Spotify vs. Pandora: Which Is Better?

Spotify vs Pandora.
Spotify vs Pandora.

Here’s our side-by-side comparison to help you choose between Spotify and Pandora.

Spotify and Pandora offer ad-free playback, song downloads, and excellent music discovery tools.

However, they vary in content volume, pricing, and additional features, making the choice between them complex.

That’s why we’ve done a detailed comparison outlining their strengths and weaknesses in order to simplify this choice below. So, read on!

Spotify vs. Pandora: Comparison Overview

CategorySpotifyPandora
Free PlanYesYes
Premium Individual Plan$10.99/month$9.99/month
Premium Family Plan$16.99/month$14.99/month
Premium Student Plan$5.99/month$4.99/month
Special PlansPremium Mini (~$0.46/week)
Premium Duo ($14.99/month)
Pandora Plus ($4.99/month)
Military Premium ($7.99/month)
Availability180 countriesUS only
Maximum Audio Quality320 kbps192 kbps
Amount of Music Content100 million tracksUndisclosed
Podcast and Audiobook Availability5 million podcasts
350,000 audiobooks
Limited podcasts
No audiobooks
Exclusive FeaturesSpotify Wrapped, Time-synced lyrics, Smart Shuffle, AI DJMusic Genome Project, Pandora Modes, Thumbprint Radio, Artist Takeovers
Social FeaturesFriend Activity, Social profiles, Spotify Jam, Collaborative playlistsSocial profiles and music sharing
Average Artist Payout$0.0033$0.0013
App LinksAndroid, iOS, Mac & WindowsAndroid, iOS, Mac & Windows

Spotify’s Plan Inclusions Provide a Better Deal

While both services have free, ad-supported plans, Spotify Free outperforms by offering the following:

  • On-demand playback on the web player and desktop app.
  • Higher max audio quality at 160 kbps versus 128 kbps on ad-supported Pandora.
  • More audio quality settings.

Here’s a more detailed look into what each free plan comes with:

 FeaturesPandora Free PlanSpotify Free Plan
Grants access to the entire content libraryYesYes
Ad skipsAfter 15 secondsNo
Background playYes (All platforms)Yes (All platforms)
Song skipsYes (Maximum of 2 on mobile and 3 on desktop)Yes (Maximum of 6/hour)
On-demand playbackLimited (Only for specific stations)Yes (Desktop and web player)
Offline streamingNo download option for songsNo download option for songs
Number of audio quality settings for desktop app1 setting:
Standard (64 kbps)
4 settings:
Automatic (depends on internet speed)
Low (24 kbps)
Normal (96 kbps)
High (160 kbps)
Number of audio quality settings for web player1 setting:
Standard (64 kbps)
1 setting:
Automatic (128 kbps)
Number of audio quality settings for mobile app2 settings:
Standard (64 kbps)
High (128 kbps)
4 settings:
Automatic (depends on internet speed)
Low (24 kbps)
Normal (96 kbps)
High (160 kbps)
Highest audio streaming quality128 kbps160 kbps

Spotify also offers more value despite being pricier.

For instance, Spotify Premium users get access to a vast library of songs, podcasts, audiobooks, and better audio quality at 320 kbps (compared to Pandora’s 192 kbps). Premium Family includes child-friendly content through Spotify Kids, while Premium Student bundles Hulu at a discounted rate. Pandora’s plans don’t provide extras like these.

Both services also have other paid options like Premium Duo, Premium Mini, and Pandora Plus.

But while Pandora Plus offers ad-free listening, it limits offline stations to three and doesn’t allow playlist creation. On the other hand, Spotify’s Premium Duo and Mini plans provide full access to all features, making it the better choice.

Spotify Has Better Sound Quality

Spotify comes out on top with higher overall audio quality, faster song loading, and five audio quality settings compared to Pandora’s three.

For easy reference, here’s a quick breakdown of both apps’ audio quality settings:

Audio quality settingSpotifyPandora
AutomaticDepends on connectionN/A
Low24 kbps32 kbps
Normal96 kbps64 kbps
High160 kbps128 kbps / 192 kbps(depending on the platform)
Very High320 kbpsN/A

At 320 kbps, Spotify uses about 150 MB/hour, while Pandora uses about 60-65 MB/hour at 193 kbps. On a 78 Mbps connection, Spotify quickly preloaded songs. However, despite using less data, I kept experiencing a 2-3 second delay on Pandora before each new song. It’s unclear if this is due to the app or Pandora’s servers.

As for audio quality, Pandora’s 192 kbps offers a decent listening experience. But Spotify’s 320 kbps enhances clarity and depth, especially on high-end headphones. So, if sound quality is essential to you, Spotify is the better option.

Your audio experience depends on your equipment. Even the highest-quality audio setting cannot compensate for low-quality headphones. The difference between Pandora’s 192 kbps and Spotify’s 320 kbps also won’t be easily noticeable on sub-par gear.

Spotify Has More Content and Variety Than Pandora

Music genres in Spotify's 'Browse' section.
Music genres in Spotify’s ‘Browse’ section.

As of October 2023, Spotify boasts 100 million songs, with 20,000 tracks added daily. It has an extensive catalog of mainstream and indie songs, thanks to global licensing deals with labels like UMG, Warner Music, Sony, and Merlin, representing over 20,000 indie labels and distributors.

Pandora, like Spotify, holds licenses with major and indie labels, though its music library size remains undisclosed. It features 26 music categories, fewer than Spotify’s 60 genres. And while I had no trouble finding lesser-known artists on Pandora, Spotify provides more options for those seeking broader musical variety.

'Browse Genres' section on Pandora.
‘Browse Genres’ section on Pandora.

Spotify also has over 5 million podcasts due to acquisitions of content producers like Anchor, Betty Labs, Gimlet Media, The Ringer, Parcast, and Megaphone. It’s home to exclusive shows like Armchair Expert with Dax Shephard, Call Her Daddy, and The Joe Rogan Experience. Video podcasts are also available, allowing creators to pair visual elements with audio content.

In contrast, Pandora has over 25 podcast genres and 600,000 episodes, boosted by the 2020 acquisition of Stitcher. This added 260,000 titles to Pandora’s collection, including hits like Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, My Favorite Murder, and Freakonomics Radio. Despite this, Spotify’s offerings remain significantly more extensive.

Moreover, Pandora doesn’t offer audiobooks (a huge missed opportunity), whereas Spotify allows users to purchase them via its web player.

Spotify’s Interface Is More User-Friendly

Spotify is much easier to use than Pandora, thanks to a clean interface and intuitive navigation layout that visually makes more sense.

Spotify’s desktop app and web player feature a fixed navigation sidebar to access your playlists and library easily. The drag-and-drop function – a favorite feature of mine – simplifies adding songs to playlists.

Furthermore, Spotify’s Now Playing window is a one-stop hub. From here, users can view their song queue, share music, add songs to their library, read lyrics, download music for offline listening, and explore Song Radio, making music management convenient.

On the other hand, Pandora’s interface is simple and almost sparse at first glance. However, it becomes confusing and cluttered as you navigate the app due to redundant design elements.

For example, the web, desktop, and mobile apps feature a “song page” that displays lyrics and creator details.

It’s separate from the familiar Now Playing window but offers identical navigation features like Collect, Share, Download, etc. This redundancy complicates navigation, particularly for new or non-tech-savvy users, and should’ve been consolidated for convenience.

Pandora’s Music Genome Algorithm Is Impressive

The Music Genome Project powers Pandora’s song recommendations. This system tags songs using 400 unique traits identified by experts, delivering more accurate song suggestions. Even with an underdeveloped Thumbprint playlist, I was still getting spot-on recommendations. Finding mood or style-specific music is also simplified with this unique categorization system.

You can customize this further with Pandora Modes and filter your recommendation with options like Deep Cuts, Discovery, Crowd Faves, and more.

Pandora Modes.
Pandora Modes.

On the other hand, Spotify also excels in music discovery, using three different algorithms to analyze your streaming habits and ‘Likes.’ However, it primarily offers curated playlists with a set number of songs.

Spotify’s Song Radio and Artist Radio also have limited song selections, unlike Pandora’s stations, which stream an endless selection of music based on any song, artist, or album.

I got great recommendations from both Spotify and Pandora. However, Pandora’s unique music discovery approach and accurate suggestions impressed me. Ultimately, your choice between the two depends on personal taste.

Here’s an overview of the various ways to discover new music on Pandora and Spotify:

Discovery FeatureSpotifyPandora
“Search” (Spotify and Pandora)
  • Genres & Moods
  • Made For You
  • New Releases
  • Tastemakers
  • Fresh Finds
  • Trending
  • Discover
  • RADAR
  • Moods and Activities
  • Browse Genres
  • New Music
  • Decades
  • Top Artists
  • Top Stations
  • Featured Playlists
  • Artist Takeovers
  • Trendsetters: Artists on the Rise
Playlist RecommendationsRecommended Songs“Add similar songs”
Personalized Mixes
  • Release Radar
  • Discover Weekly
  • Pandora Modes
  • Thumbprint Radio
Artist Recommendations“Fans Also Like”“Similar Artists”

Spotify Leads With Fun, Interactive Social Features

You can easily create and edit playlists with friends directly in the app with Collaborative playlists on Spotify. Simply tap the ‘Invite Collaborators’ icon within a playlist to invite others. Each added track displays the user’s avatar, showing who added it.

Starting a Jam on Spotify.
Starting a Jam on Spotify.

With Spotify Jam, Free and Premium users can enjoy live shared listening via link, QR code, or Bluetooth. You can listen to the same playlist in real time and add songs to the queue. And in my experience using the feature, the Premium benefit of joining a Jam Session from any location is a big plus.

Pandora, however, only offers profile creation and music sharing on social media. You can follow friends, see their liked songs, stations, and playlists, and view their listening activity if set to Public. But this isn’t a unique feature, as Spotify’s Friend Activity also provides the same functionalities.

Spotify Has Better Additional Features

Notification when an account is being used on multiple devices.
Notification when an account is being used on multiple devices.

Firstly, you have Spotify Connect, which allows you to switch devices seamlessly while using the app as a remote. Pandora has a similar feature but occasionally interrupts you with a pop-up asking you to choose a playback device. On the other hand, Spotify’s transition between devices is immediate and smooth.

Lyrics display on Pandora (left) and Spotify (right) mobile apps.
Lyrics display on Pandora (left) and Spotify (right) mobile apps.

Both apps offer lyrics, but Spotify excels with time-synced, auto-scrolling lyrics that allow users to jump to specific song sections by clicking a line. Pandora’s lyrics lack this interactivity.

Spotify enhances the listening experience with unique features like Smart Shuffle and AI DJ, blending familiar favorites with new songs. You also get Spotify Wrapped, an annual recap of your musical journey, and a feature absent on Pandora.

What Pandora does have is Pandora Stories and Artist Takeovers. The former includes insightful Voice Tracks from artists explaining their songs or creative process. And the latter features top musicians guest DJing select playlists, offering insights into their musical preferences.

While the lack of extra features isn’t a dealbreaker, Spotify’s additions are a treat for adventurous listeners. But as always, their value and necessity depend on your preferences.

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which Should You Go For?

For a quick review, here’s a recap of everything you can get from each music streaming service:

SpotifyPandora
  • More subscription perks (Spotify Kids, Hulu)
  • Higher audio quality
  • Greater content diversity (Podcasts and audiobooks)
  • Smoother, faster playback
  • Intuitive layout and controls
  • More social features
  • A unique approach to music discovery (Music Genome Project)
  • Accurate song recommendations
  • Endless streaming within stations
  • Engaging and insightful additional features (Pandora Stories and Artist Takeovers)

Overall, Spotify excels over Pandora with its diverse library, superior audio quality, and intuitive interface. Its subscription plans have more benefits despite being a bit more expensive. The service offers more content and features, including podcasts, audiobooks, and interactive functions that enhance the user experience. In this regard, Spotify is a more comprehensive and versatile platform for music lovers.

Those who value audio quality, content variety, more features, and a flexible, user-friendly interface will enjoy using Spotify.

Pandora is still a great app despite winning only two of the seven categories, though. It may appeal more to budget-conscious users who enjoy continuous, radio-style music streaming. Pandora’s interesting approach to music discovery may also be more enjoyable for experimental listeners looking for new ways to discover new music. So, if this is your priority, Pandora is worth choosing.

See how Spotify stacks up against Qobuz in our full breakdown of both streaming platforms.

💬 Conversation: 19 comments

  1. Outstanding job. Helped me out a great deal. Over 60yrs young now that I have this information I’m sure I’ll make the right choice for my wife and I.

  2. Very well done, thank you. However being new to the streaming services and I would like to know how the downloads and sharing work, we’re going to be traveling abroad and wonder if we can download music to our phones and listen to the music without internet.

  3. My wife uses Spotify. I’ve used Pandora as Internet Radio originally, and for the past few years, paid $10 for the premium package. Your review has given me much to think about. It was an excellent comparison. Definitely going to consider my options now. Thanks, man.

  4. I value the full album playback feature on Pandora Premium. Sometimes there may be an artist that disallows the album to be played. However, in most cases you can play the album once downloaded in the same chronological order as on the original
    disc. Props to Pandora. Great feature.

  5. I only see $12.99 and $4.99 options when I visit Pandora. Do you know how we can get the $10 option listed on your page? Thanks!

    1. Hi Bee! When you go to the Pandora website and click “View Plans” in the upper right corner, you should be able to see links to all three subscription plans – Free, Pandora Plus ($4.99), and Pandora Premium ($9.99). If it’s still not showing up for you, here’s a direct link to their Premium plan page (https://www.pandora.com/upgrade/premium). Hope this helps!

  6. Interesting! The link worked. But if I go directly to the Pandora app it’s still $12.99 & $4.99. Wish I could post a screen shot.

    1. Hmm, it should still be visible though. In the Pandora app, after clicking “Profile” in the lower right corner, you’ll see an “Upgrade” button in the upper left. Press that and you’ll see links to upgrade to Premium or Plus plans. Hope it works for you!

    1. Spotify has a lot more ads. Thanks to Premium Access, free users get some perks for using the platform 🙂 I prefer Pandora for that reason.

  7. Pandora is, frankly, anti-consumer. They have actively obscured their “liked” list, limiting how many titles you can see both on mobile and on desktop. This is in an effort to produce consumer lock-in, where you cannot get your liked list of songs to move to other streaming services. They have actively modified their interface to block all attempts at scraping your list of liked songs as well. I personally have over 6000 liked songs on Pandora, but they only allow me to see around 100 of them. None of the paid “liked” download services work with Pandora.

    If they had a compelling product, they wouldn’t be trying to force lock-in using anti-consumer methods. They are also completely dishonest about this practice on their forums, and there are threads literally 100s of posts long complaining about the issue, with Pandora’s customer service giving their customers the cold shoulder and glad handing them. Pandora has gone backwards as a company.

  8. Pandora also has Premium Access, which gives free users access to some Premium features. The perk I like most from that is hearing far fewer ads than what’s on Spotify. The only advantage that Spotify has for me is that I can access Spotify from any device and get it to play on that device, one or all of my Echo devices. Pandora doesn’t do that. If I go to Pandora’s website, the music only plays on that device. I’d like to see Pandora make that choice available 🙂

    Thanks for all the work you put into this comparison 😀

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