You’ve probably noticed in the past couple of months that your Facebook feed has been gradually taken over by a constant stream of friends listening to music on a weirdly-named new program called Spotify.
The era of music streaming is upon us, and particularly in Australia, where we’ve seen an influx of a number of similar services all popping up in the last year in what was swiftly become a highly sought after market.
You might be baffled by the plentiful choices on offer, but don’t worry, we at Tone Deaf understand – which is why we’ve sat down and analysed five of the biggest streaming services for your pleasure and peace of mind.
We put the likes of Spotify, Rdio, JB HiFi NOW, MOG and Deezer through their paces so you don’t have to. So if you’re currently undecided on what service best suits you, or if you’re just plain curious. Just give our comprehensive guide of pros and cons a run-down and you’ll soon know your Spotifys from your Deezers.
The way it works
We’ve run each service through the same criteria to analyse what stands out (and what doesn’t) for each one. We’ve inspected their music libraries, critiqued their design, detailed their pricing options, fiddled with their functionalities and given them a rounded mark out of 5.
We also take a look at finding their respective ‘edge’ on the competition or shaking our fingers at their limitations.
We also developed our own little music library test to analyse the various services and their collection of songs, running somewhere between the 9 million – 16million mark, we found ways to see if they’re up to scratch.
Is your favourite genre unrepresented? Is there local as well as international support? Are you going to get your Indian raga fix? We selected an extensive body of genre staples, Top 40 artists, obscure bands, music collections and key artists to test the limits and comprehensiveness of each service’s library.
So click on as we engage in the battle of the streaming services!
Intro: This Swedish streaming service is the Goliath of the industry. Through clever marketing and social media integration, it has quickly asserted itself as the market leader. Since launching in here in late May, it’s quickly asserted its domination in Australia as well. Now available in 16 countries and used by over 16 million people, Spotify is the mainstream king of streaming services.
Music Library – 4/5: With over 16 million tracks, Spotify has the largest collection with few holes. From newer music released in the past decade as well as a host of classics, it even caters to the more obscure and out-there music enthusiast. It can still be slow to upload music from some of the lesser-known acts and further genre limits though. Although it still hasn’t been able to lure the big catches (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Metallica) yet to join the streaming revolution. Spotify has cleverly partnered up with Australian artists, not only to give away premium passes, but by giving exclusive streams of their music before it’s released or available anywhere else.
Design – 3/5: It’s just like iTunes, but with a darker shade of grey – and a bit more advertising of course. A bit of paint and a swish new reno job wouldn’t hurt. You get to see what your Facebook friends are listening to on the sidebar, which is handy if you want to uncover any closet One Direction fans. The integrated apps, menus and playlists are all lined up on the left hand side (just like iTunes), while an image of what you’re currently playing is dotted in the bottom left hand side.
Functionality- 5/5: Unlike most other streaming services, Spotify requires you to download a program, while the rest function through your internet browser. In this way the service not only tackles the streaming industry, but also the mega giant that is the Apple company. Spotify integrates your own personal music library as well, so you can successfully bypass using ITunes ever again – if that is your wish. There are also apps to take advantage of too. Both the Triple J and We Are Hunted apps provide a great way to discover new music, while Pitchfork and The Guardian allow you to access their reviews. There’s also the recently introduced Artist Series apps from Quincy Jones, Tiësto, Rancid and Disturbed, catering specific genres with more to come. Other than that, it’s easy as pie to use. Even your Grandma has a pretty good chance of using this one. She’ll be swinging to Sinatra in no time… as long as she’s got Facebook…
Price – 4/5: Spotify has three available packages for the music conscious consumers. Free, which is basically for those too tight to pay, but still want to pat themselves on the back at the end of the day for not illegally downloading tunes. You get the music and that’s it. Don’t be greedy. ‘Unlimited’ is $7 a month (sorry $6.99), you get to bypass the Richard Wilkins ads, and all other commercials. Phew. You also get Spotify Radio mode, where they play other artists from similar genres to what you’ve already been listening too. Lastly there’s ‘Premium’ which at 11.99 a month gets you all of the above and a little more. It allows access from your mobile, Ipad, and other wireless music systems with exclusive content . But what stands out most about Spotify’s premium service, is that you get to sync playlists to your mobile and desktop computer so that you can listen to your favourite tunes without causing a plane to crash, they call it the ‘Offline Mode’. Take a deep breath, your fear of flying should have now eased.
Limitations: If seeing what everyone else is listening to via your Facebook feed hasn’t got you down (you can turn your own visibility off), the only annoyance of using Spotify are those pesky little ads (do I need to mention Richard Wilkins again?). But then again, you could stop being such a tight arse and pay a little, if it really bothered you that much.
The edge: Spotify is the only streaming service which has a free version. All other services have limited trial versions, but undoubtedly its biggest drawcard is that no matter how strapped for cash you are, you can legally stream music for free from a pretty impressive music library. Marketing wise, Spotify has all but ensured its mega status in the streaming world with its integration of fellow digi-giants Facebook and Apple. You can share your playlists with friends, subscribe to others and even show everyone how much you’ve been enjoying the new Bieber album.
The verdict: 4/5
Intro: Rdio was one of the first major players to arrive down under. Launched in late January from the makers of Skype, but unfortunately, it’s not free like the internet calling provider. It tried to swoop under Spotify’s feet by launching earlier than the Swedish company, garnering an early user base. As for connectivity, it works less like Facebook, and a little bit more like Twitter; without the nonsensical information of someone’s daily life. You can follow various profiles to check out who’s been listening to what and discover new music for yourself.
Music Library – 3/5: This service has access to around 12 million songs and even though it’s a few million less than Spotify, it also passed our test with straight A’s in all facets and genres. If you can think of it, chances are Rdio’s got it.
Design – 4/5: Rdio has just undergone a sexy new makeover, which is a good thing because the old version was a little too much like iTunes. The new minimalist white look will please most newcomers with its straightforward look and design. The site pushes the album artwork into focus, with the main screen being occupied by record covers. It has the play button and run time at the bottom of the screen like most streaming services, but it is barely noticeable – in a neat and tidy way.
Functionality 4/5: It’s as simple as searching for the artist and pressing play. But if you enjoy reading other people’s thoughts, you can read comments and add your own on specific albums. You can also collaborate with other users on playlists and, just like Spotify, you’re able to sync music to your respective device for those times when you’re without service. There’s little to confuse you here.
Price – 3/5: Rdio are happy to advertise that there are no ads on their site. Good for them, but it literally comes at a price. You can either pay $8.90 a month for just desktop access or fork out $12.90 to stream through your mobile, Ipad and other mobile devices. You can get a certain amount of music for free every month but once it’s used up you have to wait until the next for it to reset. This option obviously isn’t practical in the long run; it’s pretty much a trial version.
Limitations: Other than requiring your credit card, Rdio can take time to set up. If you’re really keen on the social media and profile aspects. Given most people are already on at least one if not more social media networks, some people may not enjoy going through this process all over again.
The edge: Rdio sought to gain a foothold on the market before Spotify arrived and in some ways it worked. There’s already a good base of users signed up, so you can follow them and their trail of favourite music to new discoveries. From a band like Oh Mercy, to a venue like the Corner Hotel there are plenty of interesting people to follow. Even Tone Deaf has its own profile (so it must be good, right?). But where Rdio really shines is its ‘New Releases’ tab. It allows you to quickly and easily access the most recently released new music, extremely handy for those looking for the freshest produce.
The verdict: 3 ½ /5
Intro: JB HiFi’s NOW service is true blue Aussie, grown in our own backyard. If you’re one of them “they took our jobs” sort of people, then this is probably right up your alley. Launched late last year before the streaming competition really got intense, NOW unfortunately created little buzz and it wasn’t until April that the mobile apps were made available.
Music Library – 2/5: You’d think that given JB Hi-Fi are a music retailer with access to thousands upon thousands of CDs that their music library might be a little ahead of the curve. But alas, it’s not up to scratch. With a library of 9 million tracks, it might seem pretty significant, but it’s paltry compared to the numbers boasted by competitors. We found a few holes with our little test too. Interestingly enough, NOW was missing local acts (like San Cisco) and some big name indie material (Grizzly Bear’s first album for example) were notably absent. This could signify that JB aren’t quite the quickest at uploading new music and we suggest you search for your favourite artists before signing up. While your stock standard big name artists are aplenty, you ‘ll be resigned to doing an indie hair flick when you can’t find your favourite Pitchfork artist.
Design – 5/5: NOW has a clean design and you’ll be grateful for the added colour scheme compared to some other drab sources. The play panel (at the bottom) and the search panel (at the top) ensure that there is little space elsewhere to get lost in. Just like Rdio it puts more focus on the artwork, but unlike any other service it lets artist biographies stand out more, which seems slightly counterintuitive for a listening program (not a reading one).
Functionality- 2/5: It’s clean and easy to use, and you’ll enjoy discovering new music from contestants of The Voice(*cough, cough*) promoted by JB. It’s all right in front of you, but the search function could be better. Instead of taking you straight to the artist you’re looking for, it brings up limited results. Type in The Smiths and you’ll initially be worried at what appears to be only a few songs by the British legends; but if you click on the artists you realise – thank the heavens – that the entire discography is there. You can ‘like’ artists and see what other people are listening too, but it appears that either few people have taken advantage of the interactivity, either that or less people use NOW than expected.
Price – 5/5: NOW provides only one option to connect and that’s premium, but there is a tiered system for how long you are subscribed, in either one, three or twelve month increments. It’s $10 a month unless you choose to commit to a full year, in which case the price goes down to $8.25 a month. JB are more generous than their competitors by giving a free one month trial away to new users, so enjoy the free option while it lasts, as it’s all paying from there on out.
Limitations: It doesn’t seem like JB have taken this venture very seriously. There is barely any interactivity. Although you can follow a few randoms here or there, but that’s about it. There are very few draw cards to this service, while few will notice the few million less songs it has than Rdio or Spotify, why risk the chance with NOW, when other services have not only more songs, but more features?
The edge: NOW looks pretty and they give you plenty of time to access music for free. But where it really excels is in its pricing. JB are effectively charging you $10 (or $8 if you lock in for 12 months) for a premium service, which makes it the cheapest on the market.
The verdict: 3/5
Intro: Mog is a relatively new entrant into the streaming fray. Launched in June, Telstra – in partnership with the American company – might be a little late to the party, but they’re a serious competitor in this battle with a large music library and a complete lack of ads, even at the free level.
Music Library – 4/5: MOG brags to have around 16 million tracks, which puts it right up next to Spotify in terms of the sheer size of its catalogue. It’s the only streaming service that is currently competing with the Swedes on that level, and much like Spotify was fairly comprehensive. A few local artists were the only noticeable gaps in an otherwise impressive library. From Public Enemy to Pet Shop Boys. Even Neutral Milk Hotel and the entire Star Wars soundtrack series!
Design – 2/5: With a dark grey background and a retro inspired red logo, the website is simple with everything accessible from its homepage. The front splash allows you to sift through new releases, editor’s picks and the most played tracks and artists from their library. Images of small album artwork are the only distraction from an otherwise minimalist grey background.
Functionality – 3/5: At this point in time, there’s nothing else to do on MOG but listen to the music. They certainly make it easy with a swift and comprehensive search function to find the artist and song that you’re looking for. Like most, you can make your own playlists, but without a social media element, interactivity or any other functions at all – it’s pretty spartan.
Price – 4/5: The free trial may only last for 14 days, but at least they let you try all the premium features while you’re at it. You’ll be streaming like a pro, but only for a brief time. At $6.99 a month you get the ‘Basic’ package, which as it’s aptly titled is just that: the basics. Premium comes in at $11.99 a month, where you get the whole shebang; access for computer and mobile, with offline listening included as well.
Limitations: MOG might have a great music catalogue, but with zero interactivity or extra features, it’s better suited to the purists. But don’t be surprised if they rectify this in the future as their counterpart in the states, MOG Music Network, has all the bells and whistles that you would expect from a music themed social media network. Not including these features early in on the game is a huge opportunity missed, especially given MOG’s competitors offer such features at a similar price.
The edge: Streaming music at 320 kbps, MOG has chosen higher quality sound as their springboard towards tackling their competition. While other services have focused their efforts on special features, sound quality is something that most haven’t picked up on. It’s so good, it’ll be just like 3D TV, except it’s not 3D and it’s not TV… Look it’s better ok?
The verdict: 3/5
Intro: After a successful integration into Europe, Deezer launched in Australia, New Zealand and Canada simultaneously in late April, albeit to little fanfare here. With other 1.3 million paid subscribers and 20 million users worldwide, Deezer also does a pretty solid job of differentiating itself from its competitors, particularly with ‘editorialised content’ (more on that later).
Music Library – 5/5: Deezer say on their website that their catalogue is a rich 18 million worth of songs, which puts it above both Spotify and Mog. From our test, it was only missing a few local independent acts and its syndicated servers mean that we get things a little later occasionally, but it seems to be living up to its enormous catalogue size.
Design 4/5: Of all the streaming services, we have to say that Deezer has the most unique outlook of all the five we’ve looked at. The play track and runtime panel sits up the top, with a collage of artwork in the background. They also invite you to search their music collection, making the search function a prominent feature of the homepage, along with a ‘Top’ list for artists, track and albums. There’s also a ‘What’s Hot’ section and their ‘Top Radio Channels’ tucked near the bottom. It’s nice. It’s unusual. It’s different.
Functionality 5/5: Just like Spotify, Deezer has a handy relationship with Facebook. Which makes connecting a snap. No time wasted filling in your details, just sing in with your Facebook account and it does the rest; which means you’ll be able to see what your friends are listening to on the service, or show off that you’re digging the new Killers single with a ‘like’. If that’s not enough you can add your own comment for any albums as well. Deezer has also partnered up with music websites, which syndicates their album reviews on certain records. Strangely enough, the service also gives you the option to buy the song or album that you’re listening to on Amazon or iTunes.
Price 2/5: If you sign up, Deezer gives you access to its vast database of music, but only allows a 30 second preview of songs. Although it does still allow you to share what you’re listening to via social media. There is no ‘basic’ option as Deezer has cleverly marketed to just two pricing options. You can either choose from Premium or – wait for it – Premium+. The former, at $7.49 a month, gets you; artist themed radio, high quality sound, no ads and exclusive content. Namely, competition prizes (like concert tickets!) and The Deezer Mixing Desk (more on that later). Premium+ has all of the above as well as mobile and tablet connectivity and offline listening on such devices for $14.99 a month.
Limitations: If you’re not interested in Social media interactivity, then Deezer’s heavy Facebook focus might not be for you. The lack of apps might also get you down and despite it’s many options, the Premium+ subscription is the most expensive out of the five analysed here.
The edge: Deezer, like MOG, has focused its efforts on sound quality. It even gives you the option to change the sound levels with the innovative ‘Deezer Mixing Desk’. If you’re so inclined to get creative, this feature is certainly unique, if not a game changer for the market. Deezer also features ‘editorialised content’ which means they’re music isn’t just judged by numbers and algorithms, but actual people (with music tastes) who program what’s hot on the music service. Not just big labels pumping money into the names you’re already familiar with. Diversity is the name of the game, and Deezer has some fancy footwork. It’s already highly competitive with big daddy Spotify on every level, it just needs a few more users for its features to really come into their own.
The verdict: 4/5