Whether they’re a labor of love or a core pillar of a media company, podcasts have become a staple of our daily lives. The format allows pretty much anyone to put together a program about literally anything, with the opportunity to make it as entertaining and educational as they can. This accessibility doesn’t always lead to quality, mind you, but when done properly podcasts can open all-new worlds and perspectives on topics both obscure and well-established.
But these programs wouldn’t matter without a proper way to collect, organize and play them. Contrary to what that pre-installed software on your new phone tells you, there are a number of quality podcast players offering features beyond the usual playlist creation, silence snipping and variable playback speed. Much like the medium itself, the apps that deliver podcasts have evolved, and here are our picks for the ten best.
This iOS exclusive app is little more than your standard podcast player at the free tier, but upgrading to Castro Plus opens up its best tool: Sideload. This tool allows users to add audio files from a number of additional sources. But it’s questionable whether the ability to store your audiobooks alongside your podcasts is worth the $18.99 yearly subscription. Castro also hides many standard features (silence skip, enhanced voice) behind that paywall. The premium version houses its distinguishing features, but it might not be the most cost-effective compared to its competitors.
Overcast is similar to Castro is a few ways. The app is exclusive to Apple devices and resembles little more than the standard outside of one valuable tool. While multiple apps include their own version of Sideload, Overcast’s clip sharing feature is unique to the program. Users can easily share a podcast with friends by clipping out a selection of any show, up to one minute, and sharing it social media style. It’s a novel solution to a long-standing problem within the industry. Overcast offers a $9.99 yearly subscription that removes ads and unlocks additional features, including one similar to Castro’s SIdeload.
The tried and true originators of podcast collection tools are still around as competitors continue to pop up. Neither are unique among other podcast services. The real value for either comes in the form of convenience and cost. Apple Podcasts comes pre-installed on all iOS devices while Google Podcasts is quite easy to add to the suite of Google apps standard on Android devices. Both boast large libraries, though discovering niche or less popular shows is much harder to do in their search engines. They’re an introduction to podcast services that many never really move past, which is perfectly fine if you have no desire to explore additional features.
Much like our previous entry, Spotify is great for those valuing convenience over innovation. The music streaming giant has increased its podcast hosting service in the past few years, building its library to one that competes with others. Coupling that collection of shows with the ridiculous amount of music available to both free and premium subscribers turns the app into even more of a one-stop shop for all things audio. The app suffers from a lack of tools, rendering it fairly basic. But being able to build your personal podcast library without adding another premium subscription is pretty appetizing.
Stitcher is one of the better known podcast apps on the market outside of those bearing their platform’s name. Like them, its toolset is fairly standard, though playlist creation is more streamlined. That’s the real story with Stitcher: it does all the usual tasks, just a little bit better than the baseline. But Stitcher also produces podcasts via its Stitcher Premium service. Subscribers ($4.99/month, $34.99/year) gain access to these programs, but the non-exclusivity of some dampens the value, not to mention the inability to export your podcast collection to other apps. Its perfectly serviceable but unimpressive without its original productions.
Luminary is the newest kid on the podcast block and wasted no time in ruffling the feathers of its competitors. This isn’t due to a technical or creative evolution, though. The self-coined “Netflix of podcasts” is trying to change the podcast business model that’s been running strong for over a decade. Luminosity collects plenty of shows for free, but its exclusive library is where it’s shaking things up. The service boasts 40 original shows from podcast heavyweights, but its $7.99 monthly subscription is a hefty obstacle. Podcasting is celebrated for its accessibility, and those in the industry point to Luminary’s business model as terrible for the medium. Users seemingly shared that feeling during its underwhelming launch earlier this year, but Luminary is a quality program with a number of great exclusives. Time will tell, but reexamining its business model might be in order.
Podcast Addict’s goals extend beyond podcasts. It wants to be your media hub. The app features over 750,000 podcasts alongside the ability to build playlists from an impressive amount of audio and video sources. Users can collect files from YouTube, Twitch, Soundcloud and any other RSS feed available. Chromecast and SONOS support allows for easy bluetooth streaming. The app’s meticulous approach to customization can be intimidating and time consuming at first glance, but no other podcast app lets users build the program around individual priority like Podcast Addict. It’s UI could be easier to navigate, but those willing to put in a little practice will find a solid tool.
Castbox is the podcast player for the listener that is always looking for something new. Designed specifically for search optimization, Castbox provides copious new suggestions to users in nearly every nook of the app. The only thing more prevalent might be the free version’s constant advertising for its premium service. The $9.99 price point for a yearly subscription isn’t terrible, but the only useful tool behind that paywall is the ability to lift the free user’s subscription limit. Honestly, there really shouldn’t be a 100 podcast subscription limit to begin with. Especially when compared to the importance Castbox prescribes to finding new programs. Castbox is still a solid service despite its faults though. Especially considering its compatibility with a wide array of wireless speakers and in-car play services.
Himalaya takes a similar approach as Castbox when it comes to introducing listeners to new programs. It lacks the search algorithms of Castbox but makes up for it with highly specialized categorization within its search engine. This makes Himalaya the best app for finding those niche shows that makes the medium so great. It further separates itself from the competition by offering podcast creation tools as well through its Himalaya+ service. The service provides hosting, routes to monetization and in-app marketing to help even the smallest creators get a leg up in a flooded market.
Pocket Casts is simply the best at providing a streamlined, intuitive interface to collect and enjoy podcasts. It does all of the usual tasks better than any other app on the marketplace. Its main unique feature is the ability to sync files between devices via the cloud. Pausing and picking up an episode exactly where you left off between phones, tablets and PCs provides unmatched flexibility. The app is also compatible with most wearable tech, bluetooth speakers and in-car programs. The only exception is offline support for Apple Watch users. The one-time $3.99 payment makes it much more cost-effective than apps pushing yearly subscriptions, and the tools within are well worth the price. It’s basically the Arn Anderson of podcast players: it doesn’t do everything but it’s the best at what it does.
Brian Bell is a queer freelance writer covering tech, pro wrestling, esports, games, comics and TV. Co-host of the Mr. Videogames Super Show podcast. Find and follow him on Twitter @WonderboyOTM.