I’ve been an Rdio user and fan for a year now. For those of you who don’t know Rdio, it’s a streaming music service available on computers and mobile devices. There is a monthly fee (two tiers) but you can listen to just about any music anywhere you want, when you want, from any artist — no owning the MP3s necessary. I wrote a review last September and although I was quite the cheerleader then, I’ve become much more of an Rdio devotee as time has passed.
And then Spotify launched in the U.S. about a week ago. I’ve used the free and paid versions of Spotify for the last week, both the desktop & mobile apps, and I now have a pretty good idea of the pros and cons of each service. I compared the premium Rdio subscription ($9.99 a month) to the premium Spotify subscription (also $9.99 a month).
The overall verdict? I don’t know! I’m still thinking about which key features are more important to me–since neither service has everything I want.
I’m plotting ways to bring one or more of these services into the library, and have some ideas which may or may not be legal. We shall see exactly what the Terms of Service say. But for my own personal listening pleasure, here’s what I think.
- Music selection (overall size) – Spotify offers 15 million songs while Rdio has 9 million songs. Objectively speaking, Spotify has more music. Although, see the first bullet point in Rdio’s section for more on how that actually works for my tastes.
- Sound quality - The big plus for Spotify is the quality of the streaming audio. Spotify’s sound quality is noticeably better than Rdio’s. What I hear most is the difference in the bass. If I play Spotify loudly, the bass is there and sounds great. If I play Rdio loudly, the lower register of notes is muffled or even missing. As I listen to a lot of electronica, bass is rather key to my music enjoyment. Various songs by Crystal Castles has that nifty audio trick where the sound “whoomp whoomps” from the right to the left. I played Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” on both, and could hear a definite difference in the lower register of her voice.
- Free version – Spotify has a free ad-supported version that you can use, along the lines of what you’d see with free Pandora or Last.fm accounts. You get ads between songs, some of which are annoying. But hey, at least there’s a free version. For the first six months of free service there is also a 20 hour per month listening limit, which decreases to 10 hours per month after six months. Rdio has a 7-day free trial, but after that you have to pay.
- Integration with iTunes - I like that Spotify harvests you iTunes catalog and lets you play your locally-stored iTunes music from the Spotify interface. Rdio will crawl your iTunes catalog and “add to your collection” all the songs you have that they also have. But when listening to them, they come through streaming even if you have a higher quality copy stored locally.
- Discographies - I like that Spotify delinates between full albums, singles, and albums the artist “appears on.”
- Social – Spotify’s auto-connecting you with people you know through Facebook was easy (though I’d like integration with other services too…like my Google Contacts or Twitter). Plus on Spotify you get the ability to browse their public playlists, top artists, and top tracks. I like it, even though I learned that some of my friends really have awful taste. Sharing of tracks on social sites (like Tweeting out what you’re listening to) is equitable between the two services.
- Immediate play - Spotify songs always play within a couple of seconds of you clicking or tapping on the song, on both the desktop and mobile apps. Rdio generally takes 2-5 seconds, sometimes as much as 10 on the mobile interface. I’m not that impatient so it’s not that big a deal, but it is a noticeable difference.
- Music selection for my tastes - Rdio has almost everything I’ve ever looked for. It has enough that I don’t feel deprived. On the other hand, Spotify had music that I hadn’t seen in Rdio (e.g. Cold Blood’s discography). Spotify also had many remix albums, live albums, and compilations that weren’t in Rdio. But for certain artists Rdio was oddly and inexplicably lacking in completion of their catalog. For example, Rdio has Ladytron’s complete catalog. But Spotify only has a few albums, big gaping holes in Ladytron’s discography. Weird. For me, I’d still lean toward Rdio for music selection for the stuff I tend to listen to.
- Mobile app interface - Rdio’s mobile app is just so much better interface-wise in every respect. I have an HTC Thunderbolt in case anyone cares. Spotify’s app has some really unintuitive and unnecessarily redundant navigation (“Menu” takes you to options to repeat, shuffle, your play queue, and track options…but if you click on the “Info” icon you get to a screen with options to repeat, shuffle, or add to playlist).The Rdio’s “playing now” bar is always at the bottom, which I prefer to the Spotify pop-up drawer (which confuses me sometimes…especially after running a search and being returned to the drawer, which you have to minimize to actually see your search results). Rdio’s app is clean, straightforward, and just works for me.
- Desktop interface – Rdio’s interface on the desktop (or laptop) just works better for me. First off, you don’t have to install anything – it’s all browser-based. Spotify requires a download and installation, making it not work for many people at work who can’t install programs. Rdio has a downloadable mini-program, but it’s not necessary and I prefer the browser interface anyway. Simple things like the ability to tap/click on an album title to play the whole album (Spotify doesn’t do this).
- Music discovery – Rdio’s music discovery is far superior to Spotify’s. On Rdio you can see what’s in heavy rotation among your friends or all Rdio users, browse new releases or top charts, review recommendations (based on what you listen to and what’s in your collection), and browse through artists similar to those you like. I’ve found dozens of new bands this way. Spotify offers some browsing and recommendations, but it’s harder to find, harder to use, and not as accurate.
- Reliability - Rdio rarely flakes out. On rare occasion the network seems overloaded and a song will stutter a few seconds or stop. Spotify seems to stop randomly every few songs — and stop for up to a minute, then just start again. That’s getting really annoying and since I’m supposedly on Verizon’s “4G network” (which isn’t really 4G, but that’s another post) there’s no reason I shouldn’t get good streaming. Logically, the higher sound quality and resulting larger file size is probably the reason.
- Sound integration with mobile device - If I have an audible notification (e.g. a beep to tell me I have a new text message), Rdio will pause momentarily, the notification beeps, and then I’m back to the song immediately. Any time I get a notification Spotify stops completely and doesn’t start again until I manually re-start the play. That’s super uncool.