Spotify is one of the biggest names in the music streaming business and boasts around 345 million subscribers globally, and while it doesn’t offer studio quality audio, usability is top notch.
In this review, we dig a little deeper to see what Spotify has that might encourage metal heads, prog rockers, and punksters to sign up, or stay in the fold.
Spotify review: Features
Spotify makes a big play of its curated content, social interaction and intelligent recommendations, but for many, the sheer variety of payment options will be its most attractive feature.
There’s a free version, but life’s too short to bother with its basic functionality and intrusive ads. Spotify Premium is the default package, and for $9.99/£9.99 a month you’re not going to be left quibbling about value.
There’s also a Student Tier for $5.99/£5.99 a month, and if you want to split costs a Duo tier supports two users for £13.99. Finally, there’s the £16.99 Family Tier, which allows up to six people to have their own account.
It often makes sense to opt for a co-op plan, as this allows those Spotify personal curation algorithms to work more effectively. If you just share your login you’ll end up with a very conflicted annual Top Songs of the Year compilation.
Spotify is also widely accessible from a range of devices. You’ll find a Spotify app on your Sky Q TV box, Spotify Connect compatibility allows you to seamlessly move from smartphone to home Hi-Fi, and the service works with multiroom systems like Sonos and Denon’s Heos too.
Spotify review: Audio options
It’s not that Spotify sounds particularly bad, more that it doesn’t sound particularly great. High res Audio is verboten – there’s no 24-bit hi-res content available. This puts the service at the bottom of the bill when it comes to sonic fidelity, well behind headliners like Tidal, Qobuz and Apple Music.
The best you can currently expect from Spotify Premium is 320kbps. This is fine if your headphones were fresh when Biff Byford was a boy, but if you’re sporting fancy high-res cans (like the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Sennheiser Momentum 3) you might want to give your ears an upgrade.
Tidal’s HiFi tier costs more at $19.99/£19.99 a month, but for the extra outlay you get audio quality up to 9216 kbps and that includes Master Quality audio, Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio. Tidal is the equivalent of actually getting into a gig, while Spotify is akin to sitting outside by the bins.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Spotify won’t offer a higher resolution tier in the future, but that’s where we are right now.
Spotify review: User Experience
One of the reasons Spotify rocks so hard is the effectiveness of its user interface. Like AC/DC you know exactly where you are and what you’ll get. Spotify also gets new music recommendations largely right, and social integration is great. You can post songs to Instagram, invite pals to collaborate on playlists and mock your mates music choices on Facebook.
The Home screen offers instant access to recently played albums, curated playlists and recommended artists. It’s occasionally inscrutable with some odd choices of music pushed your way, but it doesn’t take much effort to scroll down to find something that suits your mood. There’s also a powerful search function to explore artists, songs, genres or podcasts.
One aspect of Spotify which may prove divisive is just how much space is now being given up to podcasts. It’s easy to see why as Spotify says podcast listening has jumped dramatically. Content is plentiful, and typically it doesn’t come with pesky licensing fees.
Taking a leaf out of the Netflix playbook, the company has been splashing the cash and signing big exclusivity deals to give the listener even more options.
Spotify review: The alternatives
We’ve already given a shout out to Tidal, which touts high res audio and some novel functionality (like Dolby Atmos sound when you tune in via its media streamer app). But let’s face it, you pay for the pleasure.
A halfway house is Qobuz. The best value Hi-Res Audio service, the Qobuz Studio Premier plan available for $12.99/£10.83 a month, and that gets you 24-bit hi-res as standard. The catch is it doesn’t have the same clever editorial curation as Spotify or Tidal.
If you're looking for more options, then check out our guide to the best music streaming services to see how all the main audio subscriptions mach up.