There are several excellent choices for music subscription services in the US (and to a lesser extent in other countries as well.) All cost about the same, offer similar features, and finding out which one is best for you can be a challenge.
Spotify’s entrance into the US market has made this somewhat easier by forcing most of the other services to offer a more robust no-cost service level to match the options it offers. But it can still be difficult to make an informed decision because these free levels don’t always offer all that each service has in terms of features.
This is the first of two articles that will provide an overview of the weaknesses (this article) and then the strengths (the second article) for each of the major subscription services available in the US. These will be fairly quick bullet-point lists, and can be elaborated upon in the comments (if any).
Slacker: library size
- Up until recently Slacker was solely a “customized radio station” service ala Pandora, but a few months ago they branched out to offering a more traditional subscription service in addition to that which lets you listen to specific albums in their entirety, and craft custom playlists. Unfortunately Slacker’s library of songs available for anytime/offline listening is woefully small when compared to its competitors. It has many strengths and is an excellent customized radio service, but when it comes to number of songs you can make custom playlists for and/or download to your mobile devices it lags far behind the others
rdio: library size
- rdio’s library used to be almost as woefully lacking as Slacker’s, but they’ve worked very hard at beefing it up, and the gap is much MUCH less than it used to be. It’s still on the smaller side compared to the other services, but not that much. It’s a testament to how good rdio is that even though the gap is a small one it still qualifies as their greatest weakness.
Napster: it’s going away
- Napster’s subscribers will be merged w/Rhapsody next month (if all stays on schedule), so Napster is out of the picture. That’s a shame, because it had some unique strengths that may not be preserved in the upcoming merge. (But, if they ARE preserved and added on top of Rhapsody’s formidable service things will get quite interesting!)
Rhapsody: cost / playlist generation
- Rhapsody’s greatest weakness depends on your needs. If you want to listen to it on one mobile device (i.e. smartphone, tablet, or iPod Touch) then it costs $10/month like its competitors. BUT, if you want to listen on more than one mobile device then it costs $15/month, making it 50% more expensive than the other services which include 3 or more mobile devices in their $10/month offerings.
- If you don’t care about more than one mobile device, then Rhapsody’s greatest weakness is its ability to generate cohesive playlists. Like MOG or rdio, Rhapsody lets you pick an artist as the basis for generating a playlist of music by related artists, but UNLIKE those two services which are adept at doing that, Rhapsody’s playlists are almost comically hamfisted most of the time. They seem to operate at the broadest levels of genre type. They do have some decent curated radio stations and playlists, but it’s much weaker than its competitors when it comes to artist-inspired stations.
Spotify: Mobile app feature set
- Spotify has an excellent (albeit staid) desktop client with lots of solid features. Up until recently I would have said “playlist generation” is its greatest weakness as well, but the additions of the Artist Radio tab for (most) artists and the “Radio” option that lets you specify a mix of (still excessively broad) genres have helped address that. BUT, the problem is that these features have not made it to their mobile clients yet. In general Spotify’s mobile apps are quite stable and have a slick UI (especially the Android version), but there isn’t nearly as much feature consistency between their desktop feature set and their mobile apps feature sets as there needs to be and that inconsistency can be really annoying, for example when you want to listen to an artist radio station but can’t because you’re using your cell phone at the time.
Mog: Limited Feature Sets (both desktop and mobile)
- Mog’s newly updated desktop client is slick but overly-minimalist. Their former site (which you can still get into in a “back door” sort of way) had lots of great content albeit in a rather scattered format. The former site offered lots of excellent content reviews by both users and professional sources, and also a handy way to browse new releases by genre. None of that has yet made it to the new (web-based) interface. While I like the new web interface very much for what it currently does, adding some of the lost features back will make it top notch. On the mobile client side they have astonishingly neglected to add the ability to add songs to your playlists. As someone who is constantly creating/tweaking/growing his playlists this is incredibly annoying. True the mobile apps let you mark songs as “favorites”, but a large undifferentiated mass of great music just doesn’t cut it, and it’s very puzzling that MOG has yet to see fit to add playlist editing to its mobile clients, something ALL of its competitors have.
Now that we’ve reviewed the most important deficiencies in each service, keep an eye out for the next post (coming in a few days) that’ll outline what is best about each of them. The good news is that all of these services are surprisingly good, and in each case the good definitely outweighs the bad. The bad news is it makes deciding between them more difficult, but that’s a good problem to have!