When Apple handed over US$3 billion to rapper Dr. Dre and producer Jimmy Iovine for their Beats Electronics headphones business recently it signalled a probable change in the way that we will listen to music in the future. With technology moving at such a rapid pace it was only a matter of time before our music listening habits would be put to the test once again.
It all began, of course, with vinyl records and the radio being our main sources of listening pleasure. It wasn't until the 70's that the cassette and the much-loved 8 -track were introduced to the world. Then there was the development of the CD in the 80's and that ruled the roost until iTunes come along and turned them into a thing of the past as well. Now it seems we are heading in the direction of music streaming services as the main source of accessing the music that we love. Apple has had a lingering problem surrounding the actual 'ownership' of songs purchased on iTunes so its not really surprising that a shift from ownership to 'renting' music was on the cards. While it may not necessarily suit the artists involved in making the music, the music streaming juggernaut looks like being a major player in our musical entertainment and discovery - until the next big thing comes along.
Many of the main music streaming services are almost household names these days but, over the last couple of years, there have been a lot of wannabe contenders for your musical ear. Here we will compare some of the most interesting of them and try to give you an idea of what they have to offer, how much they will cost you and whether they are just another advertising conduit for the music industry or something with a bit more substance. So we are starting at the top and here we will compare what two of the big boys have to offer.
Spotify and Pandora are two of the biggest and best known music services available but have slightly different ways of competing for the use of your ear and your wallet. If all you want to do is just listen to your favorite type of music then there is little to touch Pandora. It's a free service but is only available in the US, Australia and New Zealand right now but its been around for years and knows exactly who it's audience is. All you have to do is to pick a song and Pandora will build a great playlist based on your choice. They are damned good at it too. You won't hear too much new stuff but you'll get to hear a lot of stuff you'll like and, the more you use it, the better it gets to know your taste. It lets you create up to 100 virtual radio stations that you can tap into whenever you want. Spotify, on the other hand, is a lot more social and has a vast catalog of tracks - allegedly around 20 million - plus a veritable array of affiliated 3rd Party apps likes BBC Playlister for your added listening pleasure.
Most seem to use Spotify to search out individual artists, songs or albums and to create their own specific playlists that they can share with their friends and the rest of the world. Given its hugeness, there's a pretty good chance that many of your friends are already using and there can be a nice bit of social interaction via Facebook - something Pandora doesn't offer. Spotify does compete with Pandora in that there's a similar 'radio' option available but, to be honest, Pandora's wins that challenge, hands down. Both systems have specific apps for iOS and Android as well as a web version for Windows or Mac and if you are someone that uses the Linux system (well, you never know) you can run it under WINE. However, there are some limitations on what you can do using Spotify on different platforms.
So now we come down to the all important thing - the price. Both have totally free versions, of course, but do come with certain restrictions to the paid versions. For 36 bucks per year or just under 4 dollars a month you can get rid of Pandora's ads and get access via the desktop app. It also let's you skip more tracks that you don't like. However, there's still a limit of six skips per hour - which can be a pain. Spotify will cost you around 10 bucks per month and thankfully too, dumps the annoying advertising. Along with Pandora, Spotify offers a higher quality audio for paid users but Spotify wins here by also offering a gateway so you can download your favorite music and listen to it later when you're offline. There's still a limit to how much you can download though. In terms of pure sound quality, there's nothing to touch Spotify. While its not quite up there with Neil Young's Pono system, Spotify's sound is significantly better quality that Pandora - even in the paid version.
With Pandora, you get a very well thought out music streaming app thats ridiculously easy to use, delivers exactly what you'd expect it to and is great for road trips. Spotify is more for the serious fan. If theres a downside, Spotify looks like it could do with an interface-lift. There are so many new streaming apps popping up every few weeks now vying for attention and many have the odd innovation that catches your eye. It's a perfectly functional interface as it stands, but it would be nice to see something a little more innovative that makes you go 'wow.' It would also be a bonus to be able to manage your tracks a little better too. Surely they've heard of the cloud for storage for your library so you could listen to them on another device when you're on-the-go.
Enough of the gripes. Both services offer something special but, if you are a true music fan, it's hard to go past Spotify. It offers a good quality service with a massive catalog of music where you can discover new artists as well as older ones. Turn them into playlists, share them with your Facebook friends and find out and listen to what they are listening to as well. If you are out on the road however, Pandora could well be the perfect music streamer for you. Just turn it on, pick a track and your road trip playlist will unfold as soon as your foot hits the gas peddle. Happy trails.