The highly competitive streaming music space gains and loses services every few years, but one thing remains the same: Spotify is one of the best music services around. Despite serious competition from everyone from the pioneering Pandora to newish kid on the block Deezer, Spotify is still a top player in this crowded category. Spotify lacks the informative DJs and news and weather updates found in the co-Editors’ Choice award-winning Slacker Radio, but it makes up for those shortcomings with video content, digital comics, podcasts, and other offerings. It’s an excellent music streaming service that delivers the goods.
How to Get Spotify
You can access Spotify by launching the web player, by downloading the desktop apps (available for Linux, Mac, and Windows), or by installing one of the mobile apps (available for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone). You can also find Spotify on TVs, set-top boxes, smartwatches, and home video game consoles.
The desktop apps have an advantage over the web player and mobile apps in that you can use the former to play M4P, MP3, and MP4 audio files that are stored in your computer. This is a particularly neat feature for people who want to play all of their music streams and audio files from one central location. The Android app and iOS app, however, share an extra benefit, which I’ll explore later in this review.
Spotify Pricing and Plans
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 Family Plan grants six people individual premium accounts for an incredibly wallet-friendly $14.99 per month. This 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, Family Premium ($14.99 per month) and Family HiFi ($29.99 per month), that let up to five household members sign up for the service. The difference between the two tiers is audio quality; Tidal Family HiFi boasts lossless, high-fidelity sound, while Family Premium does not. Slacker Radio lacks a family plan; Spotify’s co-Editors’ Choice really needs to step up in that area.
Spotify’s library boasts more than 20 million songs, plus audiobooks, comedy, radio dramas, podcasts, poetry, and speeches. It’s a rich collection, and I am pleasantly surprised that it includes 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, 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.
By default, the music is streamed at 160kbps, but premium account holders can bump it to 320kbps. The tunes sound pretty good, too, especially if you have good headphones. Sadly, Spotify no longer serves up lyrics in its browser- or desktop-based apps.
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 killed quite a few minutes in testing 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 library won’t let you 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.
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 like Harlem’s Artist Radio, which served up tunes from Dum Dum Girls and other indie rock notables in testing. 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, as you can with most music-streaming services.
Spotify lacks Slacker Radio’s news and weather updates, as well as the informative DJs who host particular playlists and the music history-filled Slacker DNA stations. Instead, it has Spotify Sessions, original artist recordings made in Spotify Studios. I tolerated Kelly Clarkson’s mediocre cover of Prince’s “Kiss,” but rather enjoyed John Legend’s “All of Me.”
Line-In, a recently added feature, lets listeners supply Spotify with metadata that will be used to help clean up some of the messy organization on the service’s backend. By opting into Line-In, you answer a series of questions that task you with confirming an album’s release date, identifying a song’s genre, flagging a track that contains hate speech, or other such activity. It’s a shame that Spotify doesn’t give people, say, a month of free Premium service for their efforts.
Spotify also has a small number of music videos, many of which are Spotify originals (like RapCaviar and Viva Latino). During testing, I didn’t see any videos starring classic artists like Michael Jackson or Prince. If you desire that, I recommend checking out YouTube Music.
If you’re concerned about streaming your favorite tunes over, say, a public Wi-Fi signal, you need to get yourself a VPN. A virtual private network safeguards your phone, tablet, or PC from snoopers and, depending on the location of the VPN server, may let you access music licensed to other regions. Using a VPN to get around licensing restrictions violates Spotify’s terms of service, though, so tread carefully.
Archie Comic Books
In an unusual move, Spotify partnered with Archie Comics to bring, well, Archie to the music platform. These comics, which are available to both free and paid Spotify members, aren’t your mom or pop’s Archie funnies; these digital comics are from the excellent 2015 reboot that features stories from Mark Waid and Fiona Staples. in addition, the Madefire-powered books are motion comics, so you experience dynamic panels and excellent voice acting. They’re pretty good!
So far, there are just six issues available, with each one lasting roughly 10 to 15 minutes. And in case you’re wondering, Archie is the lone comic book series on the Spotify platform. For a deeper dive into digital comics, check out Editors’ Choice Comixology.
Spotify’s Mobile Apps
As previously mentioned, Spotify is also available on Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. The version I tested on my Google Pixel XL smartphone has the recent update that revamps Spotify’s mobile experience by tweaking the interface and adding new features. You can, of course, execute basic actions, such as applying a crossfade or gapless playback, but there are other new features that sound a bit more interesting.
For example, Spotify has partnered with Genius, one of the web’s most-popular lyrics sites, to offer Behind The Lyrics. This feature, which is currently only available in English, displays key lyrics (but not full lyrics!) as they’re sung or rapped. In addition, Behind The Lyrics delivers behind-the-scenes information, such as song facts or inspirations. It’s a cool addition that very much reminds me of VH-1’s classic Pop-Up Video show.
In terms of streaming tech, Spotify’s mobile apps have four audio settings: Normal (96kbps), High (160kbps), Extreme (320kbps), and Automatic, which varies based on your network connection.
An Excellent Streaming Music Service
Simply put, Spotify is an excellent, Editors’ Choice-winning streaming music service, whether you’re listening on your desktop or a mobile device. It has tons of great music, exclusive tunes, and a limited digital comics catalog, all of which combine to make it a top pick for streaming music and more pop culture-related content. If you prefer musical deep dives, check out Slacker Radio, which is also an Editors’ Choice.