Spotify is arguably the most popular streaming service in the world. It has a massive library of music as well as a sizable library of podcasts. In this Free Spotify vs Spotify Premium breakdown, we’re going to see if the paid version is worth the monthly fee, or if you’re better off bearing through the ads to save money. You may even discover some features of Spotify along the way.

Related: Best music streaming services

The listening experience with Free Spotify is unpleasant

A picture of the Google Pixel 3 held by a hand with the Spotify app open.

Spotify Free and Premium Spotify may look similar at first, but extended functionality varies greatly.

There are some key functional differences between Free Spotify and Spotify Premium, particularly with the mobile interface. With the free mobile version, you can only skip six tracks per hour, whereas with Premium, you can skip as many as you’d like. Skip limits can put a damper on things when you repeatedly aren’t in the mood for certain randomized songs, but sure it’s a forgivable inconvenience.

Spotify Premium let’s you skip tracks endlessly, the free version does not

Another drawback to Free Spotify on mobile: you can’t select specific songs for playback. Rather, you can select an album or a playlist and shuffle the songs in it. This can get annoying when you have an earworm and just need to listen to that particular song. With Premium, you can listen to that song over and over to your little heart’s content.

There is a caveat with Free Spotify, however; you can select songs for playback with unlimited skips, so long as you are listening to them from one of Spotify’s 15 curated playlists under “Made for You” on the Home page. These include popular editorial playlists, such as RapCaviar and Alternative R&B, and playlists algorithmically tailored to your listening preferences such as Discover Weekly, Daily Mix, and Release Radar. The songs on these playlists change frequently. If there’s a blue shuffle icon next to the playlist title, you may only shuffle songs.

Get ready for annoying ads with Free Spotify

The absolute worst thing about Free Spotify is how frequently ads interrupt playback. The advertisements are incredibly annoying, are surely designed to be that way. Many of them feature the most irritating noises you could imagine, such as traffic horns overlaid with a voice saying things like, “Is this annoying? If you buy Premium, you won’t have to listen to this anymore.” I’ll give them credit, because this tactic of being obnoxious works pretty well: paying for Spotify Premium is almost worth it for the sole purpose of removing these ads.

Listen offline with Spotify Premium

Data usage on smartphone next to cash.

Depending on how much you pay for data, it might be a good idea to save your favorite tunes for offline listening.

With Spotify Premium, you can download an unlimited number of tracks for offline listening. This is great for long flights or if you want to turn off your data while away from home. With Free Spotify, you aren’t able to download any music, so you may be spending money in the form of data usage rather than a Premium subscription.

On the desktop Spotify app, there are fewer discrepancies between Free Spotify and Spotify Premium. For example, on the desktop app you can select any specific song you want with unlimited skips regardless of if you have Spotify Premium or not. However, you are still subjected to ads on Free Spotify with the desktop app, and you cannot download music for offline listening on your computer unless you have Spotify Premium.

A glitch to Spotify Free affords Premium features

Recently, there was a glitch with Free Spotify that allowed for unlimited skips, specific song selection, and ad-free listening on both the mobile and desktop versions of the streaming service. This glitch made it almost identical to Spotify Premium, minus the ability to download music for offline listening. I reached out to a Spotify customer service rep, who told me, “To my knowledge we have ads and limited skips on the Free version.” This glitch surely will not last forever, though, so I’m going to have to crown the winner of best listening experience to Spotify Premium.

Winner: Spotify Premium

Free Spotify vs Spotify Premium: Discovery features are identical

A picture of the Spotify app personalized section open on a Google Pixel 3, which is laying flat on a table and book.

Spotify Discover and Release Radar update every Monday to introduce new songs to its users.

One of the best things about Spotify is the way it promotes discovery of new music. This is apparent in its algorithmically produced playlists, designed to suggest styles of music that align with your listening history. The Discover Weekly and Daily Mix playlists are updated frequently with new suggestions. Perhaps you really dislike a recommended song or artist, you can press a button telling it to avoid a certain type of music or to blacklist that artist from your profile. The Release Radar playlist churns out new releases from artists you follow and updates weekly.

One of Spotify’s best features is available to Free and Premium users.

Spotify has a large variety of genres, moods, and other categories under the Browse tab, and here you can listen to its editorial playlists to discover new music. It will also recommend editorial playlists based on your listening activity, and it will algorithmically create Radio playlists for every song, artist, album, and playlist.

When you create a new playlist, the Spotify algorithm suggests songs for you based on the title of your playlist as well as the songs you’ve already put into it. Regardless of if you’ve paid for Spotify Premium, these discovery features are available and very helpful.

Winner: Draw

Free or paid, enjoy the same social features

A picture of the desktop Spotify app on Windows running on a laptop.

Spotify for desktop looks the same no matter what version you subscribe to.

Music has always been a social art form, but things have changed quite a bit since the days my dad would buy the latest Neil Young record on vinyl and sit around the turntable with his friends. Of course, people still get together to listen to music nowadays—though, perhaps not so much in 2020. There’s something exciting about sharing the social benefits of music with others, even when you’re trapped at home. Spotify uses several different tools on its platform to encourage music sharing, and you don’t need to buy Premium to access any of them.

Enjoy collaborative playlists on Spotify

To create collaborative playlists, press the three-dot symbol at the top-right of your screen (mobile), or next to the playlist title (desktop), and select “Collaborative Playlist.” Then, by share the playlist link with your friends. This will let them add and remove songs to and from it. Anybody with the link may do so, and it’s private unless someone holds the link. Collaborative playlists are great for when you and your roommates are throwing a party, or you’re planning a road trip with friends. Heck, they’re even good for when you just want to share some songs with someone regularly.

In a similar vein, if you have a Premium Family subscription or a Premium Duo subscription, Spotify will algorithmically create either a Family Mix or Duo Mix of songs based on the listening history of all the subscribed members. This isn’t technically a social feature because these playlists are created by Spotify and not the users themselves, so I’m not going to count its absence against Free Spotify.

Peek at what your friends are rocking out to

If you use Facebook, you can link your Spotify account to your Facebook account, making it easy for your Facebook friends to find your profile on Spotify by name or through the Find Friends button on the desktop app. You can search for your friends’ Spotify usernames; browse and add their playlists to your library; view their recent listening history; and, on the desktop Spotify app, view their active listening history.

This is a great way to discover new music and gain an idea of what types of music your friends are listening to. If it creeps you out that people can look through your playlists or see what you’re actively listening to, you can make your playlists private and disable the active listening feed. All of these features are available whether or not you pay for Premium.

Winner: Draw

Some music may be unavailable if you don’t pay for Premium

Free Spotify pays artists less per steam than Spotify Premium does. In response to this discrepancy, Spotify allows artists to set up a paywall for the first two weeks after a release. If an artist chooses this option, their release will only be available to Premium users until the two weeks have gone by. If it’s important to you to have access to all the latest releases, this may be a feature that sways you to pay for Spotify Premium. Additionally, if you value the amount of money your favorite artists are getting paid, Premium is superior in that department. The following chart depicts the average amount Spotify pays artists per stream.

Digital Service Provider$ Per Stream
Qobuz$0.04390
Peloton$0.04036
iHeartRadio$0.01426
Amazon Unlimited$0.01175
Napster/Rhapsody$0.01110
24/7 Entertainment GmbH$0.01050
YouTube Red$0.00948
Tidal$0.00927
Deezer$0.00567
Google Play$0.00543
Apple$0.00495
KKBox$0.00435
Amazon Digital Services Inc. $0.00395
Spotify$0.00331
Loen$0.00205
Pandora$0.00155
Vevo$0.00109
Yandex LLC$0.00051
YouTube Content ID$0.00028
UMA$0.00013

Winner: Premium

Free Spotify vs Spotify Premium: Sound quality is higher with Premium

While there is no high-resolution option for Spotify users, and Spotify only supports AAC and Ogg Vorbis, lossy file formats, there are still key differences in sound quality between Free Spotify and Spotify Premium. With Free Spotify, the maximum bitrate you can stream at is 128kbps on the desktop app and 160kbps on the mobile app, whereas Spotify Premium affords you 320kbps streaming on both desktop and mobile. In essence, this means that Spotify Premium’s music contains more data points and therefore more detail to its sound.

Streaming ServiceMax streaming qualitySupported Formats
Qobuz24bit / 192kHzAIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WAV, WMA Lossless
Amazon Music HD24bit /192kHzFLAC
Tidal HiFi24bit / 96kHzAAC, ALAC, FLAC
Deezer HiFi16bit / 44.1kHzFLAC
Google Play Music320kbpsAAC, ALAC, FLAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WMA
Deezer Premium320kbpsMP3
Spotify Premium320kbpsAAC, Ogg Vorbis
Apple Music256kbpsAAC
YouTube Music Premium256kbpsAAC
SoundCloud Go+256kbpsAAC
Slacker Radio320kbpsMP3
Pandora192kbpsAAC
Spotify Free160kbpsAAC
Deezer Free128kbpsMP3

Winner: Spotify Premium

There are different priced memberships for Premium, but Free is free

Spotify offers four different types of Premium subscriptions, and some of them are really great deals. First, there is the Spotify Premium Individual subscription, which is $9.99/month. This allows access to all the Premium features such as no ad interruptions, on-demand playback, and downloading tracks for offline listening. If you’re a full-time student at a university or college, you should be eligible for the Premium Student subscription, which is $4.99/month. Not only does this afford you all the same abilities of Spotify Premium, but, if you are a student in the United States, it also includes a subscription to SHOWTIME and the ad-supported version of Hulu.

If you want to share a Premium account with your live-in partner, you can get Premium Duo. It costs $12.99/month and both you and your partner will have your own separate accounts. Along with all the regular Premium features, you have the option to join Duo Mix. You and your partner can both go to the Duo Mix on your Made for You page on the mobile app, click the three dots, and select “Join Duo Mix.” Spotify will algorithmically design a playlist to be appealing to both you and your partner. You can change the mix to be chill or upbeat, depending on the mood, and you can choose to remove any explicit songs from the mix. Each song has the profile picture of either you or your partner next to it, so you can see whose listening activity the song was generated from.

Spotify offers a family plan, a plan for couples, and a student rate.

Spotify Premium Family is very similar to Premium Duo, as all members must live at the same address. Premium Family, though, can support up to six separate accounts, and costs $14.99/month. Parents can choose to block explicit music for specific members, and children can use their Premium Family account on the Spotify Kids app. In addition to these features and all the regular Premium features, your family can listen to a generated Family Mix which works just like the Duo Mix.

All of these subscription options are very cool, but ultimately, when it comes down to it, free is free. If the absence of needing to fork over a portion of your paycheck every month is enough motivation to deal with the ads, lack of features, and inconvenience of Free Spotify, then Free Spotify is going to be the option for you.

Winner: Spotify Free

What are some lesser known Spotify features?

A Google Pixel 3 on a comforter next to the Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds and charging case.

Spotify constantly and consistently comes out with new features. For example, in 2017, it created a Time Capsule playlist for all of its 16-years-old-and-up users, Premium or not. These playlists were personalized based on their extensive listening history. It was created to be the kind of playlist users would have listened to in their teenage years. Pretty cool, huh? Another recent creation of Spotify’s was the Pet Playlist, which users could personalize by inputting the species of their pet as well as ranking their pet’s behaviors across a few different spectra. This data was then mixed with the genres and styles of music the user enjoys to create a playlist for users and their furry best friends.

Express yourself on Tinder and Instagram

Spotify has partnerships with many other apps, including Instagram and Tinder. You can share the name, artist, and album artwork of a song to your Instagram story with the click of a button on Spotify. If you link your Spotify account to Tinder, you can publish your frequently played songs on your Tinder profile, you know, to make sure you attract people with as impeccable music taste as yourself. And, of course, you can connect your account with Facebook to find friends more easily.

Spotify plays nicely with Android Auto and has its own Carplay mode

A picture of the Spotify app for driving displayed on a Google Pixel 3

Carplay simplifies the interface, so distractions are lessened.

When you connect your smartphone to your car by Bluetooth, Spotify will automatically go into Carplay mode or Android Auto mode, depending on your OS and if your car is compatible with these features. These features reduce the amount of information displayed on the screen, making it safer to navigate the app while in the car. (We don’t recommend using the app while actively driving, though. Have your passenger do it.) They also make for easy integration with the navigation apps Google Maps and Waze. Similarly, many music-listening devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, offer Spotify integration for easy access.

That’s a wrap: End-of-year statistics

My personal favorite Spotify feature is Spotify Wrapped. In December of every year, Spotify creates an animation of statistics for each user, including but not limited to the song they listened to most over the past year, how many total minutes they spent listening to music over the past year, the podcast the user listened to most often, and the countries all the artists they listened to are based out of. In addition to this, Wrapped shows users the statistics generalized by region and in the world as a whole.

In December of 2019, Spotify even had Wrapped stats for the whole decade. Wrapped is available for both Free and Premium users, but Premium users get additional personalized data including the number of artists they discovered that year as well as their top new artist from that year. Because of this one small detail, Spotify Premium wins this section, but, all Spotify users get a lot of really cool features.

Winner: Spotify Premium

Free Spotify vs Spotify Premium: Which one is better?

And the winner is Spotify Premium! It’s pretty clear that Premium has more features than Free Spotify, but whether or not you’re willing to pay for a subscription depends on you, of course. If you can get a student, family, or duo membership, Spotify Premium isn’t too pricey, but if you’re still on the fence, Spotify has free month-long trials of Premium. Until next time, happy listening.

Next: Apple Music review

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