Here's a confession: I haven't purchased a song from iTunes or Amazon or Google in a couple of years.
No, I haven't turned to piracy via Bittorrent, and neither have I started to use (shudder) YouTube to listen to new songs.
I've done what millions of other folks are doing these days, namely using streaming radio.
It started with Pandora, but my experience there quickly paled as I realized I could never really get the specific artists I wanted on the stations I created. Plus, I'm an old-school music snob. I believe in the album format, as a collection of songs that makes some sort of collective statement, even when it isn't a thematic album, per se.
Enter Rdio, Spotify, and Rhapsody. Each streaming music service has its proponents and detractors, and I'm no different. I'm an Rdio fan from the start, but keep trying out Spotify as more and more of the connections on my social networks seem to use it to share playlists. I figured I'd give Rhapsody a shot, too, since it basically does the same thing as the other two.
And there's the rub. Each service does the same thing: offers up unlimited on-demand music from modern recorded music over the internet, via a website, computer app, or iOS app. How then, are we to choose which service is best for us? Here's how I did it.
First of all, I'm sticking to the iOS experience. That means that each service costs about $10 a month to use. I use my iPhone in the car or on my bicycle to play music via LTE on the go. I also use my iPad 3 or iPad mini to send music to bluetooth speakers in my house. These are my default listening environments.
Therefore, I'm judging each service on how well it works as an iOS app, as a music catalogue, and as a sharing platform, because I love sharing and discovering new music via my friends and social network.
Heard it on the Rdio
Rdio has a fantastic collection of music, both old and new, and the universal app makes it super easy to see what new albums are out, what albums are trending within my network, and to search for music I want to hear. I have yet to not be able to find something I'm looking for via search, and I dig pulling up new albums by artists I know as well as by those I don't. Rdio is visually organized around albums, which makes sense to my old music-loving brain.
While many of my music-snob friends use the service, what Rdio doesn't have is a significant amount of the rank and file people on the service to meet my sharing/discovery needs. The playlist support is also rather hidden in the iOS app, at least, making finding new playlists a more difficult task than it should be.
Spotify The Difference
Here's the current darling of the social network scene, with a broad user base and a fantastic catalog of all sorts of music. The playlist support is second to none, and finding playlists to follow is super easy and surfaced at the top of the interface, at least in the iPad version of the app. The What's New tab has recommended albums, trending playlists, and New Releases all visible and easily accessed. This, plus the fact that many of my friends on Facebook and Twitter seem to share Spotify links more often than Rdio is what keeps me interested in the service.
However, what Spotify also has is a horrible iPhone app. I started using it on iOS via the smaller app, and almost gave up hope. It wasn't until I opened Spotify on my iPad that I saw any use in using the service on the go. Why a universal app can't work the same on both the iPhone and the iPad, I don't know.
Rhapsody In Blue
Now here's a service that has always seemed more corporate to me, with a big, pretty iOS interface and plenty of new artists and albums to listen to and discover. The main page is set up with New Releases, Popular Artists, and Featured albums. The genre support here is great; I can find classical, jazz, and world music as easily as I can rock or pop.
On the downside, playlists are a decidedly single affair, as I can make them, but I don't see anywhere to find them. There's also no connection to Facebook or Twitter, making sharing my music listening or discovering that of my friends rather difficult. The show stopper here, though, came when I tried to open up the app on my iPhone, originally having set it up on my iPad mini. I got a message saying, essentially, that I had reached my "Device Limit," and that only one device at a time is supported. I could switch devices if I liked, but only one at a time is authorized for the Rhapsody service. Game over, which is too bad because it's a very pretty app.
I'm still going to stick with Rdio, because it looks and works the same on my iPhone as it does my iPad. The people I'm connected to on the service are all folks with eclectic, intelligent taste in music, and I really get a lot more out of following them and their playlists on Rdio. I wish it had better ways to discover playlists, and makes browsing by genre a bigger part of the interface, but the service is still my personal favorite.
Spotify is a close second, mainly due to the trending playlist and larger-seeming user base, at least within my social scene. I wish it was less song oriented and more about the albums, but that's more my own bias than anything significant with the service. If sharing songs with other folks is important, Spotify is a great choice.
Rapsody, sadly, while pretty, has the limitation on devices, as well as a more corporate look and feel, plus the lack of modern social network support. If none of those things matter, it's a decent service for the same price as the other two.
Bottom line, whichever service meets the needs of its individual users is the "winner," but I find Rdio to be the best of all worlds, and will probably stick with it for the time being, especially while the Spotify iPhone app is so awful.
Top Image: CNN Money