Deep music catalog. Collaborative playlists. Good sound quality. Optional desktop app that lets you play locally stored audio files. Premium accounts let you hear select albums before they're released. Varied price plans.
No live radio or optional informative DJs. Lacks lyrics.
- Bottom Line
The feature-packed Spotify, available in both free and premium versions, is a top-notch streaming music service, despite a few quirks.
The highly competitive streaming music space gains and loses services every few years, but one thing remains certain: Spotify is a very strong contender that you should absolutely check out. Despite serious competition from everyone from the pioneering Pandora Internet Radio and the relatively new kid on the block, Microsoft Groove, Spotify is still a major player in this crowded category. That said, Spotify lacks the live radio, sports, and in-depth artist retrospectives found in the Editors' Choice award-winning Slacker Radio.
How to Get Spotify
You can access Spotify on a PC in two ways: by launching the web player or downloading the desktop app (available for Linux, Mac, and Windows). To get the Web player, point your PC's browser toward https://play.spotify.com; to get the desktop app, click Spotify's Download link. The desktop app has an advantage over the web player in that you can use it to play MP3, M4P, and MP4 audio files that are stored in your computer.
Users can dive into Spotify using one of the two listening plans: Spotify Free or Spotify Premium. The free version serves audio and banner ads as you listen at 160Kbps, manage your digital music files, and connect with others using the built-in social networking features. The $9.99-per-month Spotify Premium lets you hear select albums before they're released, play songs on demand, and cache songs for offline playback on your computer, phone, or other devices. It also increases audio quality to 320Kbps. Feature- and quality-wise, Premium is worth the extra moolah. That said, Spotify doesn't let you record audio as SiriusXM Internet Radio, the Editors' Choice for streaming services focused on live content, does.
Spotify's revamped Family Plan now grants six people individual premium accounts for an incredibly wallet-friendly $14.99 per month. This new, lower-cost Spotify Family Plan directly competes with Apple Music and Google Play's $14.99 per month family plans. Apple and Google's offerings also let six household members subscribe to the service for $14.99 per month. Tidal has two family plans, Premium and HiFi, that let up to five household members sign up for the service. The difference between the two tiers is audio quality; Tidal HiFi's family plan boasts lossless, high-fidelity sound. Sadly, Slacker Radio has none. The Editors' Choice really needs to step up in that area.
Spotify's library boasts more than 20 million songs, plus audiobooks, comedy, radio dramas, poetry, and speeches. It's a rich collection, and I was pleasantly surprised to find Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in its entirety. Spotify's non-music extras act as a counter to Slacker Radio's The Weather Channel, live ESPN, and lifestyles content, and Tidal's in-depth music editorials and exclusive tour videos.
On the topic of Tidal, if you're an audio fiend, you may want to check out that service. The streaming music platform, fronted by the music industry's Illuminati, has a high-end $19.99 plan that delivers non-compressed, FLAC (at 1,411Kbps) audio that sounds absolutely incredible with a decent pair of headphones. That's not to say that Spotify's audio is spotty; it's actually quite enjoyable, with decent audio separation.
Clicking an artist's name pulls up additional songs by the artist, and an About tab that contains an artist's biography, photos, and hyperlinks to related Spotify pages. I quickly killed quite a few minutes leaping from Alicia Keys to Isaac Hayes to Booker T. and The M.G.'s and reading the in-depth bios and sampling tracks. However, Slacker Radio's DNA station does a better job of fleshing out artist profiles through the use of interviews and playing the music that influenced the artists' sound.
The Spotify Experience
Spotify's more than 20 million-song library didn't let me down. I streamed the entirety of A Tribe Called Quest's We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, Hannah Williams & The Affirmations' Late Nights & Heartbreak, and Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin II. Spotify has a good mix of major and indie artists, including Taylor Swift, who once had a notable falling out with Spotify over money that saw her remove her catalog from the service.
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Likewise, Spotify now has Prince's catalog, so you can dive into the Purple One's riffs at your leisure. This is a good thing, as you no longer need to fire up a particular service based on the artist you want to hear. The streaming music battle shouldn't be over the music, but over how companies best present the music (editorials, videos, retrospectives, themed playlists, artist analysis, etc.).
You can build playlists with any of the tracks or albums in Spotify's deep catalog. By default, Spotify streams tracks on your playlists with gapless playback. Spotify also gives you the option to crossfade songs, and even the ability to adjust the number of seconds (1-12) to fade. It's not something I use, but DJs (or wannabe DJs) might find it appealing. If you want to build a playlist with a friend, turn on the collaborative playlist option to let your playlist be edited by others.
Besides listening to singles, albums, and playlists, you can create an Artist Radio station that plays music from your favorite musicians, as well as similar-sounding musicians. I was quite pleased with Harlem's Artist Radio, as it served up tunes from Dum Dum Girls and other indie rock notables. Oddly, I was able to skip more than a dozen tracks in the little time I spent with Spotify Free before I upgraded to Spotify Premium; typically, streaming music services like Slacker Radio limit you to six skips. Not that I'm complaining. You can, of course, like and ban songs to customize the Artist Radio experience. However, Spotify lacks Slacker Radio's informative DJs who host particular playlists and the music history-filled Slacker DNA stations.
Sadly, Spotify no longer serves up lyrics in its browser- or desktop-based apps. You can find lyrics on the mobile side, however.
An Excellent Streaming Music Service
Despite some quirks, Spotify is better than ever and remains a PCMag favorite among premium streaming music services. The player itself is lightweight, loads quickly, and does a great job of putting local files in the cloud for access anywhere. The Premium version adds excellent audio quality and offline listening, too. Sure, Slacker Radio is an excellent service (and the winner of our Editors' Choice award), but it's better suited for listeners who'd rather dive into live tunes, lifestyles content, and music history. Spotify's service has some flaws, but it's still one that you should check out.
About the Author
Jeffrey L. Wilson Senior Analyst, Software
For more than a decade, Jeffrey L. Wilson has penned gadget- and video game-related nerd-copy for a variety of publications, including 1UP, 2D-X, The Cask, Laptop, LifeStyler, Parenting, Sync, Wise Bread, and WWE. He now brings his knowledge and skillset to PCMag as Senior Analyst. When he isn't staring at a monitor (or two) and churning out Web… See Full Bio
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