Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should You Upgrade?

Spotify on mobile (From:Pixabay).
Spotify on mobile (From:Pixabay).

We break down the differences between Spotify Free vs Premium to help you decide whether it’s worth an upgrade or not.

If you’re already a Spotify Free user, you’ve probably thought about upgrading to Premium, if only to escape all the ads. But sometimes, the decision isn’t always that simple.

Perhaps you’re unsure about committing to a monthly subscription fee, or maybe you don’t know if you’ll be able to maximize all Premium features to justify the cost. Either way, the decision to upgrade can be quite a task.

So, to help with this, we’ll be doing a close comparison of Spotify Free vs Premium in this article to see if the latter is worth paying for. We’ll also talk about some of the reasons why Spotify is considered one of the best music streaming apps today. So, let’s get into it!

What Is Spotify?

Early and recent Spotify logos (From:Wikimedia Commons).
Early and recent Spotify logos (From:Wikimedia Commons).

Spotify is a Swedish music streaming app that was developed by Swedish entrepreneurs Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon. It was created to offer a convenient way to access music while addressing music piracy at the same time.

Spotify was launched in 2008 alongside the very first version of its desktop app, which was somewhat visually reminiscent of Apple’s iTunes. This was soon followed by a mobile app in 2009 and a web player in 2012.

Earliest (left) and most recent (right) Spotify desktop designs (From: Rasmus Andersson)
Earliest (left) and most recent (right) Spotify desktop designs (From: Rasmus Andersson).

Three years after its debut, Spotify gained its first million subscribers. And, as of this writing, it boasts one of the highest numbers of paid subscribers and monthly active users worldwide at 165 million and 365 million, respectively.

Spotify also has one of the most comprehensive music and podcast libraries to date. With over 70 million songs and 2.9 million podcast titles, Spotify is still constantly adding more content to its repertoire every day.

Check out our in-depth review of Spotify to learn more about this app.

What Makes Spotify One of the Best Music Streaming Platforms Available?

Spotify’s growth has been rising steadily in the last five years, indicating that it’s been successful enough in keeping its customer base growing with improved content and features.

In its recent Q2 2021 report, Spotify saw a year-on-year increase of 22% and 20% in monthly active users and paid subscribers, respectively. Spotify has also managed to retain a 32-34% share of the market ever since 2015, an achievement in and of itself considering how competitive the music streaming industry started becoming in that time frame.

As such, Spotify’s popularity is practically universal. Any time the topic of music streaming apps comes up, Spotify is usually the first that comes to mind.

The question is: “why is Spotify so popular?” Let’s discuss the top answers below:

Global availability

Spotify's newly-added territories (From:Spotify Newsroom).
Spotify’s newly-added territories (From:Spotify Newsroom).

Spotify has consistently pursued an aggressive expansion campaign, making it highly accessible to a wide audience. In 2021 alone, Spotify expanded to over 80 additional markets, including Bangladesh, Haiti, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka, to name a few. As of August 2021, Spotify is available in 178 countries and 62 languages.

Social features

Few music streaming platforms have social features that are as engaging as Spotify’s. In addition to ‘following’ friends, you can also see what they’re listening to on the friend activity feed, which doubles as a great way to find new music.

You can also collaborate on playlists and even host listening parties with up to five friends with Group Sessions.

Personalization

'Uniquely Yours' on Spotify.
‘Uniquely Yours’ on Spotify.

Spotify places great emphasis on having a personalized listening experience. You can see this in the multitude of customized playlists offered in sections like ‘Made For You’ and ‘Uniquely Yours’. Spotify Wrapped is also a great example of how the app can turn your listening data into an insightful and fun celebration of you as a music listener.

Affordability and plan perks

Spotify Premium Student plan perks (From:Spotify).
Spotify Premium Student plan perks (From:Spotify).

Spotify makes some of its services a bit more cost-friendly for those on a budget. For instance, Premium Duo allows two people to have their own Premium accounts for almost $4 cheaper than a regular Premium Individual subscription. Students also stand to gain more from a $4.99 Student Premium subscription, which also comes with discounts to Hulu and SHOWTIME.

Music discovery

Spotify’s music discovery capabilities are definitely one of its unrivaled main attractions. Ask anyone why they use Spotify, and a large percentage of them will say it’s because of Spotify’s discovery mode. This is largely due to a hybrid algorithm that analyzes listening habits, song language, and raw audio to give you better and more accurate recommendations.

What You Get From Spotify Free

Spotify Free with ads on desktop app.
Spotify Free with ads on desktop app.

Spotify Free is an ad-supported tier that allows you to access all 70+ million songs, including podcasts. However, you will need to endure banner and audio ads alongside it.

Aside from these, here are a few other things you can expect from Spotify Free:

  • Four audio quality levels capped at 160kbit/s for both desktop and mobile apps.
  • No offline listening for music, but you can download podcasts.
  • Access to your music while in a different country for up to 14 days, without needing to change your region in your account settings.
  • Access to personalized playlists. Using algorithm-driven playlists is a great way to get around Spotify Free’s limitations because these are already calibrated to your tastes, in contrast to curated playlists. So, you’re likely to get more music you’ll love, and save your limited skips.

Though Spotify Free is limited in many ways, these vary depending on whether you’re using the desktop or mobile app.

On the desktop app, you get on-demand playback, which means you can play any song in any order from any of the available playlists. You’ll hear ads after a certain amount of skipped songs, but they typically only last about 30 seconds. Sometimes you’ll get three ads in succession, but it doesn’t happen that frequently.

Track skip warnings on Spotify's mobile app.
Track skip warnings on Spotify’s mobile app.

On the mobile app, on the other hand, the limitations are more strict. For one, you can only listen playlists on shuffle mode. However, you can preview the tracklists and ‘hide’ songs you don’t like, which is one way to customize your listening experience.

Unlike the desktop app, you also get fewer song skips (six per hour) on the mobile app. However, you can still get unlimited skips provided that you’re listening from one of the 15 personalized playlists mentioned earlier.

What You Get With Spotify Premium

Spotify Premium is a paid subscription tier that gives you full access to everything the app has to offer for $9.99 a month. The Premium tier is also completely ad-free and offers on-demand playback for all playlists.

With Spotify Premium, you can take your music with you anywhere in the world. And if you’re going somewhere where there’s no WiFi, you can also download as much as 10,000 songs and podcasts for offline listening. Last but not least, Premium subscribers also get better audio quality of 320kbit/s on both desktop and mobile apps.

Different Spotify Premium plans

Aside from the Premium Individual plan, Spotify has several other Premium plans available. Here’s a quick rundown of those plans and what they come with:

Premium Duo

Premium Duo landing page banner (From:Spotify).
Premium Duo landing page banner (From: Spotify).

As mentioned earlier, Spotify offers a Premium Duo plan designed to be shared by two people living at the same address. At $12.99 a month (or about $6.45 per person), two people can maintain two separate Premium accounts under one billing. It’s a great way to avail of Premium features while saving a few bucks.

Along with all Premium Individual features, subscribers also get Duo Mix — a playlist that combines both of your favorite songs and music genres.

Premium Student

Premium Student landing page banner (From:Spotify).
Premium Student landing page banner (From: Spotify).

The Premium Student plan, as the name indicates, is available to college or university students currently enrolled in schools accredited by SheerID. It comes with all the perks of a Premium Individual plan at 50% less than the original monthly rate.

And as mentioned before, it also comes with access to Hulu and SHOWTIME, which is an offer unique to Spotify and is perfect for students on a budget.

Students will need to go through a verification process with SheerID. Once you’ve done that, your new Student Premium account will be ready for use. You can only renew Student Premium accounts three times every 12 months for a maximum of four years.

Premium Family

""</p

Spotify’s Premium Family is a subscription plan that allows as many as six people to maintain separate Premium accounts. It comes with all the perks of a Premium Individual plan, plus additional bonuses like Family Mix and Spotify Kids.

Like Duo Mix, Family Mix combines music that all plan members love in a single playlist that’s constantly updated. On the other hand, Spotify Kids is a separate app that lets kids maintain their own accounts and choose from a wide selection of kid-friendly content.

Premium Family also comes with an Explicit Content Filter that further ensures younger family members aren’t exposed to inappropriate content.

Spotify Plus

Ad for Spotify Plus on mobile (From:Spotify).
Ad for Spotify Plus on mobile (From: Spotify).

In August 2021, it was reported that Spotify is currently testing a new ad-supported subscription tier called Spotify Plus on a select number of users.

Spotify Plus is said to offer unlimited skips and on-demand playback with ads for just $0.99 a month. While that does sound very appealing, Spotify hasn’t guaranteed that it’ll be officially launched anytime soon, if at all.

Differences Between Spotify Free and Premium

Spotify mobile app (From:Unsplash).
Spotify mobile app (From:Unsplash).

If you’re deciding whether to go Free or Premium, it’s always good to note the differences between both plans. Though we touched on a few of these differences earlier, we’ll do a more direct comparison for each category in this section for easier reference.

Ads

Ads on the Spotify desktop app.
Ads on the Spotify desktop app.

With Spotify Free, you can expect both visual and audio ads to interrupt your listening at some point. On the desktop app, ads will pop up after skipping a certain amount of songs (usually around 14).

On the other hand, you get full-screen ads when you open the app or switch playlists on the mobile app, but rarely while listening to music since playback is already limited.

In contrast, Spotify Premium comes completely ad-free.

Playback control

With Spotify Free, you can only listen to music in shuffle mode on the mobile app. However, you can preview all tracklists and ‘hide’ specific songs you don’t want to hear. There are also 15 auto-generated playlists that Free users can listen to however they want. These include playlists like Discover Weekly, New Music Friday, Release Radar, and Daily Mixes.

Spotify Free is more lenient for desktop app users as you can pretty much play any song from any playlist that you want.

And as for Spotify Premium, you get unlimited skips and full on-demand playback.

Supported devices

Spotify in your car (From:Explore Spotify).
Spotify in your car (From:Explore Spotify).

Previously, only Premium subscribers have the option to stream music via Spotify Connect-enabled speakers. However, Spotify did away with this scheme in 2018 and opened up the feature to all subscribers. Today, both Free and Premium users can enjoy seamless playback through Spotify Connect on multiple platforms and devices.

Despite that, there are still more devices available for Premium subscribers overall. For instance, in the Wireless Speakers category, there are over 100 speaker models that require a Premium account to be able to stream music, versus only 35 models available for Spotify Free users.

You can check the complete list of supported devices for both Free and Premium subscribers on Spotify’s website.

Social features

Spotify comes with a lot of great social features that both Free and Premium users can enjoy. As mentioned earlier, you can see what music your friends have been listening to on the friend activity feed, and create playlists together.

One difference is that Group Sessions, which is a feature that allows you to host live listening parties with up to five friends, is only available for Premium subscribers.

Content

Both Free and Premium users have access to all of Spotify’s music and podcast content, and both have relatively the same Discovery features available. The difference is that Premium users may get early access to new music releases or exclusive content, whereas Free users will have to wait a couple of weeks.

Sound quality

Audio quality settings on Spotify Premium.
Audio quality settings on Spotify Premium.

Spotify Free users get four levels of audio quality on both desktop and mobile apps:

  • Automatic: Dependent on network connection
  • Low: 24kbit/s
  • Normal: 96kbit/s
  • High: 160kbit/s

Spotify Premium subscribers, on the other hand, get all the abovementioned quality levels, plus an additional Very High setting, which streams at 320kbit/s.

It’s good to note that Spotify Premium offers 256kbit/s audio quality for its web player, versus 128kbit/s with Spotify Free.

To add to this, Spotify subscribers may also be getting lossless audio quality sometime in 2021.

Spotify HiFi (From:Spotify Newsroom).
Spotify HiFi (From:Spotify Newsroom).

Spotify announced the new HiFi feature during their Stream On event in February 2021, and though it’s unclear whether it’ll be a separate plan or integrated into its Premium plans, it’ll definitely be a welcome addition.

Offline listening

Again, Spotify Free has no option to download songs for offline listening. So, you’ll have to rely on mobile data if you want to listen to music without a WiFi connection. On the upside, you can download podcasts if you need something to help pass the time.

With Spotify Premium, you can download both songs and podcasts on the mobile app. You can also download as many as 10,000 songs on up to five different devices. Just remember to connect Spotify online at least once every 30 days to keep your downloads in your library.

Who Should Consider Upgrading to a Premium Account?

Similar to radio in some ways – you get a mix of pre-selected songs interspersed with occasional ads in Spotify Free. Except, with the former, you get access to a wider variety of songs and podcasts for free, which isn’t a bad deal.

Premium, however, offers a plethora of features that make it worth the $9.99 a month. Aside from being free from pesky ads, you also have more freedom and control over your music, more features, better audio quality, and first dibs on new releases and exclusive content.

Spotify even offers a 30-day free trial to let you fully experience Premium with no strings attached.

That being said, if you’re more of a passive listener who isn’t super particular about what they’re listening to, someone who’s content with a few selections of mainstream hits, or someone who just enjoys having music in the background to keep you entertained while working, Spotify Free should do just fine for you.

Spotify Premium, on the other hand, is more for the true blue music fan who prefers having full control over their listening experience and who can’t compromise on sound quality. It’s for active listeners who enjoy listening to music for music’s sake and who prefer not to be interrupted by ads.

Spotify Premium is also ideal for those who, perhaps, travel a lot and like having their music with them on the go. Students, in particular, stand to gain the most because aside from getting Premium features, you also get access to two other popular movie streaming services at a much cheaper rate.

At $0.00437 per stream, Premium streams also weigh more than Free streams, so if you’re a hardcore music fan who’s passionate about supporting your favorite artists, upgrading to a Premium account is one way to do it.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there’s no way to say that one plan is hands-down better than the other. We all consume music differently and have different priorities when it comes to what we spend on. However, through this article, we hope we’ve been able to highlight whether Spotify Premium is worth upgrading to or not. And if you’re still unsure, you can always go for the free trial.

How did you find our review? Do you have any questions or thoughts on what we covered? If so, feel free to share them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

Leave a Reply