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Spotify in the US: First Impressions

I’m just wrapping up my first day using Spotify, and have my first impressions ready to go. Globally Spotify is the most well known music subscription service, but here in the US we’ve had several services for a few years now that offer much the same thing: on demand listening to any tracks or albums in any order you want whenever you want, not only on your PC but on smartphones and other devices.  In addition, all of these services offer downloading for offline listening.  (Note that this does NOT include Pandora, non-premium Slacker, or Last FM. If you’re confused as to why not, feel free to ask me for more details.) 

The other services I’ll be comparing to in my first impressions are Mog, Rhapsody, and rdio.  (There’s also Napster, but I wanted to keep things a little simpler for this first go-round.)  All of these services have strengths and weaknesses, and Spotify is no different.  While its catalog, functionality and technical capabilities are all very impressive it doesn’t deliver the knock-out punch that the hype would have you believe.

Spotify’s biggest asset is its free-to-play plan which lasts far longer than the free trials on any other service. If you’re new to music subscription services in general then it’s an excellent way to take some time and experiment.  However for this article I’m going to concentrate on what you get if you use the $10/month plan each of these services.  I’ll split the comparison into broad sections and give brief overviews of how each service stacks up each area.

Music Catalog

Spotify claims 15 million tracks, which is significantly higher than the other services, but either the other services have grown near to that (with the exception of rdio) or Spotify in the US isn’t quite as large as that yet.  My tastes lean towards electronica, either very ambient/drone, or heavy-beat house/techno.

I picked a number of artists and compared the total number of albums and EPs for each artist on each service (NOT including various artist compilations).  This is a bit trickier than it sounds because there are little gotchas, e.g. rdio lists total albums for you, but they sometimes count ones they don’t have the rights to stream, or Rhapsody and Mog will occasionally list the same album twice.  It’s also tricky because some services blend in results from variations on the name you search on, and others don’t. For example one may bundle the albums for “Igneous Flame” and “Igneous Flame / Achromus” together, and another may not. 

I did my best to account for these sorts of discrepancies, and here are the results for some of my favorite artists. Note that often even if two services have the same number of albums/eps by an artist, those may be a different 5 albums/eps, so the selections vary between service more than you would think just from looking at these numbers alone:

Igneous Flame:

  • Mog: 7
  • Rdio: 5
  • Rhapsody: 7
  • Spotify: 3

Oöphoi:

  • Mog: 9
  • Rdio: 8
  • Rhapsody: 7 (tough to find because of diacritical mark in name)
  • Spotify: 7

Foundation Hope:

  • Mog: 2
  • Rdio: 2
  • Rhapsody: 2
  • Spotify: 0

Abstract Audio Systems

  • Mog: 5
  • Rdio: 0
  • Rhapsody: 5
  • Spotify: 5

Martyn Hare

  • Mog: 10
  • Rdio: 2
  • Rhapsody: 13
  • Spotify: 11

Zodiac Cartel

  • Mog: 1
  • Rdio: 0
  • Rhapsody: 0
  • Spotify: 3

Disco Trash Music

  • Mog: 5
  • Rdio: 3
  • Rhapsody: 5
  • Spotify: 5

 Jesse Rose

  • Mog: 5
  • Rdio: 1
  • Rhapsody: 1
  • Spotify: 2

Bad Boy Bill

  • Mog: 7
  • Rdio: 4
  • Rhapsody: 6
  • Spotify: 3

utok2me?

  • Mog: 6
  • Rdio: 0
  • Rhapsody: 7
  • Spotify: 5

Michael Nyman

  • Mog: 16
  • Rdio: 25
  • Rhapsody: 31
  • Spotify: 26

Teddybears

  • Mog: 6
  • Rdio: 4
  • Rhapsody: 5
  • Spotify: 4

Total

  • Mog: 79
  • Rdio: 54
  • Rhapsody: 89
  • Spotify: 74

As you can see Rdio clearly trails the others, Mog and Spotify are nearly tied, and Rhapsody has the strongest collection. However, in fairness to Spotify, I’ve built up these favorites from listening to these other services, so of course would not have run into any artists that are exclusive to Spotify. This is just a small random sample, but if nothing else it indicates you can’t go on stated library size alone to know how well a particular service’s catalog will meet your needs.

Desktop App / Web Site

Spotify and rdio both have a standalone app with a heavy emphasis on social interaction, whereas Mog and Rhapsody are web-only. Spotify’s app is very closely styled after iTunes which can be a plus or a minus depending on taste. Spotify’s social interaction reaches out to Facebook in addition to Spotify users whereas rdio stays focused on other rdio users.  Unlike the others Spotify also integrates your local music files.

My first impression is that rdio’s social features are more interesting and imaginative, but Spotify’s better at sharing with non-Spotify users, especially given its generous free music plan.  Spotify also seems to have more metadata (reviews etc) than any of the others.

Both Mog and Rhapsody have recently revamped their web sites and both emphasize music listening over social interaction. Mog’s is effectively minimalist and their “Artist Radio” feature is the best of the bunch in terms of letting you create an artist-centric radio station, and then varying how many songs by the “seed” artist it plays vs. how many songs by related artists.

Rhapsody’s web site, however, is my favorite of the bunch still. (The various social features that Rdio & Spotify do well are not as important to me)  One key reason: it lets you browse new releases by genre which for me is a great way to keep an eye on what’s coming out that I might be interested in. (Mog’s old web site did this too, so I’m hoping they’ll add it back in to their new web site as well.) They also have a similar artist playlist generation feature but it’s crude in comparison to Mog or Rdio.

Spotify’s US version has not implemented any Artist Radio or playlist generation feature, so this is a weak spot until they have implemented one.  It will add additional songs by the same artist on to the play queue after it has played what you requested, which is nice.

Mobile Devices

All of these services offer both iOS and Android apps, and all the apps work relatively well.

  • Mog: well laid out EXCEPT it has the major oversight of no playlist management functionality. The Android app is rather buggy (the iOS version is fine). It has greatly improved from just a few weeks ago, but is still the most erratic of the bunch. The great “Artist Radio” feature is here too.  It also optionally streams at 320 kbps so has the best bit rate of the mobile apps.
  • Rdio: stable, uninspired minimalist design, but no major issues. Keeps your offline library on the device in sync with your collection.
  • Rhapsody: Not the prettiest of the bunch, but the most functional. I *love* that you can browse new releases by genre here as well. Some songs stream at 192kbps and others don’t.  (You see an “HD” appear when listening to a song at the higher bitrate.) Has a nice selection of curated radio stations (like the web site) and also the unfortunately clumsy playlist generation feature.
  • Spotify: By far the prettiest of the bunch, fastest, and very functional. The only main gap is no playlist generation feature like Mog’s Artist Radio. Like Rdio, the Spotify mobile apps can be set to keep selected playlists in sync. Both platforms’ apps are very stable. I think the Android app is noticeably more stylish and also a touch more functional, but the iOS version is excellent as well.

Speed & Stability

Spotify wins hands-down here.  None of the apps are particularly bad, but Spotify (whether desktop or mobile) almost always responds nearly instantly, and has almost-gapless playback. 

In terms of stability Spotify also is clearly the best. Rhapsody’s new web site is a bit buggy (it occasionally can’t find my playlists), and Mog’s Android app is also a weak point.

Price / Plans

Spotify’s free service is unique. All of the services share $5 stream-from-web or $10 stream from web or android/IOS type plans. Spotify also ups the bitrate for your mobile apps if you pay the $10/month.  Rhapsody is the most expensive of the bunch: $10/month gets you only one mobile device, and you have to pay $15 a month to get up to 3 mobile devices. (e.g. if you wanted to play it on an iPhone, an iPad 2, and an iPod you’d have to pay the $15/month)

Summary

I’m still very new to Spotify, but some things are very clear: it’s desktop and mobile apps are are the sleekest and fast out of any of the services. Some of the services have better individual features (Rhapsody’s New Releases, Mog’s Arist Radio, etc.), but so far Spotify’s offerings seem just a touch more refined than the others.

It’s catalog is at least equivalent to the other services, and I’ll keep exploring further and will let you know if I do start discovering music exclusive to Spotify that may validate it’s “15 million tracks” claim.

So, if you twisted my arm and forced me to pick one service, which would it be? Before it would have been a two-way tie between Mog and Rhapsody, but now it’s a three-way tie. If Spotify can implement a strong playlist generation feature and/or I start finding lots of music they have that the others don’t then that could push them over the top, but as it stands now I’m not quite ready to hand them the crown.

Filed under spotify mog rhapsody rdio

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  1. cloudmusic posted this