Meditation / Mental Health

Calm vs. Headspace: Which Meditation App Is Best for You?

Research Based

Research Based

This article was rigorously researched and fact checked. We use peer-reviewed journals and reputable medical sources (think: CDC, WHO, NIH, and the like) to back up every claim we make, and also reach out to experts in the field to ensure we’re covering things the right way. We apply these principles to everything we cover—including brands we partner with—and we’ll always disclose sponsorships, ads, and any kind of financial relationship with anything featured on The Ness Well. You deserve the best, most straightforward information on health and wellness, and we think this is the right way to do it. You can read more about our testing and review process here.

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woman meditating on bed wearing green sweats

Written by Joni Sweet
Reviewed by Brenda N. Umana, MPH, 500-RYT & Jennifer Paulino, MPH

The proof is in the pudding: meditation is a viable method of reducing stress icon-trusted-source Mayo Clinic “Meditation: A Simple Way To Reduce Stress” View Source . (By “pudding,” we mean “peer-reviewed studies.”) But search for a meditation app to help you learn this mindfulness practice, and the sheer number of options that come up in the App Store or Google Play might just cause a counterintuitive spike in your cortisol levels. 

But even among these many, many options, two seem to stand out from the rest: Calm and Headspace. We tested both in a big roundup of meditation apps that also included Insight Timer and Ten Percent Happier. By our metrics, Calm and Headspace earned almost identical scores when vying for the top. Both are about $70 a year, both offer excellent guided meditations, and both can be great resources to learn about meditation. 

But when it comes to the best meditation app, Calm eked it out to earn the crown. Here’s why, along with how Calm vs. Headspace stacked up in a few key areas.

Is Calm or Headspace more affordable?

woman looking at headspace app on phone
Brock DuPont for The Ness Well

Both apps have the same yearly membership fee of $69.99, or about $5.83 a month. If you prefer to pay on a month-by-month basis, Calm is $14.99 a month. (You’ll just have to sign up on your app platform of choice, as the monthly option isn’t offered on Calm’s website). Headspace’s is $12.99 a month. If you’re a teacher, you can get some free materials on Calm’s site and a totally free Headspace membership. This gives Headspace an edge.

However, Calm also offers an intriguing lifetime membership option: $399.99 for… forever. Depending on how long you use it, that could be a really great deal.

Most affordable meditation app: It depends!

If you’re an educator or know you want to pay on a monthly basis, the obvious choice is Headspace. If you know you want to use your meditation app for the rest of your life, Calm is the way to go. But if you want a yearly membership, it’s a toss-up.

Is Calm or Headspace better for beginners?

woman looking at headspace beginner content on phone
Brock DuPont for The Ness Well

Yes, we prefer Calm overall. But we’ll swerve and say that Headspace is the better meditation app for beginners. A meditation session starts right when you open the app, with a friendly animation on the basic premise of meditation, focusing on inhaling and exhaling. This made can make meditation feel accessible to anyone right off the bat. 

Calm’s beginner content is also good, but it mainly consists of a 30-day course on how to meditate. Headspace breaks down its lessons for newbies into three approachable 10-session courses. Long meditation sessions can feel intimidating when you’re just learning the practice, and Headspace meets users where they’re at with beginner sessions as short as 3 minutes, with no decline in quality from longer sessions.

Calm, on the other hand, only offers 9- to 14-minute sessions in its beginner course. Its library can also seem disorganized at first glance, which could be intimidating for newbies. Plus, Headspace offers beginner meditation content in a mix of mediums, including audio tracks, animations, and videos. That will definitely appeal to people with different learning styles. 

Best meditation app for beginners: Headspace

Does Calm or Headspace have more classes and features?

woman using calm app on phone
Brock DuPont for The Ness Well

Neither app reveals exactly how many classes they offer. But given that both apps offer new sessions and content every day, their libraries certainly feel limitless. No matter which of the two apps you choose, you’ll get a mix of individual sessions on specific meditation techniques. These include body scans icon-trusted-source Greater Good Science Center “Body Scan Meditation” View Source , which involve bringing attention to different parts of your body and releasing tension, and noting icon-trusted-source Insight Meditation Center “Mental Noting” View Source , a mindfulness technique for staying present by noticing thoughts and emotions that arise, labeling it, and moving on) and multi-session courses on specific goals (like boosting happiness or coping with chronic pain).

You’d need to spend nearly all your waking hours meditating for at least a few weeks to come close to taking in everything these meditation apps have to offer. The quality of content on both is stellar, too—we couldn’t find that one bested the other in the kinds of classes offered. Ultimately, your preference may come down to the instructor. (You can read more about the individual instructors here.)

If that isn’t enough, both Calm and Headspace make their content libraries even more robust with extra features to incorporate wellness throughout your day. You can start each day with a yoga or stretching class, center yourself with a visualized breathwork exercise before a tense meeting, pop on playlists of custom music created to help you focus or relax, and drift off to sleep with a bedtime story. 

Between the core meditation libraries and the bonus features in both of these apps, you simply will not run out of content with Calm or Headspace. 

Best meditation app classes and features: It’s a tie!

Does Calm or Headspace have better design?

woman looking at calm meditation app on phone
Brock DuPont for The Ness Well

Calm’s thoughtful design won us over during testing, ultimately earning it the title of the best meditation app in our final review. The app allows users to customize the home screen with around 40 different atmospheric moving images, like rain dripping on leaves, a fireplace, or a tropical beach. Each scene also includes its own soothing background sound that brought it to life. You can hear the rain fall, the fireplace crackle, the waves crash on the shore. 

What’s more, the sound continues to play in the background of any guided meditation. This helps to cut out distracting noises (although you can turn this feature off if it’s not your thing!). Between these cool design elements, along with a soothing color palette and consistently beautiful and uplifting images, Calm has found a way to capture the ambience of a boutique meditation studio in app form. 

Headspace has clearly put a lot of thought into its design as well, with bright colors and vivid cartoons that bounce around the screen. But compared to Calm, Headspace’s layout feels a little infantile and just didn’t set the relaxing mood we were looking for. 

Best meditation app design: Calm

Is Calm or Headspace more accessible?

Calm and Headspace have clear accessibility statements on their sites. Both conform to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines icon-trusted-source Web Accessibility Initiative “WCAG 2 Overview” View Source (WCAG) and claim to evaluate products regularly to ensure they are evolving in tandem with accessibility guidelines. Calm also offers assistive technology for those who have trouble typing or moving a cursor and Headspace is partnered with Perkins Access for ongoing feedback from experts and users with disabilities. 

Best meditation app accessibility: It’s a tie!

Does Calm or Headspace have better instructors?

You’re in good hands (or disembodied voice) with both Calm and Headspace’s instructors.

Meditation teacher Tamara Levitt is Calm’s Head of Mindfulness. She doesn’t list any specific certifications on her website, but her bio on Calm’s site says she’s studied “meditative practices and traditions” including mindfulness meditation, Vipassana meditation, Shambhala meditation, and Zen meditation for more than 30 years. Other instructors include psychologist Tara Brach, former monk Jay Shetty, and meditation teacher Shinzen Young. You’ll likely hear some A-list celebrity voices, too. (More on that in a bit.)

For a time, almost every Headspace session was led by one of the app’s co-founders, Andy Puddicombe. He’s a meditation and mindfulness expert (and likely one of the few people in the world who can say they’re also a trained circus performer and a former Tibetan Buddhist monk). Now, there are more instructor options. You can take classes with Dora Kamau, a former psychiatric nurse and 200-hour trained meditation teacher, Kessonga Giscombe, an acupuncturist and trained meditation instructor, and Eve Lewis Prieto, a trained mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) teacher. 

Ultimately, the best instructor option for you may come down to whose voice(s) you prefer. If you’d like to test it out before signing, both Calm and Headspace offer some free sample sessions. And, of course, there’s always the free trial period. 

Best meditation app instructors: It’s a tie!

Does Calm or Headspace offer better celebrity content?

harry styles calm app dream with me
Calm

To be clear: Everything else on this list is more important to a meditation app than whether it boasts proximity to rich, famous, and beautiful people. But because celebrities are a not-insignificant part of the marketing for both apps, you’d be forgiven for making it a consideration.

John Legend is Headspace’s “Chief Music Officer,” which comes through in the Music on my Mind series. You can also find “sleepcasts” (or Headspace’s take on bedtime stories) with Eric Bana and Deborah Mailman.

But if Headspace takes an in-depth approach with its celebrity partnerships, Calm’s is more varied. On it, you can listen to bedtime stories from Harry Styles, LeBron James, Matthew McConnaughey, Idris Elba, Lucy Liu, and more. It also offers original music by artists like RZA, MisterWives, Keith Urban, and Moby.

Obviously, this is all subjective. But for sheer volume and variety—and for Harry Styles saying “A sleep story … just for you.”—we have to give this very unsubstantial ranking point to Calm.

Best meditation app celebrity content: Calm

Should you try Calm or Headspace?

woman meditating in bed
Brock DuPont for The Ness Well

To us, Calm is the best meditation app out there. But making the call wasn’t easy. Calm and Headspace earned similarly high scores in our tests for having large and well-organized libraries and meditation courses created for beginners. And they both had a range of complementary features—like cozy bedtime stories, breathwork lessons, and feel-good stretching classes—to enhance your wellness routine. But design-wise, Calm ran laps around Headspace. Its soothing color palette and nature-inspired backgrounds and soundscapes felt like the closest thing you could get to a boutique meditation studio in a digital space. It offers a world of zen at your fingertips. 

Still, it’s worth noting that Headspace squeaked by Calm in customer review scores in the App Store, earning 4.9 stars to Calm’s 4.8. Meditation is such a deeply personal practice, and the app you end up favoring may largely come down to which one resonates with you more. If Calm doesn’t do it for you, check out Headspace. It might be the meditation app that actually works for you. 

Still not sure? That’s what free trials are for.

Sourcing:

Our research and review process is intended for informational purposes only—never as a substitute for medical treatment, diagnosis, or advice. Recommendations or information found on this site do not infer a doctor-patient relationship. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have questions about how a product, service, or intervention may impact your individual physical or mental health. Our evaluations of products, services, and interventions have not been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. Information and research about health changes frequently. Therefore, some details or advice on this site may not be up-to-date with current recommendations. The Ness Well is an independent publication and is not in any way affiliated with the production or creation of products, providers, services, or interventions featured in reviews or articles on the site.

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