Still buying CDs out of casual interest? Oh dear. The future is in streaming music services. Okay, you can keep CDs of your most precious and favourite music, but when it comes to new bands you’re vaguely interested in, not sure about, or a quick dip into cheesy oldies, why buy? You can get access to tens of millions of tracks right now for less than the cost of a single old-style album, per month.
Streaming services like Spotify, MOG and Rdio – as well as a huge host of hardware or retailer specific options – have recently made it to Australia after several years success overseas. Essentially, artists receive broadcast royalties for the music you listen to: it’s like high-quality, on-demand radio, customised to the individual listener. Isn’t technology wonderful?
While there are free options for most streaming services, they include ads or limit your usage of the music. Premium services have hit a universal price-point of $12–13 a month, and let you listen to music on a mobile device or using home AV equipment, such as the Sonos player or Apple’s AirPlay.
So which one to use? They all cost the same and all offer similar breadth of music to choose from. Well, first you can eliminate all the hardware-specific services and those from local retailers. They do the job, but unless you have a coupon or some other way to get the service for free, they offer less overall than the bigger services.
The possible exception to this is Apple’s soon-to-be-announced service. Watch this space for more info.
That leaves a number of different options, but we’ve narrowed it down to three main picks. Essentially, they’re as good as each other, but each has its quirks that might make it just right for you.
What your service must offer
Ignore our advice if you want, but to choose a service make sure it ticks the following boxes.
1. Big (and constantly updated) library; tens of millions of songs. This is self-explanatory!
2. Premium, ad-free option that costs around $12–13 a month. That’s the competitive price right now.
3. A mobile app for iOS and Android. This lets you listen to music on the move.
4. Offline listening mode. This allows you to download tracks and albums for listening when you don’t have an internet connection.
Premium price: $12.90/month
While Spotify is more like an on-demand radio jukebox – and that’s great if you’re just tooling around looking for new music – Rdio is more like having iTunes in the cloud. It focuses more on your music ‘collection’ (though of course you don’t own the music in a traditional sense) and, crucially, social media interaction.
Rdio lets you follow people – a little like Twitter – and see what they’re listening to as well. This is a great way to discover new music and reassure yourself that you have fine taste.
The mobile app supports offline listening – if you’re a premium subscriber – and for folks who just want things simple, there’s a cheaper ($8.90) web-only subscription too.
Initially Rdio had a social media and collections edge over other services, but as the others iterate and add in more functionality, this edge has been blunted. Still, the social media roots mean many of your friends might be Rdio users – this is probably what will determine your choice in the end. Oh yes: and it’s $0.91 a month dearer. Why? We really couldn’t say.
Killer feature: Social media integration.
Premium price: $11.99/month
MOG started life as a music-focused social networking service, where users could recommend and compare music collections. It’s since morphed into a proper cloud music streaming service and it’s superpower is 320kbps (CD-quality) streaming across the entire collection. Nice!
Like the other services here, MOG offers some degree of free streaming (with ads) on your computer only, and then opens up to your mobile and select AV kit via an $11.99 per month fee. So far, so much the same.
Telstra BigPond subscribers should perk their ears up at MOG though, because in Australia’s it’s backed by BigPond Music. And that means streaming is unmetered if you have a Telstra home broadband or mobile phone account.
This is ideal for people who listen to a lot of music on the move, since high quality streaming can chew through the extremely tight data allocations on a mobile plan.
At the moment, MOG’s desktop application is a little more basic than Spotify or Rdio’s, but the high quality streaming should make up for that.
Killer feature: Audio quality.
Premium price: $11.99/month
This is the world’s largest streaming music service, at the moment. It was something that Aussie geeks drooled over with undisguised envy as their European and US friends enjoyed all-they-could-eat music while we waited. Well, Spotify is here now and it’s massive.
The good thing is that it’s a mature service, ready to go, with a sophisticated desktop app that integrates music from your own offline collection. The mobile app – for most phone operating systems – allows you to download songs for offline listening, but this is only available on the Premium plan.
Spotify’s focus is very much on playlists and discovering music. There’s less support for your own ‘collection’ of music, but you can throw a playlist together very quickly. The service also offers up the playlists of other users for your perusal, and you can queue up dozens of tracks of new music with just a couple of clicks.
Like Rdio, Spotify supports social media integration, so your Facebook network can see what you’re listening to (and vice versa). In fact, you can’t sign up to Spotify without a Facebook account and, depending on your attitude, this will either be a total outrage, or no-biggie at all.
Killer feature: Benchmark performance.