Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should you pay to play? (2024)

Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should you pay to play? (1)

Editor's note: Spotify debuted a new look at its "Stream On" event yesterday (March 8) hosted by Spotify CEO Daniel Ek. The redesigned Spotify began rolling out on accounts shortly before the event started, and swaps its long running rows and rows of suggestions based on topics and themes, for a card-based layout. While this is a very stark difference from rows of square icons, it doesn't actually change what you're getting. Instead, Spotify is trying to make better use of the small looping videos you see while listening to songs.

Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should you pay to play? (2)

There will also be new discovery-focused feeds in search, asSpotify says you can "Scroll up or down to explore short Canvas clips from tracks from some of your favorite genres. Then easily save the song to a playlist, follow the artist, or share it with friends — all from one place."

More new Spotify features

Inan announcement post, Spotify also focused on three new (or new-ish) features. First, the new Spotify will continue to roll out the AI-based DJ feature, which it says is increasing listening time by 25%.

Then, Smart Shuffle helps increase the lengths of your playlists while it will also "perfectly match the vibe of an original playlist." To try it out, Spotify says "Use the Shuffle button to activate the feature. As soon as you turn it on, you’ll be able to start listening to your playlist mixed with new recommendations that match the vibe."

Thirdly, Spotify rolled out Autoplay for Podcasts — which places relevant episodes right after the ones you're listening to.

Spotify Free vs. Premium

Choosing between Spotify Free and Premium is a little more complicated given some of the recent upgrades rival music steaming services have received. Spotify's closest rival Apple Music already offers lossless and spatial audio, and the popular music streaming service is beginning to looking like it's falling behind in terms of high-quality music streaming.

In early 2022 it became apparent that Spotify's lossless streaming tier was hit by delays, although it now looks as though Spotify HiFi could be back on the agenda after all.Spotify's second Stream On event has been set for March 8, 2023, where we'll hopefully be able to find out more about whether a Spotify hi-fi tier is ever likely to be rolled out.

If you don’t already have a Spotify Premium subscription, you might be wondering if it’s worth paying the monthly $10.99. Or, if it's better to keep a Spotify Free account but spend music streaming money towards a different service. We've put the streaming service head-to-head with its biggest rivals, so don't forget to check out these face-offs: Apple Music vs. Spotify, and Spotify vs. Tidal.

This Spotify Free vs. Premium comparison will help you choose by running through what features you get on each tier.

Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should you pay to play? (3)

Spotify Free vs. Spotify Premium: What do you get?

Swipe to scroll horizontally

Spotify FreeSpotify Premium
Monthly PriceFree$10.99 ($5.99 Student plan, $14.99 for Duo plan, and $16.99 for a 6-account Family plan)
Annual PriceFree$99 (with gift card)
LibraryOver 80 million songs, plus 2.6 million podcastsOver 80 million songs, plus 2.6 million podcasts
AvailabilityPCs, smartphones, connected devices, Smart TVs, PS3 & PS4, Android Auto, Spotify Car Thing, Apple CarplayPCs, smartphones, connected devices, Smart TVs, PS3 & PS4, Android Auto, Spotify Car Thing, Apple Carplay
Special FeaturesMobile streamingAd-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.

As of July 24 2023, a standard Premium subscription costs $10.99 per month. If you can prove you’re a student, you can also get Spotify Premium for just $5.99 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 $14.99 per month, while $16.99 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. Premium: Should you pay to play? (5)

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 using the app on a mobile phone. Shuffle mode is the default. Rewind and repeat playback controls are available with the Spotify web player, or if you're using the app on a tablet.

Last year, Spotify updated its Shuffle and Play buttons for Premium subscribers to make it clearer for users to select the playback mode they prefer at the top of playlists and albums.

Spotify's Shuffle playback control caused controversy in 2021 when several artists (including Adele) railed against the streaming service's use of a default auto-shuffle play button. The outcry asked that it be removed from albums to enable listeners to experience content on the streaming service in the track listing order that the artists and music producers originally intended.

Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should you pay to play? (6)

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. Premium: Should you pay to play? (7)

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.

Winner: Draw

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.

Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should you pay to play? (8)

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.

Winner: Draw

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.

Winner: Draw

Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should you pay to play? (9)

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

Swipe to scroll horizontally

Spotify FreeSpotify Premium
Music libraryRow 1 - Cell 1
Ads removedRow 2 - Cell 1
Playback controlsRow 3 - Cell 1
Supported devices
Social features
Curated content
Sound qualityRow 7 - Cell 1
Offline listeningRow 8 - Cell 1

Contributions from: Henry T. Casey, James Archer

More from Tom's Guide

  • 4 best music streaming services
  • How to transfer Spotify playlists to another service
  • 7 Spotify tips and tricks you really need to know.

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Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should you pay to play? (10)

Lee Dunkley

Audio Editor

As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.

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    Spotify Free vs. Premium: Should you pay to play? (2024)


    Can you hear the difference between Spotify free and premium? ›

    In essence, this means that Spotify Premium's music contains more audio data points and, therefore more detail to its sound. Spotify Premium does have higher quality than Free Spotify, but it doesn't have a high resolution or “HiFi” setting.

    What happens if you don t have enough money for Spotify Premium? ›

    If a monthly payment fails, you won't immediately lose your Premium. We'll try to take the payment again over the next few days.

    What is the difference between Spotify free and premium app? ›

    Premium Spotify subscribers get to enjoy all of the free version's features, plus a lot more. These include ad-free music streaming, higher audio quality, access to exclusive content and podcasts, and downloading songs for offline listening.

    Should we pay for Spotify Premium? ›

    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.

    What are the cons of Spotify free? ›

    Too Many Ads and Annoying Limitations in the Free Plan

    You'll have to deal with ads if you don't pay for the premium subscription. The next limitation lies in the operation and selection itself. Even if you can access all of Spotify's music with Spotify Free, in most cases, you have to make do with Spotify's selection.

    Why is Spotify forcing me to buy premium? ›

    Spotify says the move comes as Indian market has matured now and that the recent changes might encourage users to get a Premium subscription. Spotify music streaming service has decided to lock certain features behind paywall in an attempt to increase Premium subscribers in India.

    How many people don t use Spotify Premium? ›

    Free users will hear and see ads every so often and are unable to access the full range of features the streaming service provides. As of the third quarter of 2023, Spotify reportedly had 379 million monthly active users, up from 295 million in the same quarter last year, on a free, ad-supported plan.

    Why does Spotify pay so little per stream? ›

    Under Spotify's pro-rata royalties model, artists are not paid according to the number of streams their songs garner. Instead, artists receive payouts according to the percentage of total streams their songs receive. With the reported changes, an artist will need to cross a minimum-streams-per-song threshold – .

    What happens when you stop paying for Spotify Premium? ›

    Your Premium stays until your next billing date, then your account switches to free. You keep your playlists and saved music when your account is free. You can also still log in and play with ads.

    Why Spotify Premium is worth it? ›

    The premium subscription plan saves you from those annoying ads in between your music spree. Apart from no-ad service, Spotify Premium lets you enjoy complete access on mobile devices. You won't be limited to shuffling, and you'll get to access Radio and more.

    What can you do with a free Spotify account? ›

    Play millions of songs and podcasts, for free.
    • Play your favorites. Listen to the songs you love, and discover new music and podcasts.
    • Playlists made easy. We'll help you make playlists. ...
    • Make it yours. Tell us what you like, and we'll recommend music for you.
    • Save mobile data.

    Is it safe to use Spotify Free Premium? ›

    It is not safe to download or use modded versions of applications, including Spotify Mod APK . These types of modded apps are often distributed illegally and can contain malicious code or viruses that can harm your device or steal your personal information.

    Should I pay for Spotify plays? ›

    Buying Spotify Plays and Streams Doesn't Help You in the Long Run. Spotify's growth depends on genuine listener data. The platform uses algorithms to increase your streams, but organic traffic must come from actual listeners.

    Why is Apple Music better than Spotify? ›

    Best for high quality audio

    Like Spotify, Apple Music has playlists that serve up songs based on your listening habits, but you can also listen to the Beats 1 Radio stations with human DJs at the helm. It also offers lossless audio and Dolby Atmos spatial audio support on select songs.

    Which Spotify plan is best? ›

    Go for the standard Premium plan. With ad-free listening, unlimited skips, the ability to favourite and curate playlists and of course download tunes, you can keep this account all to yourself.

    Does Spotify Premium give you better sound? ›

    Spotify premium accounts offer a high-quality streaming option in the preferences panel. This will give you 320 kbps streaming, the highest quality compressed streaming audio available.

    Can you hear the difference in Spotify quality? ›

    Many basic Spotify users are using devices that can't make the most of higher quality streams, so they can't tell the difference and, it's likely most basic Spotify users don't actually care. Most users only use Bluetooth these days. Which for the majority of users only supports Lossy Audio anyway.

    Is Spotify louder with premium? ›

    On mobile devices you'll need Spotify Premium to use the loud volume option.

    Does free Spotify sound good? ›

    Can you actually hear the difference in sound quality between Spotify premium and free services? Its not just that having a Premium Subscription automatically makes the music sound better, its that you can download the songs directly to your device, and can set the download quality of those songs.


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