Spotify v. Rdio: The Final Solution?

(Note: this article has been edited to reflect changes with OS X 10.7, Lion.)

I have gotten a lot of questions about these two services, and seen some serious debate about the two, so I thought I would try them both out for a while and share my thoughts here. Mind you I am a typical user, so forgive me if I missed some super technical specs somewhere along the line that most people would never care about. Sorry. I have been an Rdio user for a while now, with a Premium subscription; check them out here. I tried out a similar subscription on Spotify for a couple of weeks, more info here.

Rdio or Spotify?

Both of these services offer streaming music over the internet, with more features for a monthly fee, $9.99 for either one. I really had little problem finding music I wanted to listen to with either service, but I also found a few artists or tracks missing with both. The stuff that’s not included is different for each service, so you might want to check on the availability of your favorite artist or album. Both services included an iPhone app, which I also found to be useable either way.  Both feature a sort of sync/upload of your iTunes library, which was a nice touch.

Whats Good About Spotify.

Spotify is new to the U.S., but they really are the “800-lb. Gorilla” of streaming music services; this means they are not going anywhere anytime soon. In theory, they have more music available, although again that varies depending on what you are looking for. I found the music quality on Spotify to be a teeny-weeny bit better, but I had to concentrate on headphones to notice it, and even then it seemed to only be on a few tracks. Making playlists with Spotify is a breeze, with drag and drop functionality. I made several really good playlists in a matter of minutes, and I thought this was one of their best features. Spotify’s sync features to the iPhone app worked flawlessly, wirelessly and fast, and really could take over for iTunes.

Whats Bad About Spotify.

The entire user interface on the desktop app is really poor, and frankly, just ugly. Also, there is no way to minimize the player to a “mini-player”, so you are stuck looking at the ugly interface anytime you want to listen. There is no web-version of Spotify, so you have to have the desktop player open all the time. I also found searching for music in Spotify to be strange. I am a U.S. customer, but my search results constantly turned up music that was only available in Europe, and thus not playable by me. So why am I seeing it?

Whats Good About Rdio.

The user interface on Rdio looks much better, and you can minimize the player to a mini-player so it is out of the way but still functional. It just seems like the buttons and options on the Rdio player are where you would think they should be, and that is good UI design. I like that. I found the Rdio iPhone app to also be more user-friendly, and it was much easier to search for new music to add to my collection on there. Search results with Rdio were almost always spot on, giving me exactly what I was looking for. Rdio also has a browser-based version, so you don’t have to have the desktop app installed to listen. Not a big deal, but it comes in handy when I am troubleshooting computers over at my mom’s!

Whats Bad About Rdio.

Rdio is a fairly young company, so I have some fears that the work I put into it may disappear someday.  Making playlists in Rdio is kind of a pain, as you have to add each track one at a time, and there seems to be no way to add an entire album to a playlist all at once. Drag and drop playlists? No way. Adding one song at a time takes for-ev-er. The iPhone sync from Rdio also seems slow, and not really automated; you have to tell it what to sync and when. Their desktop app is actually in Adobe Flash, which I have found to be a real pain, especially after an upgrade to OSX Lion.

The Final Solution.

Despite all of the ups and downs I listed here, I really saw most of this stuff as little quirks or annoyances. The bottom line for me is that both of these services are very good, and I could happily use either. I prefer the interface of Rdio, and they happen to have a couple of artists I like that Spotify doesn’t, although their reliance on Adobe Flash disappoints me. Spotify has pretty much everything I need, easier playlist creation, and no Flash, but their interface is so clunky I can’t see myself using it. I am with Rdio for now. I would encourage anyone interested to try them both out for a month, see which one is right for you and go with it. Meanwhile, follow me on Rdio, at macbuddha1.

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My Week With the iPod Classic

I recently acquired an iPod classic when I bought a new Mac a few months ago, and I love the thing. Not really sure what I need it for, but I love it. So far, all it has done is sit on my desk and gather dust, while comfortably storing literally every bit of music and video I own. It is a beautiful piece of technology, well crafted, sleek, contemporary; in a word, Classic.

Still, my iPhone has remained my weapon of choice when it comes to taking my music on the go. It is effective and convenient, if only carrying 16 gigs worth of stuff. So, I decided to give the Classic a go on the road, and see if it’s superior storage capacity and tactile interface would sway me from the iPhone once and for all. For one week, the Classic became my go to guy in the car and while out, and my iPhone sat in my pocket.

Having all of that stuff with me all the time was pretty sweet. Anything I wanted to hear, whenever I wanted it. Genius playlists were well populated and easy to make. And having a real iPod in the car again was a nice trip down memory lane, to be sure.

Unfortunately, it was mostly downside. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Classic, but after a couple of years using the iPhone, the old iPod was not as easy to use anymore. Just try to turn off the shuffle on a Classic. You have to go out of the music, back to the preferences, turn off “shuffle songs”, then navigate your way back to whatever it was you were listening to. As a frequent whole-album-listener, this is a crucial feature for me, and on the iPhone it is only one click away.

I also found my self surprised at how much I missed shake-to-shuffle and voice control on the iPhone. Even though I complain about how poorly these features work, they are there and I miss them when they’re not around.

Of course, taking a phone call was expectedly painful. Where the transition from music to call to music again is a pleasant one on the iPhone, it is a real hassle when listening to the music on one device and taking a call on the other. Ahh, remember the good ol’ days?? Trying to turn down the volume on that AC/DC track while fumbling for your phone in your pocket, all the while attempting to keep your car on the road? Don’t try this at home, folks. The whole experience has led me to believe that using the iPhone is actually a safer choice, at least.

So, my bottom line. I love my iPod Classic, but I am sticking with everything on my iPhone. I like the idea that I could take everything with me, if I wanted to. Usually, I don’t want to.

(Originally posted in my music blog, http://themusicalmysterytour.blogspot.com/2009/11/my-week-with-ipod-classic.html)

And the winner is…

With the announcements of the Oscar nominees this morning, I thought I had better get out my Album of the Year pick, so here goes.

Mars Volta. 

Yeah, this one wasn’t really even close. All of the albums nominated were good, to be sure, but the Volta record was just a home run. It had everything: Hard rockin’ moments, subtle textures, excellent musicianship, interesting (if bizarre) lyrics, the list goes on. I liked this recording the first moment I heard it, and it has continued to get better and better with time.  This was one of those albums where I didn’t even make it past the first three or four tracks for a few weeks, just because I kept going back to hear them over again.  That is always a good sign. In my opinion, this is among the greatest albums released in a long time, and one I think I will be pleased to hear come up on my iTunes mix again and again in the years to come.

My Albums of the Year 2008

aoy-nominees-20082My Album of the Year nominees for 2008 are ready! 

I choose an album of the year every year, but this will be the first really online. My list of AOY’s goes all the way back to 1983, believe it or not. Anyway, here are my favorites for the year past; I will post my personal winner in a few weeks. Let me tell you I have a solid favorite here, but these are all good. 

Beck: Modern Guiilt

Death Cab For Cutie: Narrow Stairs

The Mars Volta: The Bedlam in Goliath

Metallica: Death Magnetic

Nine Inch Nails: The Slip

Weezer: Red Album

Feel free to comment on your own and let me know your thoughts.