It was 15 years ago since Spotify first launched in 2006. Much has changed and today the platform is one of the world’s largest music streaming service providers, with a considerable lead over other options like Apple Music and Tidal. Spotify has over 356 million monthly active users, including 158 million paying subscribers, as of March 2021.

But what exactly is Spotify, what does it offer, and is it worth your hard-earned money? This guide serves as the place to find answers to all of your Spotify questions. Let’s get into it!

What is Spotify?

Spotify is a digital music, podcast, and video service that gives you access to millions of songs and other content from creators all over the world. Basic functions such as playing music are totally free, but you can also choose to upgrade to Spotify Premium.

You will find millions of songs from a variety of genres and artists: from obscure indie rock, to top 40 pop, to movie soundtracks and classical music. It also has a complex algorithm to recommend music based on your listening history, as well as curated playlists and internet radio stations.

Podcasts are just as plentiful, so whether you love listening to true crime stories or to tech discussions, there is something for everyone. In fact, the company is investing heavily into podcast content, purchasing podcasting networks Gimlet Media and Parcast. It even dropped $100 million+ on an exclusive multi-year deal with the Joe Rogan Experience.

Is Spotify free?

The basic, ad-supported version of Spotify is completely free. It offers unlimited access to the full catalog of music and podcasts but comes with a few drawbacks.

The most intrusive are frequent ad breaks. These can really kill your groove if you’re listening at a party. You’re also limited to just a few song skips, and audio quality is slightly lower at 160kbit/s.

Choosing between Spotify Free and Premium has become a little more complicated given recent upgrades other steaming services have received. With Apple Music launching lossless and spatial audio this year at no extra charge, it’s thrown down the gantlet at Spotify’s attractive value. And if you don’t already have a Spotify Premium subscription, you might be wondering if it’s worth paying the monthly $9.99. Or, if it’s better to keep a Spotify Free account, but spend music streaming money towards a different service.

This Spotify Free vs. Premium comparison will help you choose by running through what you get on both tiers.

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: What do you get?

  Spotify Free Spotify Premium
Monthly Price Free $9.99 ($4.99 for students, $12.99 for Premium Duo, $15.99 for a 6-account family deal)
Annual Price Free $99
Library Over 70 million songs Over 70 million songs
Availability PCs, smartphones, connected devices, Smart TVs, PS3 & PS4, Android Auto, Spotify Car Thing, Apple Carplay PCs, smartphones, connected devices, Smart TVs, PS3 & PS4, Android Auto, Spotify Car Thing, Apple Carplay
Special Features Mobile streaming Ad-free listening; Offline listening; Unlimited Skips; Mobile Streaming

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Music Library

For the most part, both free and paying users have the same access to Spotify’s library of “over 70 million” songs and podcast titles. That’s a lot of content that you don’t necessarily need to pay a penny for.

However, for the last few years, Spotify has also allowed artists to make their new releases exclusive to Premium subscribers for a 2-week period. Because this is optional, it will vary by artist. But if you’re always wanting to hear the very latest tracks as soon as they drop, Spotify Premium is a far safer bet.

The good news is you won’t need to pay that much. A standard Premium subscription costs $9.99 per month, and you can pay annually at $99 per year — this effectively cuts the monthly cost to $8.25. If you can prove you’re a student, you can also get Spotify Premium for just $4.99 per month.

You can also save by signing up for group deals, which work well for families or couples. The newest Spotify Premium Duo offer includes 2 separate accounts for $12.99 per month, while $15.99 gets you a family-sized 6 accounts.

Thinking back to music libraries, it’s great that you can access almost the entire Spotify library for free, but the lack of some brand-new releases will be a big downer for serious music fans.

Also, while we don’t know how much Spotify HiFi will cost, nor exactly how many lossless songs it will make available, it’s possible that Spotify will follow Apple Music and Amazon Music HD in folding lossless playback into the standard Premium tier. In which case, Spotify Premium would get even more content compared to the free version.

My judgment: Spotify Premium is the winner of this.

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Ads

Arguably the biggest difference between Spotify’s Free and Premium tiers is the latter’s complete lack of ads. That goes for both the visual ads you’ll see when scrolling through the app, and the ads that play radio-style between the songs on Spotify Free.

This might all boil down to your personal tolerance for being advertised and it might not be a big deal if you’re the only one listening. However, if you want to run a party’s tunes through Spotify Free, you might find yourself explaining to guests why they’re hearing a car insurance ad between jams.

My judgment: Spotify Premium is the winner of this.

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Playback Controls

One downside of streaming without Premium is that you’ve got less control of your tunes. First of all, you’re limited to shuffle play for whole albums. That means you won’t be able to turn on a specific song you want to hear, instead relying on a random selection order.

If you don’t like the songs it plays on shuffle mode, you may find yourself wishing you had a Premium account. Only premium users get unlimited skips so they can breeze by the songs they don’t like.

By contrast, Free users can only skip 6 tracks per hour. The only exceptions are certain Spotify-curated playlists accessible from the homepage: if there’s no shuffle symbol next to the name of the playlist, you can skip tracks within it without it counting towards the hourly 6-skip limit.

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Supported devices

You can listen to Spotify pretty much everywhere. That includes your PC, smartphone, tablet, smart TV or even games consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X.

It’s even possible to play Spotify content in any car equipped with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or Spotify’s own Car Thing device. In this regard, it doesn’t matter if you pay for Premium, as Free users connect to all of the same devices.

My judgment: Both Spotify Premium and Free version are the winner of this – Draw

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Social Features

One advantage Spotify has over rival services like Apple Music is the ease with which you can share songs and playlists, both directly with friends and across your social media profiles.

To Spotify’s credit, these social features are largely identical regardless of whether or not you pay for Premium. That means Free users are just as capable of creating shareable links, posting songs to Twitter or Instagram, and co-creating collaborative playlists with other users.

The only bonus extra that Spotify Premium has is Family Mix and Duo Mix playlists, which algorithmically recommend songs based on what different individual accounts on a Family or Duo plan are listening to. It’s a small feature, though, and doesn’t help those with individual Premium accounts, so we’ll call this one a tie.

My judgment: Both Spotify Premium and Free version are the winner of this – Draw

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Curated Content

Besides those Family/Duo mixes, curated content — those personalized playlists you see on the front of Spotify every time you log in — works the same for both Free and Premium subscribers.

Even if you pay nothing, you can still get these playlists based on your listening habits. It could be one of several Daily Mix collections, which combine both songs you’ve enjoyed recently and thus-unlistened-to music you may like, or the Discover Weekly mix that focuses on broadening your listening with new tracks and artists.

In any case, these discovery and curation features work identically regardless of subscription type.

My judgment: Both Spotify Premium and Free version are the winner of this – Draw

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Sound Quality

If you’ve got a pair of the best headphones and/or a discerning ear, you might prefer Spotify Premium for its higher-quality audio option. It streams music at 320 kbps bit rate, a significant upgrade on the 160 kbps that Spotify Free streams at on the mobile app. And if you listen via Spotify’s desktop app, that drops to 128 kbps.

There’s some debate as to whether most people can hear the difference between Hi-Res Audio and lower-resolution music, and that will likely pop up again once Spotify HiFi launches. But at this lower-resolution level, there are no such diminishing returns, and on a decent pair of headphones 320 kbps audio can and will sound richer and more detailed than 160 or 128 kbps.

My judgment: Spotify Premium is the winner of this.

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Offline Listening

A major perk of Spotify Premium is the ability to download songs to your device and listen to them anywhere, even when you don’t have a Wi-Fi or data signal.

Sadly, Spotify’s non-paying users can’t save songs to their devices for when they’re offline. That’s a big mark against Spotify Free for those who don’t want to run up their mobile data bill or find themselves in regions without cellular service.

My judgment: Spotify Premium is the winner of this.

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Decision

If you’re the kind of music lover who doesn’t mind turning on your speakers and letting Spotify take control, Free might still be right for you. 70 million-plus songs and podcasts for nothing? That’s not to be sniffed at, and you won’t miss out on Spotify’s curation, discovery, and social smarts either.

However, if you need to hear the latest songs, want full control over playback, save offline and avoid ads, Spotify Premium is more than worth the cash. Even if Spotify HiFi ends up as a separate, even more expensive tier, Premium would still likely be an attractive middle ground.

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Scorecard

  Spotify Free Spotify Premium
Music library
Ads removed
Playback controls
Supported devices
Social features
Curated content
Sound quality
Offline listening
Total 3 8

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I'm Funsho, a lover of anything technology. I have an uncontrollable passion for sharing the latest and trending tech-related ideas and information.

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