Music Streaming Services: A Comparison

I’ve been looking for the perfect music streamer ever since I got my G1 Android phone and decided that carrying a smartphone and an MP3 player into the shower was just excess baggage.

I love my music: at home I have about 200GB of MP3s and a few hundred CDs (not forgetting the boxes of vinyl now in the loft). On the move, I used to take my 30GB MP3 player to listen to at work and on my 30-min walk home every day. I listen to a large range of bands and styles and so like to have access to as much of this as possible when out and about; none of yer 1GB Walkman phone or 8GB ipod nano nonsense for me.

I’ve spent the past week or so comparing the merits of several music streaming services. I tried out:

  • Last.fm – my first choice as I’ve been using for a couple of years now so have it trained well. Last.fm knows what I like and ever since it started streaming full tracks it’s been one of my favourite websites (see previous posts on its Android app and Fire.fm Firefox plugin).
  • MySpace – again, I’ve been on MySpace for a few years now so have a large number of “friends” (i.e. bands I like but aren’t every likely to meet in person). The MySpace player has improved considerably over the years and is no longer limited to 4 songs only.
  • imeem – I hadn’t tried this before getting the G1 but it had its own Android app
  • Orb – a little different from the rest, Orb is basically a media streamer that streams your existing mp3 collection via a website.
  • Spotify – dubbed the “itunes killer” this is service that’s currently in all the news stories. It’s still in beta, and you need to be located in the UK (or other parts of Europe), but this does seem like it could be the perfect music streamer.

Here’s my summary of these five streaming services, comparing them on a range of features that were important to me (e.g. will it stream to my Android phone, will it scrobble tracks to Last.fm etc.):

As you can see, there’s no clear winner; indeed, only imeem fails to cut the mustard. So which one will I use?

imeem did not impress me much. The Android app was fine, but its network of related artists was poor (at least it was for the styles I like – synthpop, electro, trance) and there were many artists I tried but wheren’t found. The Android community seem to love imeem so perhaps I missed some key feature.

MySpace is still the place to go to hear about what your favourite bands are up to, and the sheer number of artists on there is almost overwhelming. But there’s no app for Android (the MySpace app in the Android Market doesn’t stream the tunes so it doesn’t count here) and the number of tracks available from any one band is still restricted. Also I consider MySpace almost NSFW as some band’s pages are just way too bloated and loaded with dodgy imagery (or maybe I should just listen to less Industrial and goth music).

Orb was almost the perfect app, with its ability to stream my entire music collection to wherever I happened to be. But I found it flakey: some days it would stream to my Windows Media Player at work fine, other days it refused and would only stream to Winamp. I tried it many times on my G1: in theory it should have worked fine, but the success rate was infuriatingly low. Whether this was due to my upstream or the Orb server or my 3G downstream to my phone, I don’t know. Of course to use Orb I had to leave my PC on all the time which may be another disadvantage if I plan to be away for some time. Orb doesn’t scrobble either, and album art didn’t work at all in Winamp. Despite all these negatives, I have been using Orb quite a bit: it can play my entire collection after all.

Last.fm changed my life a while ago and the recent release of an official Android app has only increased my loyality. I can fire it up in the morning, select a tag or artist station, then spend hours happily enjoying tracks from its huge range of artists. For the shuffle generation, Last.fm is the perfect music streaming service. But if you only want to hear one artist, or you want to listen to an album from start to finish, then you’re out of luck.

Spotify
is certainly revolutionary and being able to play full albums in the way the artists intended is a killer feature. It removes the need to “own” music in the traditional sense and could see the end of download mp3s and ripping CDs. But its range of content is currently rather limited, there’s no Android app (i.e. this is for when I’m at work, not walking home) and although infrequent, the commercials do become annoying after a while. They want £10 a month for the commercial-free version. Perhaps not just yet, but once the content fills up I could well see myself upgrading. 

  © 2016 Jer White / Pansentient League.
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