Spotify is the undisputed king of online music streaming. Worldwide, a staggering 320 million people use the service daily, with 144 million of them paying subscribers. The Swedish company has managed to achieve its dominant market position in the relatively short space of thirteen years since its launch in 2008.
However, it was services like Pandora that paved the way for companies like Spotify. Making their debut in 2000, they helped to start the streaming revolution that has completely changed the face of the music industry in the last two decades.
Whilst Pandora only has a fraction of the paid subscribers that Spotify can boast, it offers a markedly different service from the Swedish giants. Whilst Spotify allows you to pick the songs you want to play; Pandora offers a radio-style experience based on your musical preferences.
But, which of the two experiences is more worthy of your hard-earned money?
We’ll compare the pros and cons of both to help you decide the best option for you. So without further ado, let’s pit Spotify vs Pandora to see who emerges on top.
Spotify rose to the top of the pile largely based on its huge music catalog. So…
How many songs are on Spotify?
They currently have between 50 and 60 million individual tracks available to stream and download, with another 40,000 being added daily.
Admittedly, a significant portion of that number comes in the form of remixes and cover versions. But either way, that’s an insane amount of music to choose from. At its launch, Pandora had just 800,000 songs available. Since then, through a series of mergers and acquisitions, they’ve built that number to a total of over 30 million.
Whilst Spotify holds the lead in sheer numbers; both platforms feature the full gamut of artists that haven’t signed exclusive deals elsewhere. Outside of remixes, cover versions, and material from amateur artists, you won’t find too much on Spotify that isn’t available on Pandora. Therefore, they are pretty equal in this respect.
Winner – A draw.
Music isn’t the only thing Spotify and Pandora offer. Both companies have long been at the forefront of this burgeoning market, offering the most popular podcasts currently available.
Each platform has had its share of exclusives. But recently, Spotify has pushed the boat out, securing mega-deals with the likes of Joe Rogan and ex-royals Harry and Meghan.
With their acquisition of the sports-based podcast company, The Ringer, for nearly $200m last year, and its purchase of Gimlet Media before that, it’s clear to see who’ll be winning this battle going forward.
Winner – Spotify.
If signed up to premium accounts, the Spotify bitrate is 320kbps. Whilst Pandora lags, offering a maximum of 192kbps. Neither company offer the 24-bit FLAC, CD-quality streaming of companies like Tidal just yet. Although Spotify is planning on heading in this direction with the introduction of Spotify HiFi in 2021.
On top of the lower bitrate, according to reviews, Pandora buffers more than Spotify. There are few things more detrimental to musical enjoyment than having the song cut out mid-flow.
Winner – Spotify.
Music Discovery & Playlists
The ability to find music and artists you’ve never heard before yet suit your tastes is one of the major selling points of a good streaming service. Both platforms are extremely strong in this area if you’ve signed up for their premium service.
The central pillar of the Pandora experience…
It’s based around music discovery. The algorithm that powers the platform is called The Music Genome Project, and Pandora claims it to be “the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken.” This could well be true, although Spotify may have something to say about that.
Every track is categorized based on 450 different attributes. Ranging from the pace and beat to the mixture of different instruments or vocal styles. This is then used to add similar tracks to the various stations on offer.
Stations based on individual artists…
As well as songs and genres, are Pandora stations customizable? They are, and you can rename them to give the algorithm a helping hand by adding other songs or artists to help generate new tracks.
If you’re not a fan of a particular song that appears, you can give it the thumbs down, and it will not feature on that station or playlist again. Conversely, give a thumbs up, and the algorithm will seek more like it and save the song in a list for playback at a later date. You can also save the generated playlists in the My Collection tab.
Pandora features several different modes…
Found on each station, these alter the way new tracks are generated. For example, My Station mode will only add music based on your preferences and selections.
Switch to Discovery mode, and on top of your customization, the algorithm will generate tracks by more obscure artists who fit into that category but rarely make an appearance. Newly Released mode will focus on the most recent output of the artists on that station.
Spotify offers a similar experience through the Radio feature…
Their remarkable algorithm will also generate radio playlists based on individual artists, songs, and genres. However, these lists aren’t customizable. Meaning you can’t add or remove individual tracks, but you can save them to your library.
Spotify also creates radio based on the playlists you have created yourself. A little bored of a particular list, or simply want more songs to add to it? Head over to playlist radio for a completely new list of songs in that vein.
The ability to curate your playlists from scratch is how Spotify is different from Pandora. They continually add to them as time goes by. This has to be one of the main reasons for their comparative success. The ability to search, play, and download any song can’t be matched by the radio-style experience over on Pandora.
The stand-out “Discover Weekly” Spotify feature…
Every Monday morning, when you need it most, Spotify sends you a stunningly personalized two-hour playlist perfectly tailored to your tastes. It’s algorithmically based around your listening history and focuses on more obscure artists that you may have missed.
Personally, nineteen of the 30 tracks sent to me this week are from completely unfamiliar artists, who will almost certainly receive further exploration as they suit my tastes to a tee. This is all thanks to Discover Weekly. The Spotify algorithm is unparalleled in this respect.
Friday’s are also given a boost with another customized playlist called “Release Radar.” It brings together any new songs and live material from your preferred artists or similar bands if they’ve been inactive. It’s a pretty cool way to start the weekend.
That’s not even half of it…
You can create multiple personalized playlists. For example, “The Ones That Got Away” playlist, which consists of songs from earlier in the year that somehow slipped you by. The “Tastebreakers” playlist is another nice idea. It’s a list of tracks from genres you don’t normally listen to but which Spotify thinks you’ll appreciate all the same.
When it comes to expertly curated playlists generated by actual humans, both companies do an outstanding job. You can find playlists based on genre, mood, language, individual countries, and a whole host of other metrics.
All in all, even though Pandora’s whole model is based around music discovery, Spotify has the best algorithm for discovering music, both classic and contemporary. The high level of playlist control is also something you just don’t get on Pandora.
Winner – Spotify.
Screen Interface and User Experience
When it comes to Spotify vs Pandora, both are available on smartphones via a mobile app for iOS and Android users. There’s also a browser version and desktop app for both. Pandora is largely the same on all three mediums, featuring a remarkably simple interface and straightforward controls. Saved stations can be listed alphabetically, or by the date they were created.
Pandora also has its own voice assistant that you can use with your smartphone. Once enabled, it will respond to “Hey Pandora” commands. Allowing playback control and even the demand to “play something awesome.”
Pandora also provides a wealth of information on the artist/song currently playing, including the Music Genome breakdowns of each song which can make for interesting reading. You also get a list of similar artists and access to lyrics if you want them.
What about Spotify?
A similarly well-polished and intuitive interface that works seamlessly, regardless of the medium being used. Navigation is remarkably easy, and their search bar returns very accurate results after just a few keystrokes, much the same as when making a Google search.
Whether using your smartphone or a desktop, you are never more than a couple of clicks or taps away from finding what you’re looking for. In terms of sheer usability and functionality, this one’s a draw. Although Spotify edges it in the aesthetics department by the narrowest of margins.
Winner – A draw.
Social Media Integration
Whilst both platforms offer the ability to musically engage with your friends, Spotify provides a more comprehensive social media experience. Social media addicts can share their listening habits across all the major players, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and most of the smaller ones too.
The ticker-tape style feed on the desktop app keeps you constantly updated with songs your connected friends are currently listening to. You can even make and share collaborative playlists.
Social media interaction on Pandora is way more limited. Focused around sharing your favorite stations, which you won’t be able to play unless you are a premium subscriber. Some might consider social media integration completely unnecessary, but for the junkies out there, Spotify is the clear winner.
Winner – Spotify.
Free Spotify vs Free Pandora
Both companies offer a free, restricted version of their service, and this is where a remarkable amount of users end up staying. Just under half of Spotify users worldwide graduate to a premium subscription, whilst only 11% of Pandora users make the jump.
This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as free Spotify is the more robust service. Both companies restrict the streaming quality, down to 160kbps on Spotify, and significantly lower at 64kbps on Pandora. Not a plus in the Spotify vs Pandora head-to-head.
Free Pandora allows basic radio usage only…
You can choose a song, album, or artist, and it will use its smarts to construct a station of similar songs for you. You can give each track the thumbs up or down to alter what the station will play in the future. The number of stations and track skips is also limited, and there is no app available for desktop users. Occasional ads will also pop up.
Free Spotify is available on desktop, where you can access music on demand. There is no limit placed on the number of songs you can search and stream. But you are barred from downloading or any offline listening. Ads will also have to be tolerated.
Spotify will also recommend new music for you via playlists, which are shuffled on their mobile app. You are also limited to 750 song searches per month when using the mobile app.
Winner – Spotify.
A premium account on both platforms will set you back $10 per month. Students only have to pay $5. Both companies have a family package, which gives you up to six premium accounts per household for a bargain $15 per month. Couples can benefit from Spotify’s Duo price plan, which gives you two premium accounts for $13 per month.
Pandora also offers a mid-tier service called Pandora-Plus for $5 per month. You won’t be able to make or share playlists, and if you want to search and play any song, you’ll have to listen to ads. But it’s still a remarkably good offer as you can listen offline. This option gives Pandora the edge in the pricing stakes.
Winner – Pandora.
Alternate Platform Compatibility
Spotify and Pandora can be used on a whole lot of other platforms besides just desktops and smartphones. Gamers will be happy to note that both services can be used on PlayStation and X-Box consoles. Spotify comes pre-installed, but you’ll have to download the Pandora app yourself.
Both can also be used in conjunction with smart TVs, speakers, specific vehicles, and a range of other connected devices. While both have impressive integration, Spotify’s reach goes considerably further than Pandora’s. Spotify’s Connect app also makes the service far more agreeable and easy to use.
Winner – Spotify.
Unfortunately, Pandora only offers their services within the United States, and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. If you live anywhere else, forget it.
Spotify is available in 187 countries worldwide. Unless you are unlucky enough to live in one of the few countries that have so far avoided their coverage, you’ll have no problems with availability.
Winner – Spotify.
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Spotify vs Pandora – The Verdict
Despite Pandora having a huge head start over their rivals, Spotify continues to go from strength to strength. Outperforming the older platform in almost every department. So, why is Spotify better than Pandora?
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It’s the versatility of Spotify that sets it apart from, not just Pandora, but most of the competition. Not only is their free service a superior one, for the same price, you also get higher quality audio and service that seems to innately understand your musical tastes within a few days of signing up.
Much as Pandora tries…
The Spotify algorithm is a technological wonder when it comes to discovering music. It is more capable of working out what you’ll like than you are. Spotify also has better social media integration and wider third-party integration across multiple platforms.
Whilst Pandora has certainly improved their service over the years; they’re still playing catch-up. And it doesn’t look like they’ll be dethroning the best music streaming service anytime soon.