After taking Europe by storm, Spotify is finally available to American music fans.
Reviews have generally been positive from people like Louis Gray who has a way of gaining early access to the hot new services. He covers the features of Spotify in far more detail than what I’m going to do here, given I’ve only used it for two days.
I’ve used a number a streaming music services including Pandora, Rdio, and Slacker. I’ve also used Grooveshark, and Zune Pass to a lesser extent. Although all these products have overlapping features, they have their own take on the how we’ll be listening to music today and into the future.
I shunned streaming music services for years for the most part because I have a large collection of music that includes hundreds of CDs I’ve painstaking ripped using Exact Audio Copy and the LAME Alt Preset Standard. Over the past few years, I’ve managed my music collection in iTunes which continues to frustrate me. iTunes just feels kludgy and slow. If I didn’t own an iPhone or iPad I’d return to a more powerful music management solution like MediaMonkey.
Rdio ($4.99 or $9.99/month)
About a year ago, I signed up for Rdio which allowed me to use iTunes primarily as a podcast and apps manager. Rdio is primarily a web application that’s the best looking music service I’ve used. I use Rdio to create playlists consisting mostly of songs I don’t own mixed with some I do. I can then access these playlists when I’m at work or on my iPad or iPhone. Rdio feels modern and fresh and fun to use. Great detail was paid to design.
Rdio is a great option for those who place a high value on simplicity. It does take some time to manually create playlists, but Rdio makes it easy to see what your friends are listening to and share playlists. It even suggests users with similar music tastes can lead to discovering new music.
Rdio is the product I recommend to most people. The $4.99 plan gives you unlimited web streaming whereas you’ll need the $9.99 to stream or save music to mobile devices for offline use.
Pros: Elegant, , no software to install, fun to use, excellent social features.
Cons: Time consuming playlist creation, no dedicated iPad app, some buffering.
Spotify (Free, $4.99 or $9.99)
If you know how to use iTunes you’ll feel right at home with Spotify. It looks as though someone took iTunes and applied a darker theme to it. The first thing I noticed about Spotify was the lack of buffering. Click on a song and it begins immediately as if it were stored locally. Impressive.
Upon install, Spotify automatically cloned the handful of playlists I have in iTunes. This is a nice feature because it gives the new user a place to start. Otherwise it would have felt empty and cold compared to the colorful and inviting Rdio. But dig a little deeper and there’s a lot to like here.
Creating a playlist or adding to one feels more intuitive compared to Rdio. I found it easy to drag songs into playlists as one does with iTunes. Right click on any song and Spotify gives you a link to share that song with anyone. Very slick.
Type in an artist or song into the search bar and you’ll be listening in seconds. Spotify touts a song library of over 13 million songs compared to 8.5 million for Rdio. One feature audiophiles will appreciate is the high quality streams available to Premium subscribers. When I wear my Grado headphones I can tell a difference.
Had Spotify arrived a year ago, I’d probably be singing its praises more than I do today. But Spotify is a very solid product that many will love. It’s also backed by a lot of VC cash so you know it won’t disappear anytime soon.
Pros: High quality streaming, zero buffering, large library, free plan.
Cons: Requires software download, minimal social features, higher learning curve.
Slacker (Free, $3.99 or $9.99)
Rdio and Spotify garner most of the attention these days and rightfully so. Both services have a huge library of songs that nearly any casual music listener will enjoy. Rdio strips away complexity with it’s super easy to use web based service while Spotify goes out of its way to make the millions of iTunes users feel right at home. Both are very solid products that will find large bases of music fans.
But Slacker is a different beast, and it’s my favorite. Slacker has built a rabid following of fans since it arrived in 2004 by focusing on curated stations and music discovery. Sure, you can discover new music through friends on Rdio and Slacker, but they are minor features compared to Slacker’s approach.
With Slacker music discovery is at the heart of the service. Slacker presents the user with a list of genres ranging from Jazz to Rock to Country to Blues. Click on a genre such as Rock and you’ll see 17 stations to select from such as Classic Rock, 70’s Rock, Hard Rock and Southern Rock.
But the best part of Slacker is that each station has been curated by a Slacker DJ. I don’t know how Slacker does it, but it consistently plays great tunes while still introducing me to new tracks. It’s uncanny how well it does this. Rdio and Spotify are focused on playing music I already know and love. Slacker is that best friend in high school who couldn’t wait to share his favorite music with me by mixing tapes or burning CDs full of his favorite songs.
With Rdio and Spotify, I find myself listening to the same playlists over and over because I have to curate new tunes myself. Slacker does the work for me. Rdio and Spotify feel like music services created by business executives for more casual listeners. Slacker feels like it was created by music fanatics like myself who devour Rolling Stone, can explain why the Clash are better than U2, and can’t imagine going a day without listening to their favorite bands. In short, it’s for the music nut.
Which also means it’s not for everyone.
Both the web interface and Windows application feel outdated in comparison to anything out there besides Pandora. I should also mention that my two favorite bands are Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and neither of them can be found on Rdio or Spotify due to licensing issues. But both are available on Slacker.
Pros: Uncanny music discovery, huge number of genres and music stations, gorgeous iPad app.
Cons: Outdated web and Windows app, no playlist sync, fewer features than others.
I’m excited to see new products and services push music into new directions and onto modern devices where they were unavailable or difficult to maintain not long ago. Although I don’t see myself paying for Spotify, the attentions it’s received is welcome news for all music services because it educates casual listeners on what services are available.
Slacker has become indispensible and well worth the cost of subscription. When I’m at my PC, it’s what I use 90% of the time. Rdio and Spotify aren’t left with much on my desktop, but I could see that percentage changing on my phone and tablet. All three services have iPhone apps. Only Slacker has a dedicated app for the iPad, and it’s gorgeous. It’s so much better than the Slacker desktop app or the web app.
I don’t believe that one music service will fill the needs of everyone. Spotify is the hottest product going today, but it’s not as enticing for people like me who value discovery over size of library. But that’s not a bad thing because healthy competition means competitive pricing and more choices for consumers.
If you haven’t already, give one or all three a try and let me know what you think.