Spotify Free vs. Premium: Is it Worth Upgrading?

Spotify offers two tiers: a free, ad-supported plan and a $9.99 per month Premium plan. But what are the differences between the two and is it worth upgrading? Let’s find out.

What You Get With Spotify’s Free Tier

Spotify’s free tier isn’t really free; it’s ad-supported. Companies are paying Spotify to make you listen to ads every few tracks. Spotify makes less money per-play from ads than they do from Premium subscribers, so to encourage people to upgrade, the free tier is limited in certain ways.

When using the desktop or web app with a free account, you can listen to any song, album, or playlist at any time in any order. The only limit is that every couple of tracks, you’ll hear an ad. It’s the mobile app, however, where the limits really hit you.

When using the mobile app with a free account, you can listen to any songs in any order with unlimited track skips as long as it appears on one of the 15 personalized playlists chosen for you by Spotify’s machine learning algorithms. These playlists include things like:

  • Discover Weekly (a weekly selection of tracks Spotify thinks you’ll like).
  • Daily Mix (a mix of your favorite tracks and ones you haven’t heard that Spotify thinks you’ll like).
  • Release Radar (new tracks from artists you listen to or Spotify thinks you’ll like).
  • Spotify’s curated playlists like RapCaviar (the hottest rap and hip hop tracks) and Ultimate Indie (the best new and upcoming indie tracks).

In total, you’ll have about 750 tracks to choose from, although the exact tracks available change from day to day and week to week.

Outside of the 15 personalized playlists chosen by Spotify, you can only listen to playlists, albums, or artists on shuffle. You can’t select a specific track to play and you are also limited to skipping six tracks per hour.

What You Get With Spotify Premium

Spotify Premium costs $9.99 a month and for that, you get an entirely ad free experience. You can listen to as much music as you want and you’ll never get interrupted by an ad.

You can also listen to any track, album, artist, or playlist you like at any time in any order with unlimited skips. Basically, you can listen to whatever music you want without any limitations in either the desktop or mobile apps.

One of the best features of the premium account is that you can download tracks for offline listening in both the mobile and desktop apps. This is great if you want to save on mobile data or don’t always have your laptop or phone connected to the internet while you work. It turns Spotify into an offline music service rather than an online music streaming service.

You also get the ability to listen to higher quality audio streams. On the free plan, tracks are streamed at 96kbps on mobile and 160kbps on your computer—a small, but noticeable drop in quality compared to a CD. With Premium, you can listen to tracks at up to 320kbps which is, for most people, completely indistinguishable from CD quality audio.

Is It Worth the Upgrade?

Up until recently, Spotify Premium offered a significantly better mobile experience than the free tier because you couldn’t listen to any track you want from the 15 personalized playlists; you were totally limited to shuffle. Now though, things are a bit more interesting.

Spotify’s recommendation engine is pretty awesome and the more you listen, the better it gets. I regularly use Spotify’s playlists when I don’t want to think too much about what I listen to because they’re so well matched to my tastes. It is definitely possible to get by with the 750 or so constantly changing songs and be happy.

On the other hand, the extra features are pretty great. Offline listening is hard to beat if you’re on a limited data plan or have spotty coverage. And the ads can be very annoying. Upgrading also might not cost as much as you think. A regular account is $9.99 per month, but students can get it (and Hulu) for $4.99 per month.

There’s also a great family plan that costs $14.99 per month for up to five people. Even if you only have two people using Spotify, you save money with the family plan. And with a family of four or five, it’s a no-brainer.

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Personally, I’ve been a Premium subscriber for a long time and that’s not going to change in a hurry. However, Spotify’s free tier has never been more compelling. It’s really up to you whether the extra features are worth the cost of upgrading.

Harry Guinness writes occasionally when he’s not busy skiing, sailing, partying, lifting weights, or otherwise dodging responsibility. His main areas of interest are himself, gin, and crazy people with interesting stories to tell. When people won’t pay him to write ill-thought-out opinion pieces, he covers photography, technology, and culture. You can follow him on Twitter.