Tag Archives: mp3 player


For much of today I was listening to music via Spotify, the P2P-based music streamer that’s like an iTunes client for thousands of complete albums, EPs and CD singles, all delivered instantly and encoded in high-quality 160kb/s Ogg Vorbis. I’m usually a 320kb/s mp3 snob, so audio quality is important to me (one reason why I don’t do iTunes): Spotify beats Last.fm in this respect, and sounds better than my 320’s streamed via Orb too. I used the free version of Spotify, which has no restrictions except for a short 30-second commercial about once every 20 minutes or so and the odd in-client pop-up.

When I first looked at Spotify the other day, I was impressed but I thought the lack of smaller indie bands would mean I only used it to listen to the odd big commercial releases. But that was before I found out it had almost the entire DC Recordings catalogue, including the latest Death Before Distemper compilation:

DC Recordings is a smallish British independant label who specialize in electro-cosmic-disco-radiophonia; I like pretty much everything they release, especially from two of my favourite bands Depth Charge and The Emperor Machine. Finding DC Recordings output on Spotify really impressed me: it’s a glimmer of hope that this may be more than just a place to preview the new U2 album.

I also discovered some Freezepop albums, another band I wouldn’t have expected to see here. Interestingly, this included their iTunes-only release (the Form Activity Motion remix album). I’m often perplexed that music I’d like to buy is only available on iTunes, but now here’s Spotify with at least some of that “exclusive” content but without the Apple lock-in.

I compiled a few Spotify playlists based on actual real mixtapes I made back in the day:

Spotify’s catalogue began to show its limitations again here however: each of those playlists is missing at least half the tracks from the original analogue cassette versions. But Spotify’ song-count is growing by the thousand every week, so hopefullly I’ll be able to expand these back to their full-story glory soon.

Mix names are often not tagged correctly: an EP may appear to have the same song 5 times, but each is a different mix (obvious if you look at each song’s duration). I had to refer to other websites to work out which mix was the one I wanted to hear. For example, here’s an Underworld single in Spotify with four mixes on it:
I’ve not subscribed to Spotify yet but I’m giving it some serious consideration. £10/month at first seems a little steep, but it’s on a par with the similar US-only Rhapsody service ($13/month) and is nothing compared with what I used to spend on CDs. A Google Android client would be the clincher for me, especially if it cached to the SD card.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle is a change in mindset: I moved from buying and owning CDs to downloading mp3s, but in both these cases I had some tangible “thing” to call my own and look at and say “here’s my collection.” Many bloggers think Spotify will fail unless it offers an mp3 download feature, but I reckon they miss the point: the music’s all in the (little fluffy) clouds now, man.

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.

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.


This is my third Creative MP3 player – I’ve had a Zen NX, then a Zen Vision:M and I now have a 32 GB Zen like this:

I use it exclusively for music, and I like to have a large library of tunes with me so I was particularly sold on this one as it has an SD slot for extra memory. Unfortunately, this works like a mounted disk o’ files: the Zen won’t read MP3 tags from it or integrate it into the Music library. So, you need to navigate through the directory structure to play your tracks.

I also miss the touch pad of the Vision:M – this Zen’s buttons are a bit clickity-click: click down one by one or hold the button to zoom so fast I keep on overshooting what I’m looking for. I’d expected the touch pad to be replaced with a touch screen interface instead of these noisy buttons.

I’m still a Creative fan though – it’s a tiny device with a fantastic screen, the firmware’s fine (if a bit laggy at times, more so than the Vision:M), and the SD slot is still a great addition.

Rating: 7/10