By Adam Hook
Streaming services are getting more popular and it’s not hard to understand why. Having millions of tracks at your fingertips, for a low monthly fee, appeals to those of us that would have empty bank accounts (and upset spouses) otherwise. But the amount of services available to consumers can be daunting. So, I’ve decided to write a review on which service I think is the best value for the money; based on catalog, portability, and stability. In addition, I’m limiting my review to the services that are music on demand services; not streaming radio services like Pandora, iHeart and others.
These aforementioned services are great for the average user that doesn’t mind radio-like format and I think they’re great for that, but I like the option to pull up any song I can think of and listen to it within seconds. Also, Pandora and the like do not have the ability to listen to one artist or album only, so once again, not useful to me. OK, now that I got that out of the way, let’s see what services are offered to the music junkie consumer, like me.
First, we have Rdio. Rdio was started by the same duo that started the videoconferencing giant, Skype. Rdio, like the other streaming services, is available for streaming online, phone, and available Mac and Windows desktop apps. This services claims to have 15 million tracks available in its catalog, but I have been able to find holes in their available tracks with a few artist searches. I listen to a lot of musicians that are not signed by the major record labels that Rdio caters to, so it’s not a service that I can use for any length of time.
They do have a great looking service and for those that listen to more of the mainstream music would be satisfied with what they offer. Rdio has multiple pricing options that are tailored to fit any budget. They start at the $4.99/month option that streams unlimited music online. This option is great and I have found that the streaming service online is very stable; even in low bandwidth situations. The next pricing level is Rdio’s ‘Unlimited’ plan at $9.99/month. This option not only gives you unlimited online streaming, but unlimited streaming on your smartphone, Sonos, and Roku device.
The Rdio app for iPhone is very nice, but I have found that you cannot listen to more than one album at a time; so if you wanted to listen to the entire catalog of an artist, you will have to take it an album at a time. I am not familiar how the Android or Blackberry app functions, so I cannot discuss those. Rdio also offers an ‘Unlimited Family’ plan that combines two of the unlimited plans for a discounted rate at $17.99/month. Regardless of which option would best fit you, Rdio offers an unlimited plan for free for 14 days, so you can preview the service before subscribing to any plan.
Next up is Rhapsody. Rhapsody was the first music on demand service and in the past year, with their acquisition of Napster, they have reported over 1 million subscribers. Rhapsody was the first streaming service that I used and I have found most of the musicians I listen to, with few exceptions.
Rhapsody offers a few subscription options for those looking to start listening to millions of tracks with them. The basic Rhapsody plan is ‘Rhapsody Premier’ at $9.99/month. Unlike Rdio, Rhapsody does not offer a online streaming only plan, so the basic option allows unlimited music on 1 mobile device, home streaming, and downloads to compatible MP3 devices. Rhapsody is the only service that offers the MP3 option for those that do not have a smartphone, but want the option to take their music with them when not near a computer.
When I first started my subscription with Rhapsody, I was afraid of draining my phone’s battery, so I reviewed Rhapsody’s compatible device list and bought a cheap Sansa MP3 player. It came with an available 8GB memory with a slot for expandable memory with a micro SD slot for about $45. This was an amazing alternative for me because I didn’t have to worry about downloading any of the tracks in my library to my phone, taking up memory.
Rhapsody also offers its own family plan known as, ‘Rhapsody Premier Plus’ that offers their service on up to 3 mobile devices for $14.99/month. This is a negative for Rhapsody, in my opinion. Let’s say you have an iPad and an iPhone, and you want to have the Rhapsody app on both. Well, you have to purchase the higher plan in order to listen to Rhapsody on both devices. But this is a small negative for an overall great service. The app for the iPhone is stable and the sound quality is amazing. Rhapsody also offers a 14-day free trial to stream unlimited music on the computer and smartphone.
MOG is a streaming service that not many people have heard about. They have the same options as those listed above (exception to Rhapdody’s MP3 compatibility). They are based in Berkley, California and they claim to have the best sound quality in the business. I have used MOG before and I can attest to the fact that their sound quality is a little better than any other streaming service available, but they have recently had some stability issues. MOG skips more than the other services on the iPhone. In addition, they do have some holes in their catalog and their catalog request department is very slow with updating their music if you listen to anything other than Top 40. In addition, the UI (user interface) is a bit clunky.
The subscriptions options that they offer are similar to other services with the lowest option being a free ad supported option that allows you to stream music from your browser. The ‘Basic’ option allows users to stream unlimited music without ads from their computer for $4.99/month. The next and highest level is their ‘Primo’ option for $9.99/month offers unlimited stream from your browser or mobile device. If you’re new to streaming music, I recommend MOG because their catalog is one of the largest and their UI is easy to understand.
The final service is Spotify. Spotify was not offered in the United States until July 2011, but since then they have obliterated their competition at almost every turn. Spotify is the service that I use daily. They have the largest catalog for the more obscure artists that are a little harder to find (exception: MOG). In addition, they allow you to download your own music, or ‘local files’ and save them to your library. This is great because none of the streaming services have acquired The Beatles, yet, so with Spotify, I can load the entire Beatles catalog to my Spotify library and download it to my mobile device.
For me, this beats any other service by miles. It doesn’t matter if Spotify is missing something I own because I can load music from my personal collection to my Spotify library with a few simple clicks. In addition, they offer free radio service on smartphones (no other service does this), so you can listen to your favorite bands and bands that sound like them all for free on your desktop to mobile device. And let me tell you from a music lover’s perspective: I have discovered more music on Spotify than any other service I have ever used. Their ability to match your interests blows Pandora away!
Anyway, let’s get down to the subscription options available. To start, Spotify offers a free ad supported service that gives you free radio on your smartphone. The next level is their ‘Unlimited’ option at $4.99/month. This option allows users unlimited music streaming, no ads, and free mobile radio. Finally, the ‘Premium’ option allows for users unlimited music streaming on their smartphone or online, plus the ability to download tracks to your phone. Spotify, in my opinion, is the best option for the money.
Streaming services are the future of music for consumers that want easy access to their favorite musicians. While some artists or albums are not available, each service is constantly increasing their catalogs and doing everything they can to accommodate the growing customer need. These services offer a flexibility that you can’t get from individual CD purchase or from online radio stations. My advice would be to take advantage of each service’s free trial period and then subscribe to the service that best fits your lifestyle. Whether you’re a fan of Eddie Vedder or Eddie Money, streaming services have more than enough music to keep you happy for years to come. Once again, I appreciate you taking the time to read my posts.
Writing has been a passion of Adam Hook since he first read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Dostoyevsky’s words leapt off the page and Adam knew then that he had to be a writer! Adam is a father, husband, sometime poet and music junkie. Be sure and check out more of Adam’s writing on his blog, Soaked in Sound and his full Bio here.