Everything you need to know about Spotify

Dec 13, 2019
ProsConsVerdict
✔ Extensive music library

✔ Best-in-class discovery features

✔ Most active users of any service

✔ Great deals for students
✘ No Hi-Fi audio option

✘ Some annoying navigation quirks

✘ Can’t search by lyrics

✘ Low royalty rates for artists
There are some frustrating quirks to Spotify’s interface, but its recommendations, customized playlists and social features are a head above the rest.

Spotify review summary

  • $10/mo. for single user
  • $15/mo. for family plan (up to six users)
  • Over 50 million songs
  • Three-month free trial for Spotify Premium
  • Free, ad-supported version

It’s not hard to see why Spotify is the default streaming service for most people. It’s intuitive to use, has almost every artist and song you can think of and its recommendations are almost eerily on the mark. 

The only people for whom Spotify might not be the best choice? Hardcore audiophiles. With no high fidelity audio option, Spotify won’t sound as good as TIDAL when it’s played on the very best equipment. 

Spotify vs. Apple Music and other streaming services

If you look at the stats only, Spotify Premium is nearly identical to every other music streaming service. It costs $9.99/mo., has a three-month free trial and lets you download tracks for offline listening. 

It also has around 50 million songs in its collection. That’s about 10 million fewer than Apple Music and TIDAL, but we had a hard time finding much that Spotify didn’t have (more on that below). Here’s how the major music streaming services compare:

SpotifyApple MusicTIDALPandoraAmazon Music
Monthly price$9.99$9.99$9.99 ($19.99 for HD)$4.99 for Plus, $9.99 for Premium$7.99 ($12.99 for HD)
Free trialThree monthsThree months30 days30 days for Plus, 60 days for Premium30 days
Number of tracks50 million60 million60 millionUnknown50 million
High-resolution audio
Offline downloads
Free version

How much is Spotify Premium?

Spotify Premium costs $9.99/mo. — right in line with “standard definition” audio plans from other music streaming services. But unlike Apple Music and Amazon Music, there’s no annual pricing discount. Aside from a few discounts, most individual users will have to pay full price.

SpotifyApple MusicTIDALPandoraAmazon Music
Monthly price$9.99/mo.$9.99/mo.$9.99/mo. ($19.99/mo. for HD)$4.99/mo. for Plus, $9.99/mo. for Premium$7.99/mo. ($12.99/mo. for HD)
Annual priceN/A$99 ($8.25/mo.)N/A$54.89 for Plus ($4.57/mo.) or $109.89 for Premium ($9.16/mo.)$79 ($6.58/mo.) or $129 for HD ($10.75/mo.)
Family price (six users)$14.99/mo.$14.99/mo.$14.99/mo., $29.99/mo. for HD$14.99/mo.$14.99/mo. ($149/year); $19.99/mo. for HD ($199/year)
Student discount$4.99/mo.$4.99/mo.$4.99/mo. ($9.99/mo. for HD)$4.99/mo.$4.99/mo.

Spotify Free vs. Premium

Spotify Premium comes with a number of features you won’t get with the free version, but the most important one is the ability to play any song you want, any time you want.

Spotify Premium

  • Play any song you want
  • No ads
  • 320 Kbps audio quality limit
  • Download up to 10K songs

Spotify Free

  • Shuffle only
  • A few minutes of ads every hour
  • 160 Kbps audio quality limit
  • No downloads

When you use the free version of Spotify, you have to use it like a radio station — you can skip songs they choose, but you’re mostly just along for the ride. You can play tracks on-demand on 15 personalized playlists, but they’re playlists Spotify makes for you.

You’ll also have to put up with some ads on Spotify Free. They’re typically around 30 seconds in your first half hour of listening in a day, then 30 seconds every 15 minutes after that. 

Spotify Premium Student comes with Hulu and SHOWTIME®

If you’re a student, you can get Spotify Premium for just $4.99/mo., which is the same price Apple Music, TIDAL and Pandora offer to students, too. However, Spotify’s student plan also includes Hulu (with ads) and SHOWTIME.  

That’s an incredible deal. Hulu’s ad-supported plan costs $5.99/mo. on its own, while SHOWTIME’s streaming service is $10.99/mo. All three of those services add up to $26.97/mo. for non-students, and Spotify offers them for only $4.99/mo. (If you already have Hulu or SHOWTIME, you can transfer your account to Spotify to take advantage of the deal.)

To qualify, you need to be over 18 and enrolled in a US Title IV accredited college or university. Spotify uses the third-party service SheerID to verify your enrollment. 

Spotify Premium Family

For $14.99/mo., Spotify allows you to share a plan with up to five other members of your household, for six accounts total. According to Spotify’s terms of service, all members of the plan must live together. Spotify will ask each new member to enter their home address when they register their account on the family plan. 

You’ll all still have your own accounts, so one’s listening habits won’t impact another’s personalized playlists. (If you do want some family interaction on Spotify, you can sign up for Family Mix.)

Extensive music library

Most music streaming libraries are about the same. Spotify says that it has 50 million tracks in total, which is 10 million fewer than Apple Music and TIDAL. That said, it was virtually impossible for us to find anything Spotify is missing. There have been big name holdouts in the past — Prince, Taylor Swift and Jay Z were all off Spotify in recent years — but those gaps have largely disappeared. 

To judge each streaming service’s library, we compared three different lists: Albums that have sold more than 20 million copies (74 in total), Billboard’s top 100 songs for the week of Week of December 14, 2019 and Pitchfork’s Top 200 albums of the 2010s. We felt that gave us a good mix of old and new, popular and niche. Here’s how each service compares:

SpotifyApple MusicTIDALPandora
Top-selling albums (74 total)74747173
Billboard top 100 songs100100100100
Pitchfork top 200 albums of 2010s193195193190

No matter which streaming service you subscribe to, gaps are few and far between. The biggest names we could find that are still missing from Spotify are Garth Brooks (only on Amazon Music), Joanna Newsom (only missing from Spotify) and a handful of Dr. Dre albums (only on Apple Music). 

Can only save 10,000 songs to your library

When you hear a track you like on Spotify, you can use the heart button to save it to your “Liked Songs” section. The number of songs you can add to this tops out at 10,000. 

That might sound like plenty — Spotify says less than 1% of users hit this limit — but for some, that hard cap is a dealbreaker. If you don’t want a limit on your music collection, Apple Music lets you store 100,000 songs, while Amazon Music is unlimited. 

Playlists do not count towards this limit. You can add up to 10,000 songs to each playlist you make, and you can make as many playlists as you want. 

Solid audiobook collection

Spotify has around 4,568 audiobooks in its collection. Most of them seemed pretty obscure, but you can find some hits, too. In its Top 10 Best Sellers playlist, for example, Spotify currently has The Hunger Games series, Little Women and Mortal Engines available to stream. They’re not the easiest to find, and Spotify probably won’t replace your Audible subscription anytime soon, but it’s still a nice perk you won’t find on any other music streaming service.

Great for podcasts

If you’d like to keep all your listening in one app, Spotify is the only music streaming service to incorporate podcasts in a major way. 

You’ll find a number of podcasts that are exclusive to Spotify, like The Joe Budden Podcast, Jemele Hill Is Unbothered, Amy Schumer Presents and, sometime in the future, a show from the Obamas

Spotify also recently bought the podcasting company Gimlet Media for $230 million, so its exclusive list will likely keep growing in the future. And like its music library, it also has just about every non-exclusive podcast we could think of, too.  

Best social features

There are some frustrating quirks — you can’t see who’s following your playlists, for example — but overall, Spotify is the most social of any music streaming service. Part of that is just because it has more active users than any other service, so you’ll have an easier time finding friends on Spotify. But it also takes advantage of those users in ways that no other service has.

SpotifyApple MusicTIDALPandoraAmazon Music
Active users248 million (113 million paid)60 millionThree million*63 million32 million

From the desktop app, you can see what the people you follow are listening to, and it is incredibly simple to share and follow playlists from other users. If music is something you want to share with your friends, Spotify is by far the best way to do it. 

Best-in-class music discovery features

The ability to recommend music you’ll like is one of the most important functions of a music streaming service. We rely on them to introduce us to new artists, remind us of ones we already love and keep the music going after we’ve stopped DJing. 

To gauge how well every streaming service recommended music, we listened to each one’s radio stations for about five hours each, alternating genres after about an hour. We then scored whether we liked the songs it chose for us, and how often it introduced us to something new. On both counts, Spotify surpassed the competition. 

Excellent radio stations

Every music streaming service has the ability to make Pandora-style “radio stations” based off songs or albums you choose. Only Spotify consistently introduced us to new music we loved in every genre we tested. Unlike Apple Music, we also appreciated that Spotify automatically started these radio stations as soon as an album or playlist ended. 

Discover Weekly, Daily Mixes and Your Daily Drive

Spotify’s personalized playlists felt a lot more advanced than the other streaming services we tested. While Apple Music and TIDAL both recommend mixes you might like, neither of them go the extra step of creating playlists specifically for you, with music you’ll actually want to listen to.

Spotify’s Discover Weekly gets most of the hype, but we also loved its plentiful Daily Mixes, with six new playlists of different genres every day. It also made it easy to keep track of new music from the artists you listen to. The Release Radar playlist is tailored just for you, and it’s updated once a week with the latest tracks. 

Spotify is so far ahead of the competition when it comes to recommendations that it’s hard to even draw any comparisons. Apple Music shows you a few playlists curated by its editors that you might like; Spotify knows exactly what songs and podcasts you’ll want to hear on your morning commute before you do, and it will update them daily.

Yearly Wrapped and Summer Rewind

Spotify knows it’s not just about discovering new music — it’s also pretty fun to look back. We loved its more reflective features like Yearly Wrapped (and now Decade Wrapped) and Summer Rewind. It was fascinating to see the data on how we’d been listening over the year and rediscover artists or songs we’d put on the back burner. 

Decent user experience

Spotify has a couple of annoying quirks, but for the most part, we found it fairly intuitive to use. The app is broken up into three sections: Home, Search and Your Library.

Home contains all of Spotify’s customized playlists, along with the music you’ve listened to recently. You’ll also find suggestions to push you out of your comfort zone, like “Podcasts to try” and “Popular playlists.” Search is where you can look for new artists, albums, songs and playlists, as well as all of your recent searches. Your Library is where you’ll find your playlists and podcasts, along with any artists and albums you’ve saved. All in all, we thought Spotify was generally pretty easy to pick up.

That said, there were a few navigation headaches that we never got used to. For instance, taking a song off a playlist requires three steps (Settings > Edit > Remove), while Apple Music only requires one (swiping left). Apple Music also has the edge with its search feature, where you can search by lyrics in addition to artist, song and album. 

But for the most part, we found Spotify to be generally easy to use and learn, if not particularly impressive.

Doesn’t guide you through new artists

While Spotify is great at recommending new music, it doesn’t do much hand-holding when you want to explore an artist you don’t know as well. You’ll see their top five songs, top four albums and a handful of Spotify playlists they’re featured on.

Apple Music, on the other hand, provides a detailed biography of every artist, chooses their essential albums and stars the top songs on each one. Some users will find this unnecessary, but we appreciated that extra level of guidance. 

Solid voice control

We found Spotify’s voice control feature to work pretty well, if not quite as well as Apple Music’s. You can use simple commands like “pause” and “skip song,” but you can also go more advanced. Asking Spotify to “play something chill” took us to its “Chill Tracks” playlist, while “play Bohemian Rhapsody” immediately took us to the Queen classic. 

Good desktop app, but web player struggles

Spotify’s desktop app is perfectly serviceable, if not especially impressive. We liked how you can always see what the people you follow are listening to in the sidebar, but overall, the extra real estate isn’t always put to the best use. Our “favorite albums and artists” section, for example, wouldn’t let us scroll any further right, even though we could see that there was more on the list.

And if you can’t download the app onto your computer, you’ll have to use its web player, which is a significantly worse experience. You won’t be able to see what your friends are listening to, and it also doesn’t incorporate podcasts — an essential component for many users. 

Seamlessly switch between devices

One of the things we loved about Spotify is that it lets you switch between platforms without a hitch. By clicking the “devices available” button, you can toggle between a laptop, cellphone, Bluetooth speaker, smart TV or any other synced device without pausing the music. You can also “continue listening” on one device while controlling your music with another. If you have your phone connected to a Bluetooth speaker, for example, you can change the song within the desktop app. 

No high resolution audio option, but still sounds great

Unlike TIDAL and Amazon Music, Spotify doesn’t come with any high fidelity streaming quality. If you want the best audio quality streaming can offer, you’ll have to upgrade to one of those plans (TIDAL HD costs $19.99/mo., while Amazon is $12.99/mo.). 

It all comes down to compression. TIDAL utilizes a format called FLAC (lossless), while Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis (lossy). In other words, you will lose some quality with Spotify compared to the original master, but virtually none with TIDAL. 

“The compression is less severe with FLAC,” Sam Wale, vice president of creative production at ALIBI Music Library, a leading provider of music and sound effects, told us. “It’s a file format that still compresses the sound to be smaller in size, but it preserves a lot more of the original recording.”

But while Ogg Vorbis is not the very best audio format out there, we had no issues with its Spotify’s sound quality. When we used state-of-the-art noise cancelling headphones, we could tell that TIDAL was an upgrade over Spotify. But in most situations, like in the car or using a small Bluetooth speaker, they sounded about the same. 

As Elias Arias, Consumer Reports’ project leader for audio testing, put it, “Casual listeners will probably be happy with the sound quality of either service. If you’re a highly critical listener with top-notch equipment, you may want to try both to see which you prefer, or try a service that will stream uncompressed files, like TIDAL.” 

Four audio settings 

Spotify lets you choose from four different streaming quality settings, each of which has different data requirements. Spotify’s default setting is “automatic”; this will set you to the strongest streaming quality your current internet connection can support.

Streaming qualityData transfer rate
Low24 kbit/s
Normal96 kbit/s
High160 kbit/s
Very high320 kbit/s

Spotify’s “very high” setting transfers data at 320 kbit/s, or .320 Mbps. The average mobile internet speed in the U.S. is around 33.88 Mbps, so most people will experience Spotify’s “very high” audio quality no matter where they are. 

Spotify FAQs

Does Spotify use data when streaming?

If you’re not connected to Wi-Fi, Spotify will use data when streaming. That said, it’s a pretty tiny amount compared to activities like streaming Netflix. Here’s how Spotify compares:

Download speed requiredData usageHours to 1 GB
Browsing Facebook1 Mbps0.09 GB per hour667 hours
Streaming Spotify0.160 Mbps (High quality)0.072 GB per hour13.9 hours
Streaming Netflix in HD5 Mbps3 GB per hour0.33 hours

If you’re concerned about Spotify eating up too much of your data allowance, you can help control it by going to Home > Settings and switching Data Saver on. 

For more information on managing your household’s data usage, check out our full guide here

Can you download songs on Spotify?

Yes. Spotify lets you download songs onto both your phone and desktop. This can be useful if you’re somewhere without internet connection, like a plane, or you just don’t want to eat up any of your bandwidth. Spotify caps downloads at 10,000 songs, but most users will probably run out of storage space on their device well before that. 

How do I cancel Spotify Premium?

To cancel Spotify Premium, log in to your Account page in a web browser, find Your Plan section and click Change Plan, then choose Cancel Premium. You’ll be able to keep using Spotify Premium until your next bill is due. After that, it will convert to a free plan. 

What voice assistants does Spotify work with?

Spotify works with just about every voice assistant on the market, including Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and Bixby. You can also use it on both Google Home and Amazon Echo smart systems, Xbox and PlayStation gaming consoles, Bose and Sonos speakers, and many more smart devices. It’s also available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

How much does Spotify pay per stream?

According to an annual study conducted by Digital Music News, Spotify pays out less than a cent per stream. That’s more than Pandora Premium, but well below Apple Music and TIDAL. If it’s important to you that your monthly subscription goes back the artists who actually make the music, you might want to reconsider Spotify.

Streaming servicePer-play royaltyTotal plays to earn $1,472 (U.S. Minimum Monthly Wage)
Napster$0.0190077,474
TIDAL$0.01250117,760
Apple Music$0.00735200,272
Spotify$0.00437336,842
Pandora Premium$0.001331,106,767

Is Spotify Premium worth it?

For most people, Spotify Premium is absolutely worth it. It’s intuitive and easy to navigate, has the best social features and is better at recommending music than any other streaming service. Audiophiles might prefer a high fidelity option like TIDAL, but for most people, Spotify strikes the perfect balance of value and performance.