This summer I chose to use other streaming music services in lieu of rdio, my favorite forever and ever. I wanted to do this mostly to see how good the other options were, and if I was really getting the best service for me.
Writing comparisons like this is hard. I don't want to book into checkboxland, where I'm just comparing features. On the other hand I've been let down by other comparisons that throw their hands up at the end and say, "Well, that's it! You pick one!" With that in mind, here's where I'm coming from.
How I Listen to Music
I listen to music daily. I listen to a mixture of music and podcasts during my lengthy work commute. I listen to music during my runs. I listen to music when I'm folding laundry and doing chores. And lots of times I listen to music, of course, when working at a computer. So for me, being able to access music on multiple platforms (iPhone, iPad, Mac) is a requirement.
I like to think that I have a collection of music available anywhere, anytime. In short, if I think of a song I'd love to be able to type it in and play it without delay. I'd also like to have a body of songs and artists as "mine", so a collection or library is a must.
My listening habits gravitate towards either entire albums, or a bunch of random songs. For the latter, I enjoy having radio options - particularly if they provide all the controls I expect (including jumping to a previous song). I also really love a queue, because I might think of a dozen or so songs I'll want to listen to in a row, and then play them all.
When I'm listening to radio stations, I really want a mixture of stuff I know and stuff that I will like. Thus, a service needs to start to learn and understand not just what I like but why I like it, too. Plus it has to surprise me! Throw in something left-of-field because I'm okay with that.
Social features aren't important to me, but seeing what my friends and colleagues are listening to (like rdio offers) is fine.
I expect everything reasonable except The Beatles to be available, and I also know some artists won't put their new stuff on streaming networks. For them, I prefer to buy MP3s direct so they get the most profit.
When I started this experiment, I decided to try Beats Music for two reasons: 1, a lower price than rdio when purchased annually - and discounted at Target; 2, I had used Spotify a few years back and hated it. However, I chose to add Spotify to the rotation as well and give it another go. Note that I used the paid subscriptions for each of these services and not the free, ad-driven ones when available.
While I didn't tell myself I'd never use rdio during this experiment, I essentially didn't.
Cutting to the chase
rdio is the best. Yes, it offers the features and library I want but most importantly, it's a pleasure to use.
In spite of its significant flaws, Beats is my second favorite and a very close contender. The Sentence is far and away the best music discovery tool I've seen on these services, and the whole thing has a distinct personality.
Spotify is, well, fine but it's not for me. It feels perfunctory. It's improved a lot since I last used it, but using it largely felt like using nothing to me - in a not-good way.
What you should get
Now the hard part. I know what I should get. Between these three services, what should you get?
If you care about social features or want the biggest service, just get Spotify. If you want the best all-around service, try rdio and Beats.
In future posts, I'll break down each of these services and talk about what worked and didn't work for me.