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ByRob Latham Contributing Writer

Rob Latham is a writer focused on technology, music, entertainment and sports. He is particularly passionate about the role that technology plays in improving peoples’ lives.

Pandora Review

Pandora is the second most popular music streaming service, with its 72.4 million subscribers only bettered by Spotify's 100 million. This has largely stemmed from its strong user experience levels, thanks to playlist and radio station creation tools, and the appealing free service it provides. Furthermore, it also offers a competitive 60-day free trial of its paid-for service.

Pandora’s core strength is enabling listeners to discover new music based on their listening preferences. Users of its free version can create stations based on a preferred band or artist, while Premium members can design fully customizable playlists. The service is right up there with the best creation tools available on any music streaming service.

Pandora is easily accessible from Mac and PC desktop apps, and mobile apps across Mac, iOS, and Android. It's also available on streaming devices and wearables, making it available for anyone to try out.

Pandora Packages Compared

Pandora Free Pandora Plus Pandora Premium
Price Free $4.99/month $9.99/month
Free trial length Always available 30 days 60 days
Offline listening No Limited Unlimited
Song skipping available Yes – Limited per day Yes – Unlimited* Yes – Unlimited*

*Skips limited by certain licensing restrictions

How We Evaluated Pandora

The music industry has transformed dramatically over the last decade, with the rise of digital platforms creating a monumental shift in how people listen to their favorite music. Many competitors now exist in a busy marketplace, not only offering similar content libraries and services but similar price points as well.

That means the decision of which music provider to choose often boils down to small differences that shape a service to a user’s specific preferences—their preferred music listening device, the importance of sound quality, and how much they value discovering new music, for example.

With that in mind, we assessed Pandora's features, content library, sound quality, and overall ease of use against its competitors.

Pandora vs. Other Music Streaming Services

Pandora Spotify Amazon Music Unlimited Apple Music Deezer
Premium price $9.99/month $9.99/month $7.99/month $9.99/month $9.99/month
Free trial length 60 days 30 days 30 days 3 months 3 months
Number of songs 30 million 50 million+ 50 million 60 million 56 million
Number of subscribers 72.4 million 100 million 32 million 60 million 14 million (7 million paid)
Highest sound quality 192 kbps 230 kbps 860 kbps 256 kbps 176 kbps

Key Pandora Considerations

Solid content library

Pandora’s content library is much smaller than some of its competitors — indeed, it's nearly half the size of Deezer's 56 million songs. However, that’s largely because it lacks the karaoke tracks, covers and tributes that others do, which some might view as a positive. In practice, you’ll struggle to find a song you’ve listened to on Spotify or Apple Music that’s not also on Pandora. Its content library includes a vast number of curated playlists and enables users to search all of its music on a wide range of stations sorted by genres, from the latest hits, easy listening and world music to rock, dubstep, trap, and many more. The platform also offers a good choice of non-music content, including comedy and podcasts.

New music expertise

Pandora's free service is comparable to its bigger-name rivals in terms of new music discovery. Upon creating an artist station, Pandora tells users the criteria it's using to suggest upcoming tracks. Listeners can also re-tune stations with several content options, including Crowd Faves, Discovery, Deep Cuts, and Newly Released. Or, they can simply listen to their preferred artist.

New music discovery tools include a New Music scrollbar in Pandora's Browse section, which recommends artists based on music the user's listening habits. There's also a Featured Playlists scrollbar, which suggests a wealth of new music based on genres. The Artists on the Rise section, which isn't always as targeted as the previous two choices, is another option. Furthermore, Pandora includes lyrics to songs within its platform, which is perfect for people that are keen to learn more about new artists or for quickly getting to grips with the words before seeing a band in concert.

Competitive free trial

Pandora offers potential users a 60-day free trial to test out its services against other digital music streaming services. This gives listeners plenty of time to get accustomed to the platform, build up a strong bank of artist radio stations, and create some playlists before determining whether the paid service is right for them or not. It’s well worth taking the time to explore the powerful music recommendations that Pandora provides and to get a taste for how the service matches up against your specific music listening preferences. Only Apple Music and Deezer’s three-month free trials can beat Pandora's, with most other providers offering standard 30-day free previews.

Lacking in sound quality

Despite these positives, Pandora’s sound quality lags behind that of its competitors. This is especially the case for users of the free version of the platform, which is limited to just 64 kbps. A majority of available streaming services have a bitrate lower than MP3 quality (320 kbps), but a handful are introducing high-resolution audio for a crisper listening experience. Amazon Music Unlimited is one of those services that leads the way in sound quality. Its Amazon Music HD launch in September 2019 offers three to four times better sound than anyone else in the marketplace. Pandora’s Premium service delivers sound quality that’s similar to that provided by Deezer, which was the initial trendsetter in high-quality music streaming. Ultimately, Pandora's sound quality lags most of is competitors. However, research suggests that most users may be unable to distinguish between "standard" quality tracks and higher-quality ones, so this wasn't exactly a dealbreaker for us.

The Bottom Line

Pandora’s Music Genome Project was instrumental in revolutionizing the music industry back in 2000, setting a new precedent for online music streaming and music radio. Those roots have continued in Pandora’s successful radio station model, which enables users to create playlists based on their preferred artists and shape the music they hear.

Pandora now has the depth of content library to compete with its bigger-name competitors, thanks to its purchase of Rdio back in 2015, and its free service is at least on par with any other service in the marketplace. However, it lags in social sharing capabilities and sound quality.

This is an ideal music streaming service for people who are looking to broaden their musical horizons. It's an excellent tool for discovering new artists within or similar to your preferred musical genres. However, anyone whose top priority is high-quality listening might consider alternative options.

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