Spotify Free vs Premium: Should You Pay to Play?

Spotify's free, ad-supported tier has long provided users with an easy way to access a giant library of streaming music. That's about to change, though, as reports of new deals with record labels will put paywalls up in front of new releases. So it's time to ask: which Spotify plan is right for you?

Credit: George Dolgikh/Shutterstock

(Image credit: George Dolgikh/Shutterstock)

March 28 Update: Spotify's testing a new 2-account family plan, dubbed Premium Duo. Not available in the US yet — just Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ireland and Poland — this service costs 12.49 Euro per month, placing it right between the 9.99 Euro (and $9.99 USD) Premium price and its 14.99 Euro (and $14.99 USD) family subscription, which allows for 6 users. Ideally for couples without kids, Premium Duo looks interesting, and includes a playlist called Duo Mix that is automatically compiled based on the pair's listening habits.

Spotify Premium vs Spotify Free: What Do You Get?

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Spotify Premium
Spotify Free
Monthly Price
$9.99 (or $4.99 for students or $14.99 for a 6-account family deal)
Annual Price
More than 40 million songsMore than 40 million songs (minus certain recent releases for up to 2 weeks)
AvailabilityPCs, smartphones, connected devices, Smart TVs, PS3 & PS4, Android Auto, Apple Carplay
PCs, smartphones, connected devices, Smart TVs, PS3 & PS4, Android Auto, Apple Carplay
Special Features
Ad-free listening; Offline listening; Unlimited Skips; Mobile Streaming
Mobile Streaming

Music library: When do you need music?

Historically, Spotify's free and paying users both had access to the same library of "more than 40 million songs." As reported by The Verge, Spotify is changing its tune about making users pay to access songs.

Starting soon, artists will have the option to keep new releases out of Spotify's free tier for up to two weeks, meaning the service's users will need Spotify Premium ($9.99 per month) to hear them. So, if hearing the latest and greatest tracks matters a lot to you, it's time to consider that paid tier.

But you may not need to pay that much. If you can prove that you're a student, Spotify's got a $4.99 per month plan so you've got cash left over for instant ramen. Have family members who you can split the bill with? $14.99 per month gives you a 6-account family plan. If you're neither a student nor able to spread that monthly payment among others, a $99 per year option provides a $20 discount.

Otherwise, Spotify's free option is still going to be great for those who spend their time listening to older jams that they're more familiar with.

Listening experience: Are you a mix-master?

You can listen to Spotify pretty much everywhere. That includes your PC, smartphone, connected devices, PS3 or PS4, Smart TVs or any car equipped with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. In this regard, it doesn't matter if you pay for Premium, as Free users connect to all of the same devices.

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. That means you won't be able to turn on a specific song you want to hear, instead relying on a random selection order.

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.

Also, Spotify Premium users don't hear the ads that the service peppers throughout its Free tier. That might not be a big deal if you're the only one listening, but if you want to run a party's tunes through Spotify, you might find yourself explaining to guests why they're hearing a car insurance ad between jams.

MORE: 9 Best Songs to Stream Right Now

Special features: How much do the little things matter?

Next, Spotify's non-paying users can't save songs to their devices for when they're offline. That's a huge perk for those who don't want to run up their mobile data bill or find themselves in regions without cellular service.

If you've got nice headphones or a discerning ear, you might prefer Spotify Premium for its high quality audio option. Thats because its 320 kbps audio bitrate, a level that experts claim is indistinguishable from CD quality, isn't found in the free version, and only available to Premium users.

Bottom line: What kind of music listener are you?

So 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. No matter where you go (where you can get a signal), you'll always have access to your tunes.

But if you need to hear the latest songs, control the playlist, save offline and avoid ads, you'll probably want to pay for Spotify Premium.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • kwazel
    But if you need to (...) control the playlist, (...) you'll probably want to pay for Spotify Premium.
    You realize the word "playlist" is only used in the conclusion?