Spotify is arguably the company that really kicked off the big music-streaming revolution and, in many ways, it’s still the company leading it too.
Launched in Sweden in late 2008, it had built a user base of 10 million people within two years. Now there are more than 24 million active users of the service.
Spotify has arguably dropped the ball a little when it comes to its interface – the likes of Deezer, Napster and Rdio now offer a nicer user experience.
A new desktop design is being rolled out – it looks cleaner, but is more a lick of paint than a complete overhaul. It hasn’t hit our laptops as yet though, so it could be a while before it’s a full release.
Content, though, is as strong as ever. Users navigate from a menu on the left-hand side – Browse and Discover being two key areas.
The former has playlists, new music and editorial features, while the latter offers up suggestions based on what you and your friends have been listening to, thanks to a Facebook hook-up. You can keep up to date with artists’ latest releases too.
Making playlists for online and offline listening is a simple process, though there are some much-missed features that Spotify could do with addressing, such as a facility for adding full albums to existing playlists within the mobile app, and the ability to search through playlists in the desktop app.
Spotify has long allowed you to add local tracks from your laptop to your playlists within the desktop app, and recently it has added the ability to sync these tracks to your mobile devices too.
Similar to Deezer, Spotify has an app store for app development from third parties, adding further playlists and editorial content from the likes of The Guardian, the BBC and Rolling Stone.
Platforms and apps
As one of the biggest streaming services, it makes sense that Spotify should have the widest platform support. And it is extensive.
Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and even Symbian have apps, as well as features on Virgin TiVo boxes, Sonos speakers and a growing amount of AV kit through Spotify Connect. These all support the desktop and web apps.
Spotify’s catalogue is up with the best any streaming service has to offer.
Its influence in the industry has won it big exclusives from the likes of Oasis, Metallica and Led Zeppelin, with very few gaps of note elsewhere – something that wins it major brownie points in this test.
It keeps its catalogue up to date too, and knows how to shout about it.
During our test procedure, its page on new releases was constantly updated, showing new albums and tracks daily.
Its competitors, despite having the same content available, showed a very similar selction of albums throughout the same period.
More after the break
Spotify has experimented with its offering a little over the years, but has settled on two levels of access.
The first is ad-supported and free, and available on mobile devices too, while the second – the £9.99 premium model – removes the ads, boosts sound quality and allows unlimited online and offline streaming.
For Premium subscribers, Spotify has 320kbps playback, with 160kbps as the free bitrate and a 96kbps option for mobile users wanting to limit data use. So it can't match the CD-quality streaming available on new service Qobuz.
The highest-quality playback offers great levels of detail and a tonally balanced presentation.
It sounds a touch harder and grainier than Google and Sony’s 320kbps services, but that edge is likely to be negligible on most kit.
Despite not leading the pack in sound quality, it’s hard not to be impressed with Spotify.
Its track record at securing big exclusives is a major coup, and, as arguably the biggest-name service, it’s bound to keep attracting them.
Spotify is undoubtedly a tough one to beat.
Catalogue: 20 million
Bitrate: up to 320kbps
File format: Ogg Vorbis
Mobile platforms: Android, Blackberry, iOS, Symbian, Windows Phone
Desktop app: Yes
Tablet optimised: Android, iOS
MORE: Qobuz review