Spotify. Rhapsody. Rdio. MOG. Zune. Grooveshark. There’s an awful lot of companies making up nonsense words so they can sell you on a music subscription service. But it can be pretty confusing sorting between them. Why does Spotify get hype instead of Rdio? Doesn’t Zune give you free songs? I thought Grooveshark was free? The Noisecast is here to answer all your questions and clear up the mess the music industry has left in your browser.
One note: we will not be covering Apple, Google, or Amazon’s music streaming services in this article. While that’s a worthwhile comparison, none offer any options at the moment for streaming music you didn’t previously purchase. All the services we’ll be talking about offer a paid version you can use to subscribe to a music library.
Strengths: Spotify uses a desktop app to manage your music, and “your music” is pretty all-inclusive. Spotify defaults to importing your iTunes or Windows Media library. There’s not even a prompt. Simply open the app and your music is there. As well as a search box. From here you can search Spotify’s library. And as we’ve said before, it’s fast. Desktop fast. Spotify didn’t make a mistake here, that desktop app means speed. Unbelievable speed. Spotify also integrates fantastically with Facebook. Once you’ve clicked the big blue connect to Facebook button, you’ll find anyone you know on Facebook who has done the same. Sharing songs is quick and easy. You’ve even got an inbox! Also, WiFi syncing between devices is so easy I actually didn’t even realize that’s what it was when I first used it.
Weaknesses: Organization. It’s awful. A mess, in fact. The search box works fine, but beyond that even casually browsing your collection is crummy. We’d usually rely on the “they’ll update to fix this later”, though in this case, Spotify has been the reigning champion in Europe for years. Experience means they have no excuse. Also: no web app. Perhaps I’m a music-service snob, but a lack of a web app you can use to listen to your whole collection from any computer. Big problem for those who sync between work and home and aren’t allowed to install apps at work.
Spotify’s free version is currently invite-only, with limitless streaming for the time being (we hear they’ll be capping the free service in about six months). Paid service starts at $5/month, with $10/month netting you mobile streaming. Spotify has apps available for Android and iOS. The mobile app suffers from the same organizational problems as the desktop app, though it does offer offline caching of songs, so you can have some songs available even if you’re out of your coverage area.
Rhapsody is one of the older streaming services. It’s also gotten a makeover not too long ago that removes much of that lingering “made by the people who made Real Player” taste that made the old Rhapsody feel so awful.
Strengths: Rhapsody’s web app will get you up and listening to music pretty quickly. In a single tab, you can browse music and control what you’re listening to. Adding music to your library is a snap. Beyond that it’s a pretty basic music subscription service. Which is not a bad thing! If you want to pay $10/month to have a virtually unlimited music library that syncs to your smartphone is available wherever you’ve got a web browser, Rhapsody serves your needs.
Weaknesses: The service is kind of bland. To be fair, this is an improvement than the pre-overhauled Rhapsody that used a crappy desktop app and was clunky and buggy. Rhapsody has made some serious improvements. But the improvements have brought the service up to the “usable” level. There’s no noticeable problems (though the WP7 app is somewhat difficult to use, lacking a quick way to access your library). There’s also no standout feature to recommend Rhapsody over the others.
Rhapsody costs $10/month for unlimited streaming, with apps available for Android, iOs, and WP7. Come to think of it, that last one might just be a standout feature. Side note to competing services: get on your WP7 game already.
Rdio (pronounced are-dee-oh….for some reason) is one of the best music subscription services on the market. Perhaps the best before Spotify came into town. Some still think so.
Strengths: Rdio’s web app is gorgeous. Brilliant. In addition to some fantastic search and sorting functions (note: Rdio’s web app has better sorting options than Spotify’s desktop app), Rdio has some unique visualization tools (pictured above) for taking an interesting look at your library. Offline caching for mobile is also stupid simple, and can be done directly from the web browser. In a very Chrome-to-Phone kind of way, every song and album has a “Sync to Mobile” option that will begin downloading the song to your mobile device immediately. You can set this to only happen on WiFi if you have a data cap to be concerned with.
Rdio also has a desktop app, which sets it apart from many of the other music services and at the head of the class, right up there with Zune and Spotify. In a very
Lala- iTunes-like move, the desktop app can match your library to their servers. They won’t upload any songs, but if there’s overlap, Rdio will merge your collections. Or. That’s the idea anyways…
Weaknesses: We could never actually get the collection sync to work properly. Beyond that, the desktop app works well enough. Also, the mobile app (at least for Android) is serviceable, but bland. It only stands out in contrast to how nice the web app is. The WP7 was also entirely unusable. On multiple occasions the app slowed the device to a halt, or crashed entirely.
All-in-all, Rdio is one of the best music subscription services around. Fully-featured an innovative. Rdio costs $10/month (big surprise) for unlimited streaming and has Android, iOS and WP7 apps. Though, as we said, we wouldn’t recommend using the latter.
When I first tried MOG a while back, there was one glaring flaw that rendered the service completely unusable: no Queen. I can forgive some obscure bands missing, but no Queen? That’s simply inexcusable. Thankfully, this issue has since been corrected, so we’re up to giving the service another look.
Strengths: Another beautiful web interface and another serviceable mobile app. MOG, however, suffers from the same run-of-the-mill experience as Rhapsody. At the moment. MOG is currently letting users try out their upcoming redesign which features an even prettier web player, as well as desktop notifications. While personally I don’t need a notification every time a new song comes on, if that’s your thing it could be nice. And certainly unique.
Weaknesses: Again. Blandness. Nothing in particular about MOG stands out from the pack. It’s a perfectly serviceable subscription that fulfills your needs. MOG does have the MOG Music Network blog where they feature music news and can serve as some nice music discovery, but if you don’t turn to reading as your primary way of discovering new music, then MOG is pretty run-of-the-mill.
MOG comes at the standard $5 for regular streaming, $10 for mobile streaming price. Apps for iOS, Android, and WP7.
Grooveshark is a pretty divisive service, as it turns out. Some think the service is brilliant and cheap, others hate the interface. Even the record labels are split. EMI has settled with them, but Universal is still suing them. Oh yeah, did I mention Grooveshark may not be technically legal? Yeah, there’s that. Although, really, it’s a surprise that listening to music is legal at all these days.
Strengths: A web app you don’t need to sign up for! Free music streaming without signing up or getting an invite! It’s pretty brilliant how easily you can listen to music with Grooveshark. The web app can be kind of wonky at times, but at the cost of free, it’s hard to argue.
Weaknesses: Legal troubles. It’s a bit of a miracle Grooveshark has lasted this long with multiple lawsuits from major labels up against it. If you’re concerned about the legality of where you get your music, you may want to look elsewhere (and your options are getting pretty ample). Also, Grooveshark’s legal issues resulted in their app getting pulled from the Android market, though you can get around that by sideloading the app.
Grooveshark is free for web use, costs $9/month for mobile streaming. Even if it is a dollar cheaper, feels a bit much for a semi-legal service. Used to paying substantially less when I
pirate music never pirate music. Ever. At all.
The Zune Pass was Microsoft’s attempt to take music marketshare away from Apple and the iPod. A lofty goal. The Zune and the Zune Pass are also a testament to how even a great product can fail to catch on. The Zune HD was a gorgeous device, but never sold well. The Zune service is brilliant, but remains a backseat contestant in this race. In short, the Zune brand as a whole is the reason that marketers and PR companies exist. Still, if you’re looking into a music subscription service, we think the Zune Pass is worth a look or two.
Strengths: With a Zune Pass subscription you get to keep 10 songs a month. This is a pretty big deal considering the primary downside to music subscriptions is that you don’t get to keep your music once you stop paying. The Zune desktop app is also pretty gorgeous. The Metro UI we’ve grown pretty used to in WP7 actually found its birth on the Zune, so from the ground up this entire service is made to look beautiful and be functional. It’s also one of the few apps that provides desktop-based syncing. This can be either a pro or a con. If you’re out and and about, it might be a bad thing. However, if you’re at home and want to transfer music to your devices, a USB cable can be quite handy.
Weaknesses: Disappointingly, the Zune Pass costs $15/month. Somewhat justifiable, considering you get to keep some songs, but the price point does put it at a premium above the others. A hurdle that works against it considering its other major weakness: it’s only available for Microsoft devices, which is currently limited to Zunes, WP7 handsets, Xboxes, and Windows computers. If you live your life in the Microsoft ecosystem (and I’m sure the Ballmer-flavored Steve would love it if you did), then the Zune is the obvious choice. If your gadgets are a little more diverse than that, however, chances are that at some point you’ll be missing some of your music.
It’s been over a decade since Napster came on the scene and convinced the world, pretty quickly in fact, that music was cheap, access was cheaper, and we could all fulfill our never-ending appetites with as much as we could handle. After suing startups, individuals, the elderly, the dead, and everyone in between, the music industry has finally started to move towards compromising with a ravenous public. The options are looking brighter than ever. So take your pick.