There’s no denying Spotify has a champion’s work ethic.
Not content with being the longest-running, most subscribed-to streaming service out there, it isn’t resting on its laurels as new rival services – most recently from Amazon and Soundcloud – constantly pop up to challenge its streaming supremacy.
The service is renowned for its innovation, and we’d have to review it every few months to keep up to date with every development. With that in mind, it’s not surprising a lot has happened since our last review of it last summer.
However, some new features have sprung up, mostly focusing on music discovery.
The price of its Family Plan subscription has been reduced; six users can now access it for £15 per month; and it has continued to tap into every corner of popular culture – including most recently the dating industry.
This year, Spotify has matched with Tinder so you can see who shares your music tastes and have even ‘more reasons to swipe right’. It has also branched out into video, with content available on the Android and iOS apps.
Of course, we can’t recap Spotify’s recent months without contextualising it against the birth of Apple Music. In its first year of existence, Apple Music has become one of the most impressive and quickest-growing services in the streaming ecosystem.
Despite the ever-mushrooming competition, Spotify continues to stay true to its founding “music for everyone” ethos by remaining one of the only streaming services to offer a free, ad-supported subscription tier alongside its premium service.
MORE: Apple Music review
At the time of our last review, Spotify’s catalogue had over 30 million songs – ‘significantly more than competing services’ we said, and more than you could ever listen to.
That figure is still the same (officially, at least), but in the meantime rivals appear to have caught up. Apple Music, Qobuz and Google Play Music also claim to have ‘over 30 million’ tracks, and Deezer even more at 35 million.
However, the number of paying subscribers does appear to be on the rise. This year, Spotify has reached 40 million (double what it had last summer), and claims 100 million active users altogether.
That tells you two things: the majority of users take advantage of the free tier, but more and more are paying out.
The free subscription tier on the desktop version is pretty unlimited in terms of search and stream options, although on a mobile device users of the Spotify app can only shuffle artists or playlists, with song skipping restricted to six times per hour.
Of course, there are niggling adverts too, which crop up every few songs. The sound quality is capped at 160kbps too and listening is online only, so you’ll need a home or mobile internet connection.
There’s plenty to persuade people to go Premium though: improved 320kbps streams, offline listening, the freedom to search and skip tracks on mobile devices, and of course, no adverts.
Spotify Connect, which allows Premium subscribers to stream its catalogue directly to speakers, TV or stereos, is now a more attractive feature than ever thanks to it becoming a built-in feature in many hi-fi and AV products, from Sonos multi-room speakers to Sony’s PlayStation, from Onkyo and Yamaha home cinema amps to TVs running on Android’s OS.
In our previous review, we predicted that a lossless option, such as Tidal’s, ‘wouldn’t be too far behind’, but alas there’s still no sign of it.
Better sound quality remains the next logical step for Spotify – especially as Apple Music’s streams offer the more open and involving listen, with greater space, subtlety and punch, not to mention the higher resolution on offer from Qobuz and Tidal.
Still, Spotify’s 320kbps streams still offer decent detail levels and a tonally balanced presentation that’s refined enough and easy on the ears.
More after the break
Spotify’s intuitive interface looks much the same as before, although minor layout changes have been made to accommodate new features.
The Browse (or ‘home’) page is a well-maintained section that throws up context-based playlists, constantly updated UK and global charts, and new releases for your attention, as well as content based on tracks you’ve previously listened to. A new ‘Concert’ tab that flags up gigs based on your music tastes and location is a nice addition too.
Music discovery through a series of personalised algorithmic playlists seems to be at the forefront of Spotify’s innovation, though, and is essentially where the service leapfrogs its rivals.
Among them is Discover Weekly, which uses Spotify’s ‘deep learning’ system to generate 30 songs a week, relevant to your listening habits and refreshed every Monday.
Suggestions based on your recent listening activity are a good mix of both old and new – and are accurate. There’s now also more concentration than ever before on discovering new music.
Complimenting Discover Weekly is Release Radar, a two-hour playlist of brand new music sent out every Friday, so that you never miss the latest tracks from your favourite artists.
It seems pretty spot-on, and even includes new remixes of songs from artists you have listened to.
In case you need even more songs to soundtrack your procrastination, there’s now a New Music Friday UK playlist that ties in with the official UK chart, featuring a few handfuls of tracks from new album and single releases.
Listened to them all by Wednesday? In September, Spotify launched Daily Mix, which sits within ‘Your Library’ on the iOS and Android mobile app (it’s coming soon to desktop) and consists of five genre-specific playlists.
The more you listen the more they evolve… and the more we use it the more we think this could be one of Spotify’s best features yet.
Video content can be found under the Browse section (Android and iOS smartphones only), and features a diverse range of short clips, from the Ellen talk show, to snippets from popular BBC, TED talks or MTV programming, to Spotify’s own original content.
So far, the latter includes a handful of mini-series – hardly ready to take on YouTube, but we can see its potential for a quick browse, providing short, engaging entertainment.
While local files on your computer can be accessed within Spotify in the ‘Your Music’ section – just check that your preferences allow it – it’s not as well integrated.
Spotify’s algorithmic radio, which curate songs around a particular artist, is not a patch on Beats 1, Apple Music’s live 24/7 global ‘youth-orientated’ station, however.
That’s not surprising considering the resources Apple has put into securing DJ Zane Lowe and celebrity guest appearances. It is varied, unique and comprehensive, and ultimately one defeat Spotify has to take on the chin.
Ease of use
Still, in terms of accessibility, ease of use and content, Spotify has it all. Barring that CD-quality audio.
It’s little wonder that competitors have come and gone in the time it’s been around, but even those alive and kicking don’t quite match Spotify’s level of completeness.
Sure, there’s room for improvement, and reasons why you might look elsewhere: rivals sound better, and are available in more countries, and some features and functions offered by other services may appeal to you.
With its CD-quality lossless streaming, Tidal is growing a fanbase of audio enthusiasts, while Qobuz’s Sublime tier offers something different with its cross between a streaming service and hi-res download store.
But Spotify is the mass market choice for those interested in discovering old and new music, and is the most comprehensive and complete we’ve come across for the money.
For some, it will come down to preference. Luckily, most services offer a free trial, so you can try before you buy.
But in our opinion, Spotify remains the £10 per month, standard-quality audio option to beat. But if your main concern is sound quality, both Apple Music and more pertinently, Tidal, should be considered.