Spotify Premium is a music streaming service that allows users to listen to unlimited songs from their favorite artists, discover new music, and share playlists with friends. It’s also home to an ever-expanding catalog of podcasts, audiobooks, and exclusive content from your favorite artists. Plus, it’s ad-free!
In addition to all its other amazing features, Spotify Premium has been shown to help improve mental health by reducing stress and anxiety levels in users. It does this by allowing you to listen to whatever song you want whenever you want—and because it doesn’t have any ads or interruptions during playback, it can give you the space needed for mental recovery.
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Spotify is a digital music streaming service that gives you access to millions of songs, podcasts and videos from artists all over the world, like Apple Music.
Spotify is immediately appealing because you can access content for free by simply signing up using an email address or by connecting with Facebook. If you’re not keen on monthly subscription fees for Spotify Premium, or just want to dip your toe in and test it out, it’s easy to get started and there’s no commitment.
You can find out the main differences between Spotify Free and Premium in our separate feature but as a quick summary, the free version is ad-supported, much like radio stations. The free version of Spotify can be accessed on PC, laptop and mobile phone, but the full service needs a Spotify Premium subscription.
How does Spotify work?
Getting started with listening to music on Spotify is easy:
- Visit the Spotify website and sign-up. We’d recommend signing up with Facebook if you have an account as it’ll make it easier to find and follow friends, see what they’re listening to and share songs with them.
- Choose a subscription level. We’d recommend going for Spotify Premium as it gives you access to more features, is more flexible and will connect with more devices.
- Download and install the free Spotify application. There are versions for desktop and iPhone/iPad and Android phones.
- Sign into your account on those devices and get listening.
The basic setup is pretty straightforward but there’s much more to Spotify once you delve in and it gets smarter the more you listen.
Can you download music from Spotify?
Yes and no. With Spotify Premium you can set music to be available “offline” but it’s not the same as downloading music in the traditional sense. For example, you can’t try to game the system by downloading an album then cancelling your subscription at a later date. And you can’t download the tracks to burn them to a CD or copy them to other devices.
The idea of Spotify’s offline mode is to allow you to have access to your favourite music when you’re trying to save mobile data or travelling somewhere where access to the internet might not be easy.
With Spotify Premium you can have up to 10,000 songs available to listen to offline on up to five different devices. Downloading songs, albums or playlists on Spotify is simple too, which is great. Just switch the toggle next to Download on the album you’d like to download to listen offline. Alternatively, click the three dots in the top right and click “Download”.
How much data does Spotify use?
The amount of data that Spotify burns through will depend on the streaming quality you choose – more on this in a minute. This is a rough guide for how much data Spotify will get through:
- One hour of music playback will use around 50MB of data when the quality is set to “normal”.
- At normal quality you can play around 24 hours of music for around 1GB of data usage.
- At high-quality 1GB will be used in less than 15 hours.
- At extreme quality you’ll use 1GB of data in 7 hours.
- You’ll use a lot more data with video playback.
You can check and change the quality of streaming and download of songs using mobile data in the settings on your device.
High-quality streaming and audio quality
There are four different levels of streaming quality for Spotify. Streaming is all done in the Ogg Vorbis format and uses the following bitrates for each of the quality levels:
- Low at 24kbps
- Normal streams at 96kbps
- High at 160kbps
- Very High streams at 320kbps
The quality level you use will depend on your preference and choices around data usage but it’s worth noting that Very High is only available to Spotify Premium subscribers. Also with the web player, Spotify free users only get access to 128kbit/s quality vs 256kbit/s for premium users.
Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: What do you get?
|Spotify Free||Spotify Premium|
|Monthly Price||Free||$9.99 ($4.99 Student plan, $12.99 for Duo plan, and $15.99 for a 6-account Family plan)|
|Library||Over 80 million songs, plus 2.6 million podcasts||Over 80 million songs, plus 2.6 million podcasts|
|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 80 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 couple. 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 (if the artist decides to make them exclusive to Premium subscribers for a limited period) 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.
Winner: Spotify Premium
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 songs on Spotify Free.
This might all boil down to your personal tolerance for being advertised at, and it might not be a big deal if you’re the only one listening. However, if you’re planning to play ‘party’ tunes using a Spotify Free account, you might find yourself explaining to guests why they’re hearing a car insurance ad between jams.
Winner: Spotify Premium
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 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.
Winner: Spotify Premium
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.
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 on individual Premium accounts, so we’ll call this one a tie.
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.
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 320kbps bit rate, a significant upgrade on the 160kbps that Spotify Free streams at on the mobile app. And if you listen via Spotify’s desktop app, that drops to 128kbps.
It very much depends on factors like the type of headphones you’re listening on and the type of connectivity, but there’s plenty of debate as to whether you can hear the differences between Hi-Res Audio and lower-resolution audio quality. The debate will likely pop up again when Spotify HiFi launches a lossless service, but at the current Spotify Free low-resolution level, you should easily be able to hear the difference between 320kbps Spotify Premium streams and 160 or 128kbps Spotify Free streams.
Winner: Spotify Premium
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. You can find out how to download songs in Spotify with our guide.
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.
Winner: Spotify Premium
Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: Verdict
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. 80 million-plus songs and 2.6 million 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||Row 1 – Cell 1||✔|
|Ads removed||Row 2 – Cell 1||✔|
|Playback controls||Row 3 – Cell 1||✔|
|Offline listening||Row 8 – Cell 1||✔|