Pandora has been around a long time and made a name for itself by mimicking the format of a radio. In recent years Spotify has exploded not only as a popular music listening platform but also as a top-notch service for music discovery, and Pandora has changed a lot. Which one is ultimately better, you ask? Read on to find out. In this Spotify vs Pandora comparison, we will go over everything you need to know about Spotify Premium and Pandora Premium.

Editor’s note: This Spotify vs Pandora article was updated on September 19, 2020, to address an FAQ about independent artists.

Spotify vs Pandora: Streaming quality

Unfortunately, neither Spotify Premium nor Pandora Premium offer any high quality streaming options. Both services use the lossy AAC file format and Spotify also uses the lossy Ogg Vorbis format. However, while the maximum bitrate for Pandora Premium is 192kbps, Spotify Premium’s is higher, offering up to 320kbps. Lack of high resolution audio isn’t necessarily a reason to opt for a different streaming service—for many people, lossy, lower bitrate audio sounds just fine. Additionally, lossless files tend to take up more storage space or use up more Internet data, so plenty of people find lossy files to be worth their drawbacks. If you’re looking for a high resolution streaming service, check out Amazon Music HD or Deezer.

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

In addition to lower quality streaming, Pandora’s connection buffers a lot more than Spotify’s, which can interrupt your music mid-song and make the listening experience unpleasant. Luckily, with both Pandora Premium and Spotify Premium, you have unlimited access to download songs for offline listening.

Winner: Spotify

Spotify vs Pandora: User interface

A picture of Pandora vs Spotify music streaming services search tabs open next to one another.

Spotify’s Search tab (left) compared to Pandora’s Search tab (right).

Your Pandora Collection organizes your recently played Stations and playlists as if they are a set of records in a jukebox, which looks really nice. It is also easy to navigate My Collection by filtering it by playlists, Stations, artists, albums, songs, podcasts, or everything. The For You and Search pages are not as attractive, but are still easy to navigate.

Spotify doesn’t have any cute resemblances to vintage music-listening devices, but its dark-themed interface is very nice and easy to navigate. You’ll get tabs in Your Library for your playlists, artists, albums, and of course podcasts. Plus, the Home and Search pages are intuitive as well. The only drawback is that some of Spotify’s features such as creating playlist folders and viewing friends’ live listening activity are only available on the desktop app and not the mobile app. Additionally, one very small but annoying thing I noticed when I switched from an iPhone to an Android phone is that adding a song to your queue on iOS is as simple as swiping it right, but on Android you have to click the three dots next to the song title to add it to your queue.

Winner: Pandora

Spotify vs Pandora: Music discovery

First and foremost, Pandora is a music discovery service. Its main feature is Stations which function like radio stations, but are customizable to your liking. Spotify is more of a jack-of-all-trades streaming service; though, both do a great job of curating recommended playlists, and make it easy to find new, related content.

Pandora Stations has more functionality than Spotify Radio

A picture showing Pandora vs Spotify UIs on two smartphones for comparison.

At its heart, Pandora is a music discovery service.

Pandora algorithmically creates Stations for every artist, song, and genre. Once a Station is made, you can customize it by renaming it and adding other artists and songs to base the algorithm off of. You can also thumbs up or thumbs down songs to control what plays on the Station and to save for on-demand playback later. You can even save any Station or playlist to My Collection.

Each Pandora Station can be adjusted to different modes. First, there’s the My Station mode which is the basic mode that generates music based only on the way you have customized that Station. Then there is the Crowd Faves mode generates music based on the way you have customized the Station as well as the songs that have been given the thumbs up the most by other users. The Discovery mode generates music based on your customization and by prioritizing artists who don’t usually play on that Station, but still fit into it. Then you have the Deep Cuts mode which prioritizes the less popular songs from the artists you have added to the Station. After that, you get the Newly Released mode which is pretty self explanatory and prioritizes the newer songs from the Station’s artists. Lastly, the Artist Only mode plays music only from the artists in the Station.

Related: Why I’m an avid Spotify user despite dubious audio quality

Spotify has a similar functionality to Pandora Stations. Spotify generates Radio for every artist, playlist, and song. Artist and song Radios are static, though, so you cannot customize them through likes or dislikes, but this does mean you can save them to your Spotify library. Playlist Radios, on the other hand, generate new songs as you continue to listen to it and allow you to like or dislike its recommended songs to customize its recommendations. Every playlist you create on Spotify generates a Radio, and you can customize the Radio by adding songs to the playlist. This does mean, however, that you cannot save a playlist Radio to Your Library. While Spotify Radio has similar features to Pandora Stations, Pandora Stations is more diverse and useful.

Spotify just gets you

Juxtaposed screenshots of Spotify Recommendations from the mobile application, used for an Apple Music vs Spotify comparison.

Spotify algorithms help you discover songs based on your music tastes.

Spotify knows what you want to discover and has algorithmically designed playlists for almost anything you could wish for. Each week, Spotify churns out a Discover Weekly playlist, designed based on your listening history. It also makes a weekly Release Radar playlist which features new releases from the artists you follow. In addition, it makes Daily Mix playlists which are combinations of music you’ve listened to and music Spotify thinks is similar to those songs.

Spotify knows what you want to discover.

It doesn’t end there, though: Spotify is constantly coming up with creative new personalized playlists, such as the Time Capsule playlist (2017) that took data from your listening history and created a playlist of music you likely would have listened to as a teenager. Additional examples are The Ones That Got Away playlist released at the end of 2017, which was made up of songs from earlier in the year that you didn’t discover but should have, the Tastebreakers playlist (2019) was made of music you wouldn’t normally listen to but would probably like, and the Pet Playlist (2020) was designed based on your listening history and the species and character traits of your pet.

While it seems like Spotify can read your mind, Pandora lets you decide what you want to discover by personalizing their algorithms manually. As I previously mentioned, each Station is customizable to your liking based on artists and songs as well as Station modes. It also recommends Genre Stations based on your listening activity. It can be nice to have autonomy over what songs you’re being fed, but when it comes down to it, Spotify makes great suggestions without you having to ask. And, when it comes to recommending songs for your playlists, Spotify gives you a little more freedom in accepting or rejecting its recommendations than Pandora does.

Both Spotify and Pandora make great curated playlists

A picture of Pandora vs Spotify music streaming services applications next to one another.

Both Pandora and Spotify create great curated playlists.

Spotify also creates editorial playlists which are curated by employees of Spotify. There are hundreds of these being constantly updated, and they span across categories of genre, mood, language, region, record label, activity, artist identity, and more. The Browse tab is easy to navigate and some categories have categories within them, further allowing you to narrow in on what you want to hear. Some categories contain more than just music playlists; for example, the Class of 2020 category features podcasts about graduation as well. Furthermore, your Spotify Home page recommends a few of these editorial playlists based on what it thinks you will like.

Pandora is very similar when it comes to the quality and variety of their curated playlists. It categorizes playlists by mood, genre, time period, activity, and more. Many categories contain more than just music; they include anything relevant to the theme, like relevant Pandora Stories. Additionally, Pandora Stations based on genre and mood function very similarly to curated playlists, but what they play is variable rather than static.

While Pandora Stations is much better than Spotify Radio, Spotify makes up for it by having a better discovery algorithm. Whether you prefer the music discovery style of Spotify or Pandora is completely up to preference. You can’t go wrong with either.

Winner: Draw

Spotify vs Pandora: Available content

While both Pandora and Spotify have large libraries of available music, some of your lesser-known favorite indie musicians are not available on Pandora.

You can find more indie music on Spotify

Spotify accepts music from pretty much anyone who submits to it, whether it is a direct submission to Spotify or from a third party distributor such as CDBaby. Independent artists can submit their music to Pandora for consideration, but the service only accepts submissions if artists sent via third-party distributor. It then follows up by filling out a Pandora-specific submission form for each individual release.

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

If you’re someone who only listens to relatively popular musicians, this shouldn’t count against Pandora, but independent musicians who have chosen not to use a third party distributor or have not filled out the submission form will not be available in Pandora’s catalog. Once an artist has done these things, there is still a chance Pandora will not accept their music. Additionally, Pandora pays artists less on average than Spotify does.

Podcasts are available on both Spotify and Pandora

Close-up of podcast section on Spotify app in iOS.

Spotify has a large collection of podcasts.

Podcast fans don’t need to worry about whether you choose Spotify vs Pandora: both streaming services offer a wide library of podcasts and allow you to save them to Your Library or My Collection. Both services allow for a few podcast-specific playback features such as forward and backward skipping and bookmarking your place, but Spotify also allows you to change your playback speed and set a podcast-specific sleep timer. Neither Pandora or Spotify offer silence trimmers or the ability to skip the first few minutes of every episode. For apps with more specific podcasting features, check out our list of the best podcast apps.

Winner: Spotify

Spotify vs Pandora: Pricing

In this article pitting Spotify vs Pandora, we are comparing Spotify Premium with Pandora Premium, but there are actually many different options for subscriptions available on both of these streaming services.

SubscriptionPriceFeatures
Spotify FreeFree- Listen to music with ad interruptions
- Shuffle music
- On-demand playback from 15 Spotify-created playlists
Spotify Premium Student$4.99/mo- Listen to music ad-free
- Download music for offline listening
- On-demand playback
- SHOWTIME and ad-supported Hulu
Spotify Premium Individual$9.99/mo- Listen to music ad-free
- Download music for offline listening
- On-demand playback
Spotify Premium Duo$12.99/mo- 2 separate Premium accounts for a couple under one roof
- Duo Mix: a playlist algorithmically created and updated for both members
- Listen to music ad-free
- Download music for offline listening
- On-demand playback
Spotify Premium Family$14.99/mo- Up to 6 Premium accounts for family members living under one roof
- Family Mix: a playlist algorithmically created and updated for all members
- Can block explicit music
- Spotify Kids: app for kids 12 and under
- Listen to music ad-free
- Download music for offline listening
- On-demand playback
SubscriptionPriceFeatures
Pandora FreeFree- Can only listen to customized stations, not specific songs
- Ad interruptions
- Limited skips
Pandora Plus$4.99/mo- Ad-free personalized stations
- Search and play what you want by watching an ad
- Unlimited skips
- Limited offline listening
Pandora Premium Student$4.99/mo- Ad-free personalized music
- Search and play what you want
- Unlimited skips
- Unlimited offline listening
- Make and share playlists
Pandora Premium Military$7.99/mo- Ad-free personalized music
- Search and play what you want
- Unlimited skips
- Unlimited offline listening
- Make and share playlists
Pandora Premium Individual$9.99/mo- Ad-free personalized music
- Search and play what you want
- Unlimited skips
- Unlimited offline listening
- Make and share playlists
Pandora Premium Family$14.99/mo- Up to six separate accounts
- Exclusive shared playlist
- Ad-free personalized music
- Search and play what you want
- Unlimited skips
- Unlimited offline listening
- Make and share playlists

Additional Pandora Premium features include the Artist Only station mode, and the jukebox-style interface.

There was a recent glitch with Free Spotify that allowed unpaid users access to nearly all the same features as Premium users, but this surely will not last forever. If you’re interested in learning more details about the different Spotify memberships, check out our Free Spotify vs Spotify Premium article.

If you’re still unsure, Spotify and Pandora both offer 30-day Premium trials, and Pandora offers intermittent access to Pandora Premium by watching ads.

Winner: Draw

Stay social with Spotify

Desktop Spotify app on Windows

The desktop Spotify app displays your friends’ live listening activity.

One of the best things about Spotify is its social functionality, specifically the ability for users to create collaborative playlists with friends. This means anybody with the link to the playlist can add or delete songs from it. Additionally, you can find and follow your friends, explore their listening history, playlists they’ve made, and, on the desktop app you can view their live listening activity. It’s worth mentioning that these features can be disabled if you find them invasive.

Pandora also has social features. With Pandora you can follow your friends and look at their Stations and liked songs, but you can’t view their active listening history or create collaborative playlists.

You can integrate Facebook with both Spotify and Pandora to make finding friends easier. In addition, Spotify has partnerships with Tinder and Instagram, making it easy to share your music tastes with your suitors and followers.

Winner: Spotify

Get artist exclusives with Spotify and Pandora

Pandora offers exclusive artist messages, which are short messages recorded by artists that occasionally play after their songs. These include things such as information about upcoming releases, videos, and concerts. You can disable this if you prefer not to listen to these kinds of updates. Some artists curate exclusive playlists of their songs interspersed with voice messages explaining what the song means to them. These playlists can also include music by other artists with voice messages about how the other artist has inspired them. Similarly, Pandora Stories mixes music playlists with artist commentary typically describing their career or the process of creating a particular album. If you’re into behind the scenes facts this could be a very compelling case for Pandora.

Some artists curate exclusive playlists of their songs interspersed with voice messages explaining what the song means to them.

Spotify also has some exclusive artist content, and while these do not contain any commentary artists can add playlists they’ve created to their Spotify profile so you can discover what your favorite musicians are listening to and getting inspired by. In addition, Spotify has exclusive music recordings of artists’ original songs or covers called Spotify Singles, which are recorded and produced in Spotify’s studios. Spotify also displays upcoming concerts of your favorite artists on their profile pages as well as on a centralized page for Concerts coming up in your city.

Both streaming services have exclusive artist features, but which ones you find more appealing is just a matter of preference.

Winner: Draw

Spotify vs Pandora: Additional features

Spotify wraps up your year with a bow on top

Every December, Spotify Wrapped is released—you’ve probably seen everyone’s Instagram Stories cluttered with their results around New Year’s Eve. Wrapped compiles all the data collected from your Spotify account throughout the year and delivers it to you in satisfying statistics and graphics. It tells you the artist you listened to most over the past year, the genre you listened to most, the song you listened to most, how many total minutes you spent listening, the countries your favorite artists come from, and more. Wrapped is always a fun feature in helping you boost your feelings of music taste superiority or feelings of shame due to how many times you listened to your guilty pleasure song (Editor’s note: Shame-free admission that Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles is probably my most listened to song of 2020).

Pandora’s voice assistant integration isn’t very useful

Pandora allows you to activate a voice assistant. By saying the wake phrase “Hey Pandora,” you can ask Pandora to play a specific Station, change the volume, or tell you the name of a song. Unfortunately, the assistant only works when the app is open and live on your screen, so it seems like you could just manually give these commands by the time you’ve unlocked your device.

Spotify and Pandora are excellent car companions

Spotify detects when it's connected to an automobile and offers option to connect to navigation apps.

Spotify plays nicely with Google Maps.

Both Spotify and Pandora can be integrated with navigation apps, such as Waze and Google Maps. Additionally, both are compatible with Carplay and Android Auto, so long as your car has this functionality. These tools allow for easier control over your audio playback while in the car, but you shouldn’t use them while actively driving.

In addition, some music-listening devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, have partnered with Spotify for easy touch access to the streaming service. Due mainly to Pandora being less popular than Spotify, earphone integration is not likely to be found for Pandora users.

Winner: Spotify

Spotify vs Pandora: What’s the best streaming service?

A picture of Pandora vs Spotify music streaming services playing now function on smartphones next to one another.

These are among the best services for music discovery.

I didn’t expect to be this impressed by Pandora, but its really upped the ante since the old days, and I now consider Pandora a legitimate competitor to Spotify. Ultimately, Spotify wins this contest of Spotify vs Pandora for a few reasons, but it truly was very close. For the same pricing, Spotify affords you better audio quality, social features, underground music, and music discovery options like Discover Weekly. However, if these things are not as important to you as exclusive artist messages, customizable Stations, or if you just prefer the interface of Pandora, you may find yourself favoring Pandora over Spotify. You truly cannot go wrong with either streaming service.

Don’t miss out: Best music streaming services

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Pandora AMP or Spotify for Artists better?

If you're an independent artist, I'd definitely recommend setting up an account with both Pandora and Spotify! Spotify has a larger user base, so having a well-developed Spotify profile with up-to-date pictures can definitely help grow your fanbase. Spotify for Artists offers a few tools such as submitting music to Spotify's editorial playlists, advertising your upcoming concerts, and they recently added an option for advertising your upcoming live streams since live music has been put on a bit of a hold. Pandora AMP, however, is more comprehensive, allowing you to create Pandora Stories and run advertisement campaigns. There are ways to run ad campaigns for your music on Spotify, but it has to be done through a third party service. Both Spotify for Artists and Pandora AMP offer comprehensive analytic data.