Play what you want, when you want
Listening to music is a daily activity for most of us, and luckily we have various ways to do it. Many online services facilitate our need for music, but with such a variety, we may find ourselves asking which services are better. What follows is a comparison of two of the leading online music services we have to choose from.
Swedish based Spotify has enjoyed a fair amount of popularity for a while now, having been launched in 2008. Though widely available for the most part, Spotify only made it to the US in 2011. Despite having made changes over the years, it has maintained its status as a solid music service. With multi-platform support, mobiles apps and three membership plans, it is fair to say that Spotify is a well-established contender.
Its foe today is the more recently developed Rdio, which was started in 2010. This service comes to us from the founders of Skype; itself a popular service. Initially, Rdio seems to bear similarities to Spotify, but we shall look more closely at the two, and note the differences.
Membership and pricing
Spotify and Rdio both offer a three-tier membership range; they can be used free, for £4.99 a month, or for £9.99 a month, with varying perks. In terms of free usage, Spotify previously offered unlimited music, interrupted now and then by audio adverts, though they have since imposed greater restrictions. Currently, Spotify’s free accounts are subject to 10 hour monthly limits and a 5 play cap on each song. For most music fans, these limitations make Spotify’s free plan unsuitable for daily use. This has forced people to either turn elsewhere for their daily music needs, or commit to one of Spotify’s subscriptions.
For £4.99, all time restrictions and ads are removed, leaving a pure music player. This “Unlimited” plan is geared towards unobstructed listening, without any of the frills that come with Spotify’s steeper subscription. “Premium” is the £9.99 plan, which facilitates a more refined Spotify experience. The most boasted features are the mobile apps and the offline mode, which allows users to sync playlists for listening when an internet connection is not available.
While Spotify provides a desktop client for even its free users, Rdio’s desktop app is only available for subscribers; the free version is used through a web browser. Additionally, there is an unspecified listening limit. In terms of subscriptions, the £4.99 plan permits unlimited listening through a desktop version, and the £9.99 plan opens up mobile and offline modes; essentially the same system Spotify use.
Both services offer a free trial period of unlimited listening, but Rdio’s 1 week seems rather stingy when compared to Spotify’s 6 months. For this reason, I would say that Spotify comes out on top in this round. Rdio and Spotify only really differ in their free plans, in which Spotify offers a more enticing free trial.
A large variety of music is available on both services, and most people should be able to find enough of their favourite music to be content. However, the catalogues do differ slightly, and some notable artists are not represented on either. Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and AC/DC are missing from both services (unless you’re looking for interviews and live tracks). Of course, some bands are present on one and not the other, so your personal music preference will determine the winner here. I found that most of my favourite bands were available on Spotify and Rdio, with only occasional omissions.
In terms of organisation, the catalogues are fairly similar. Artist pages provide full albums and top song listings, as well as related artists. Spotify has a slightly more intuitive layout, as albums are kept separate from singles, EPs and compilations. Rdio, on the other hand, groups all of a band’s releases together. The search function makes songs and artists easy to find in both services, though Rdio displays albums and songs in one list, whereas Spotify displays artists, albums and playlists in a banner at the top, and songs in a list below. Again, I find Spotify’s organisation easier to work with, though this may be subjective.
The first thing I noticed when using Rdio was the slow loading time of songs. When trying to listen to a whole album, the distinct silence between each track is enough to be annoying. Spotify is superior in this aspect, with a less noticeable gap between songs, and the option to crossfade tracks by 1 to 12 seconds. That said, Spotify doesn’t have flawless playback, as it tends to fail when trying to play local files. This can be remedied by changing the settings to ignore local files, but nonetheless, it is an evident flaw.
It is worth noting that my experiences with Rdio have been on the browser version, whereas Spotify is a desktop app by default. It may be that the desktop version of Rdio does not have the lag of the browser version. Lag aside, it is nice that Rdio offer a browser version, as Spotify have no such equivalent. Whether music is best listened to through a browser or a desktop client is, again, down to personal preference.
Spotify is available for Windows and Mac OS X computers, and they also have a preview for Linux. There are also mobile apps for iOS, Android, Symbian, Palm, Blackberry and Windows phones. Rdio supports slightly fewer mobiles, with only iOS, Blackberry, Android and Windows phones listed, though they intend to expand over time. Their desktop client is available for Windows and Mac computers, though the free version has the advantage of being browser-based, and thus unrestricted.
Both services have radio functions, for when users want a more varied playlist. On Rdio, there is the option of playing a specific artist’s station, which fills the play queue with tracks from said artist and related artists. This tends to work well, as it provides music the user may not have heard, which is of a familiar style. Rdio also provides a “heavy rotation” station, which provides music based on what the user has been listening to and who they follow.
Spotify also has an artist radio option, which operates on the same lines as Rdio’s, but seems to have a less informed selection. While Rdio’s artist radio provides similar artists, Spotify’s tends to stray quite far from the sound of the selected artist, which makes for less consistent listening. However, Spotify also has genre radio stations, which provide much more appropriate play queues. 24 genres are represented, as well as 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s music. These stations are quite successful in selecting desirable tracks, which may make up for the fact that Spotify’s artist radio feature is not as refined as Rdio’s.
Having been running for longer, Spotify naturally has more features. One of these is the ability to add applications. There are a variety of apps, allowing the user to create mood-based playlists, view song lyrics, catch up on new music and more. These are fairly interesting, though ultimately unnecessary. If you find any of the apps useful, they may raise your opinion of Spotify, though Spotify can hold its own as a music player without the addition of apps.
A function that both services have is social networking. This manifests as a sidebar, in which users can view information on what their contacts have been listening to. Spotify displays a ticker, which updates when a contact listens to a song. With Rdio, no real time updates are present, but users can view contacts’ recent activity, playlists, top artists and albums. These options are of course present on Spotify too. In addition to the internal social networking, both services can connect to Facebook and there is the option to have music appear in the Facebook ticker.
For the most part, Spotify seems to be the better service – in my opinion at least. In most of the categories, Spotify was preferable to Rdio, though only marginally. Given that Spotify has been running for twice as long as Rdio, it is understandable that it is more advanced, though the gap is smaller than I would have predicted. Overall, Rdio is a competent music service, and Spotify has had time to refine its approach. Neither are completely without flaws, but both are capable music players. My personal favourite is Spotify, as it did seem to outperform Rdio in most areas, but again, the difference is only marginal, and it is worth sampling both to determine which you prefer.