn't quite the point of this article. While we didn't run into any ads while using the stations on our desktop computer over about an hour, we did run into a skip limit for songs (six songs per hour). For its credit, Google says you'll see a short video ad when you start the station and a banner ad at the bottom of the player, but doesn't mention any kind of audio ads. The nice part about Google Play Music: if you want to ignore the radio service entirely, you can basically pretend they aren't there and you won't see a single ad on the platform.
That takes care of the free content you can access through Google Play Music, but it's worth paying attention to the content available through this app for free. First, Google offers a traditional music store through Play Music, similar to iTunes. You can buy singles or albums as you like for the standard prices available on most other platforms. Anything you purchase through Google Play is automatically stored in the cloud and doesn't count against your 50,000 song limit. If you like purchasing your music, it's a solid way to gain some new songs for your library. And of course, the app also works to play audiobooks purchased from Google Play and supports podcasts added through the application (as always, podcasts are available for free).
In addition to the storefront for buying music, Google Play Music has a subscription element like Spotify or Apple Music. Though the service might not be as popular as its competing platforms, if you're an Android user interested in signing up for a music subscription service, you could do a lot worse than Google Play Music, which offers a streaming library of 40 million songs, eliminates ads and skip limits on streaming radio stations, and also nets you a YouTube Music and YouTube Red subscription, allowing you to watch ad free YouTube videos and save any video to your phone to watch offline. Though the service doesn't have the same kind of social features we've fallen in love with while using Spotify, it's still a killer addition to an already-great music application.
While we're hoping Google plans to redesign the app sometime in the future, as it stands right now, Google Play Music is the best overall app for Android to use for music playback on your phone. Its flexibility as a music application makes it one of the best services for most users, since you can basically use it to do anything. Local playback, cloud playback, radio stations and more, it basically does everything one would need out of a music app. Assuming you can live with the orange design, Play Music will probably satisfy most users, no matter how you access your music. Plus, it's probably already included on your phone, saving you a download from the Play Store.
Anyone looking for a completely free streaming option on the Play Store will quickly run into some difficulty. Apps like Spotify typically dominate this field, and while you can use Spotify's free mobile app on Android without paying for a membership, what you can do with the app is pretty limited—plus, you'll run into some major ads along the way. Pandora is the same, with a free tier supported by ads, and the same goes for most names in this market from big to small. iHeartRadio, Jango Radio, TuneIn, YouTube Music—all of them are supported by advertisements, typically both within the app as a banner and in the form of audio ads that appear during your stream, interrupting your music. Even Google Play Music, as we mentioned above, places ads within the app when listening to one of the radio stations on their free tier.
Finding an application that offers a collection of streaming music for free is difficult, because that tier of music listening only has one way to make money: ads. Yet, there's one company holding strong against the barrage of ads you might see on other platforms. Dash Radio has been around since it was founded in 2014 as a web platform, and in 2015, launched apps on iOS and Android that have garnered its fair share of media attention. Dash isn't a replacement for Spotify or other paid streaming services—there's no on-demand listening here—but the app and its stations are free of advertisements. Though the app has been in beta since its launch in 2015, it still receives regular updates through Google Play, and is absolutely worth looking at for anyone interested in listening to online radio without sacrificing the freedom of no ads. Dash might not be perfect for every user, but it's worth a deep look.
As mentioned, Dash began operating in 2014, backed with a round of $2 million in funding and launched by Scott Keeney, a well-known radio personality who goes by DJ Skee. When Dash Radio came out of beta on the web in 2015, Keeney gave several interviews and explanations about the app and its ad-free initiative, basically saying that Dash was meant to become a new replacement for terrestrial radio in the streaming age. Dash Radio has no ad breaks while streaming music, which Keeney says is because of his belief that ads during music take away from the art and their ineffectiveness to actually sell their products. This is to the benefit of listeners to Dash Radio, as the music is basically an unbroken stream of songs, and the app itself is free of banner ads or pop-up videos, making for a great experience overall.
One look at Dash's lineup of stations, and it becomes obvious the app has a large following for both hip-hop and pop. We'll talk more about some of the featured stations and personalities in a moment, but it's important to note than unlike some applications that focus on one particular genre of music, Dash does have a decent lineup of stations for anyone, regardless of the music they like. If you like hip-hop, there's plenty for you here, but fans of rock music and its seemingly-endless span of subgenres won't be disappointed either. For rock, you'll find everything from classic rock (playing the likes of the Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, and more) to Dash's alternative station that features artists old and new (ranging from early outputs from Blur to songs from more recent groups like Cage the Elephant and Florence + the Machine).
You'll find basically every genre of music here, divided easily into a tab-based form. Though the app definitely leans more towards hip-hop more than any genre, there are stations for country (both old and new, with the modern country station playing Brad Paisley, Chris Janson, and Kacey Musgraves and the older country station playing acts like Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood, and of course, country superstar Garth Brooks). There's a fair share of decades stations, a good collection of electronic and dance mixes, two faith and gospel stations, some Latin mixes, a wide collection of today's pop hits (from Dash 1 to Dash Hits, along with Dash Kids that gives you safe-for-the-family tunes). If there's a genre you like, you'll find it here, along with music by real artists that sometimes (such as in the case of Garth Brooks) aren't even available on most paid streaming platforms.
It didn't take long for us to get confused about how Dash Radio was able to license its music and still offer an ad-free experience, but how Dash pays the bills is actually pretty interesting. If you dive into Dash, you'll find a number of personalities that run their own stations, similar to something on terrestrial FM radio or XM satellite radio. These personalities are mostly limited to hip-hop as a genre, and include folks like DJ Skee himself, Snoop Dogg, Tyler the Creator, Lil Wayne, T-Boz, and Tech N9ne. The stations programmed in part by these personalities include Cadillac Radio, Odd Future Radio, XXL radio (from the magazine of the same name), Young Money radio, and more. These stations occasionally feature ad reads from personalities hosting on the show, which are the only ads you'll find in the entire program, and feel more like a traditional radio show or podcast format than a basic audio-based ad.
Obviously, keeping the app as free of ads as it is comes with its own limitation. Unlike apps like Pandora and Google Play Music's radio station, Dash has no skips, just like a normal radio station. You can jump from station to station as you wish, but if you're looking for on-demand listening or the ability to skip a song you don't like, you won't find it. Likewise, just as with live radio, you can't truly pause Dash. Hitting the pause button will stop your playback, but when you resume, you'll be right back to listening to whatever song is live, not the song you left off on.
We've talked about the music and the experience of listening to Dash's stations, but what about the app itself? Overall, it's pretty good, but it isn't without some imperfections. One of the best parts of the service is the lack of a required account. When you first download the app, Dash will ask you to sign in or create an account, but it isn't required; you can skip the setup process and start listening right away. If you choose not to log in, a banner at the top of the display will ask for you to sign up. Otherwise, you'll see your profile name and photo at the top of the screen.
The main interface of the app is simple enough, displaying a highlighted radio station at the top of the page, then showing the genre selection below that. You can tap through the list of genres to view stations, search for a specific station, or select "All Genres" to view a full list of stations along with your favorites highlighted at the top. At the bottom is a list of your recent stations that you can use to quickly browse between recent stations. This is great if you're in the car and want to switch between a few different options without having to tap around the app's interface.
The app did occasionally stop to buffer when we first started playing a station, but after a few minutes, it wouldn't have any major issues. Inside the station "Now Playing" screen, you have plenty of options, almost to the point of information overload. The top half of the playing display shows the name of the station, the song and artist currently playing (along with the album art in the background, with station art displaying if a song lacks art), and options to share a song, snap a photo with the album cover in the photo, view lyrics on Genius.com, and favorite a song to view later. The bottom half of the screen shows the station history, with options to search the song on Play Music and add a song to favorites, or the station info. At the bottom, your shortcuts for recent stations remain.
Ultimately, the visuals of the application are all a bit busy for us, but it's not bad design. There are a few shortcomings to the app, things we wished the app featured that could come in later updates. First and foremost is Chromecast support. In 2018, with the prominence of the Cast protocol and Google Home devices, there's no reason to lack Cast support. Dash does have a partnership with Sonos, but that shouldn't stop them from adding something like Cast support to the app. Second, landscape support would be great for the car; the app currently only works in portrait mode. Finally, the settings menu is pretty sparse, and one thing we really would love is the ability to control the amount of data used within Dash Radio by lowering or raising the quality of the stream. It goes without saying that Dash lacks an offline mode, so the ability to control how much data is being used in the app would go a long way.
Basically, Dash Radio is a great app for anyone looking for a Pandora-esque music streaming service but doesn't want to put up with constant advertisements. A cross between modern web radio and the terrestrial radio found in your car, Dash is perfect for anyone looking for a commercial-free streaming experience. Despite some nitpicks surrounding the Android app, it's one of the few ad-free streaming experiences you can get on Android today with no strings attached. Ultimately, Dash Radio is worth trying for anyone looking for a simple app designed around discovering new music with as few interruptions as possible.
Originally released for Windows in 2006, AIMP is a freeware app designed to compete with the likes of apps like VLC and Winamp. In fact, anyone familiar with Winamp might be reminded by the interface delivered by AIMP's Android app, though that may not be a good thing. The design here is dated to say the least; it's not bad but it's lacking in any major modern visuals. Even worse, however, is the lack of ability to auto-populate your music library to the app; instead, you have to add folders of songs manually using the playlist feature. Still, not everything has aged here. There's a light and dark mode option, which is nice for customizing your interface, and while the app's interface isn't our favorite, it's not the worst on the Play Store. You'll also find a 10-band EQ within the app, and there's no ads or features to unlock in site. Ultimately, AIMP is a solid addition to your phone if you're looking for a free music app, especially one that allows you the freedom to add the music you want to your library.
Don't let it's boring name fool you—Audio Video Player is a solid application in its own right. The app is a relatively basic player designed with local songs in mind, and it features everything you need in a music app and nothing more. The app has a basic tabbed interface that looks fine, and the color of the app can be changed easily. Music auto-populates within the app, and you can choose to browse your music through albums, artists, genres, songs, custom playlists, and more. The basic player interface also looks fine, though for whatever reason, the pause and play icon is incredibly small. The app also leaves a large amount (more than usual) of black space between the navigation buttons and the bottom of the app display, but minor display quibbles aside, it works well. Also included within the app: a video player, a basic five-band EQ with presets and bass options, and a sleep timer. The app is free without ads, and there's no in-app purchases to speak of here.
Don't take this lightly: if it wasn't for the absolute breadth of listening options included in Google Play Music, this would be our top pick for local playback. Seriously, Eon is one of the best-looking music apps on the Play Store right now, free or paid, and it does it without ruining the experience for the end user with ads. Literally every music app on this, including Google's own, could take notes from Eon Player on how to improve your visual design. Like most players, the app is tab based, with the ability to swipe through songs, albums, artists, and more. The now playing screen looks gorgeous, and you can customize most of the interface in options (including light and dark modes, color accents, and more, Even offering the ability to enable a fullscreen mode. However, it should be noted that Eon does have a pro mode available for $.99 on the Play Store, which unlocks some additional settings. There's nothing we found in Eon Pro that made us feel like we were missing out, and considering the standard version of Eon lacks ads, we think it's a fantastic option for anyone looking for a local music player.
Compared to Eon, Musicolet leaves something to be desired from its interface. It's good, and doesn't look quite as dated 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 no in-app purchases, and has full support for playlists. 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 is another great-looking music application for Android, with a strong focus on material design options and minimal art style. The app doesn't quite reach the highs we felt with Eon Player, but we think this comes down to personal preference, not one app being better than the other. Pulsar is what Android users have wish Google Play Music looked like for years, a modern take on a straight, dark-themed material music app, with a customizable tab interface, improve album lists, and full Chromecast support. Maybe the best part of Pulsar's player, however, it is now-playing display, which shows the album artwork at the top of the screen in its full glory, instead of cutting off part of the art as we've seen in Play Music. If Google's design language interests you but Google Play Music doesn't quite do it for you in terms of design or features, definitely check out Pulsar. The app does have a paid $2.99 upgrade that adds EQ support and presets, along with some visual themes, but the base app is available for free without ads or usage limits.