Spotify is an online music service that lets you listen to as much music as you want for free.
The music is stored on Spotify’s servers and in encrypted form on users’ computers, and is shared over an invisible peer-to-peer network. Users can access the music only through Spotify’s interface, which resembles iTunes.
The free service is supported by banner adverts in the playback window, and radio-style audio adverts that occasionally appear between songs. We found the advertising unobtrusive, but you can pay 99p a day or £10 per month for the advert-free Premium service.
There’s a large selection of music on offer, covering a huge number of genres, but we found some notable omissions, such as Oasis and Pink Floyd. You can search for music by keyword and organise tracks into playlists. The program keeps track of your five most recent searches, but you can’t save searches or create smart playlists. You can share your playlists with other Spotify users by sending them a URL-style link. Spotify also works with Last FM to suggest music you may like based on what you’ve already listened to.
Spotify also provides access to a large number of radio stations. You can search these by genre, but scrolling through the results is awkward. They’re presented as a series of album covers similar to iTunes’ Cover Flow view, but as there’s no scroll bar, you have to double-click to the left or right of the current station to see more results.
Music is encoded in Ogg Vorbis format at 160Kbit/s, so audio quality is generally good. You can download MP3 versions of most songs at prices comparable to those at the iTunes and Amazon stores. Unlike iTunes, the download store is a separate website and not integrated into the program. You can’t use Spotify to manage your music collection or rip CDs, so it can’t replace your existing music program. There’s also no official support for network audio receivers, but there are workarounds for streaming music to a Logitech Squeezebox or an Apple AirPort Express – see www.tinyurl.com/aqdklo and www.tinyurl.com/8jqs69 for details. Neither method is endorsed by Spotify.
Unless you find the adverts particularly annoying, there’s no incentive to upgrade to the Premium service. For the same price, Napster Unlimited lets you listen to your music offline, while for £15 per month you can transfer tracks to a WMA-DRM-compatible audio player. Napster is better if you have a truly voracious appetite for music, but the basic Spotify service is an excellent way to discover new music.