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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.

Spotify


  • 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.

Rdio


  • 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.

“The Spotify vs. Rdio Smackdown”

  1. Alison Says:

    I’ve never even HEARD of Rdio! Might try it out now that I’ve seen your comparisons between the two. I just started Spotify today and like it OK so far. I don’t like that you can’t browse (at least, I haven’t found a way to yet…), but they seem to have the selection I want, for free.

  2. Tasha Says:

    I think you have the terms of service for the free version slightly wrong. Here is the portion of the their TOS that speaks to the free version:

    The Spotify Service can be accessed (i) as an ad-supported free-to-the-user service having no monthly cap on listening hours or a cap on number of plays of a unique track during the first 6 months following creation of your Spotify account but thereafter a cap of 10 listening hours per month and a cap of 5 plays per unique track,

    I figure if I’m still enjoying it after 6 months, I’ll be happy to pay for the service.

  3. John Weathers Says:

    Thanks for this nice comparison! I’m currently in the same boat as you and am leaning towards canceling Spotify Premium at the end of the month and keeping Rdio. I really find the user interface on the desktop app poorly designed and the Android app even more so.

  4. Doug Baldwin Says:

    Thanks for the info as far as comparison.. I found out about Rdio when our Netlibrary rep came and showed it to us since they are going to be offering it to libraries in the coming months (I was told they have worked out some form of deal with Rdio to offer it to libraries). I loved the app and was sad when my seven days were up (I may go ahead and get a subscription).

    I really like the idea of this service for our library and will be looking at the pricing Netlibrary offers for it when its available to see if it can fit with what we do, and our budget of course

  5. Kenley Neufeld Says:

    Thanks for writing up your thoughts. I’ve been using Mog for a little over a year (a service that easily compares to Rdio). I’m sorry you didn’t make a verdict for yourself yet, but I’m in the same boat in trying to decide between Mog and Spotify. I’m leaning 90% to keeping my Mog account and canceling the Premium Spotify I’ve been using this week.

    Good luck Sarah!

    P.S. – I did an Rdio v. Mog comparison a couple months back and decided to stick with Mog primarily due to music selection.

  6. Sarah Houghton-Jan (Librarian in Black) Says:

    @Doug – I’d be surprised if Rdio and NetLibrary were doing business…but then again, stranger things have happened. Rdio has been silent on this point, but I’d think they’d do far better distributing through a large trusted brand like Gale…not freakin’ NetLibrary. We shall see.

    Update – I’m finding that the Spotify mobile app is stopping in the middle of every other song…just not playing anymore. Totally not cool. That alone is driving me back to Rdio.

  7. Thomas Says:

    I haven’t tried Rdio, generally I’ve worked off my own collection, but I decided to give Spotify a try. On the subject of music discovery, I discovered truShuffle which does dynamic playlist building – appending random songs related to the currently played song to a playlist. It can either work as a webservice – by watching your last.fm scrobbling, or as a standalone app.

    Found my way here because the app likes to just stop when trying to load a song at times, and just never start back up. Not a bad deal if its a song, I can go to the next track, but if it’s an ad, I have to restart. Drives me nuts.

  8. Roger Bengtsson Says:

    Hi, I’ve been using Spotify for many years in Sweden.

    I like the “all you can eat bu fee” that Spotify offer. I have used Groveshark some as well but I find Spotify simpler, then there the questionable legal status of Groweshark regarding track licensing that if kind of turn down for me personally.

    But here’s some info for Spotify that many don’t know that helped me allot.

    The genres available to use while searching is listed here: http://www.spotify.com/us/about/features/advanced-search-syntax/genre-list/

    Use them like this:
    genre:”Acid Rock”
    or
    artist:scarecrow title:”black door
    more here: http://www.spotify.com/us/about/features/advanced-search-syntax/

    A nice type of playlist for discovering new music, Soundmatch (www.soundmatch.me) that generate suggested songs on the fly from what you play in Spotify in a auto updated collaboration playlist as you play tracks (personal auto generated playlist, always up to date). It do require a free Last.FM account and that it’s active in Spotify to work.

    Spotify don’t have a web based GUI on the PC client because it uses P2P tech like BitTorrent (not to be confused with piracy, the chief architect for Spotify client was the closely involved in making the uTorrent client) to make the playback experience as snappy as possible. If you wanna use Spotify at a PC that you can’t install any software on, copy Spotify.exe or install Spotify on a USB stick. Then you can move it from PC to PC without installing. Just open Spotify.exe on the USB stick and you’re done.

    Some more tips in these links (Love the EQ plugin):
    1. http://pansentient.com/2011/02/ten-top-spotify-tips/
    2. http://pansentient.com/2011/05/another-ten-top-spotify-tips/
    3. http://pansentient.com/2011/07/ten-more-top-spotify-tips/
    4. http://pansentient.com/spotify-resources/

    Btw, new feature was just implemented in the US version. Artist related radio as the EU version have. The rest of the radio feature are though still missing in the US version.

    Best of luck :)

  9. Simon Chamberlain Says:

    Very good and interesting comparison, thanks.

    I’m surprised that you’re having problems with the mobile version (of Spotify): I use it a lot (I’m talking multiple hours, every day), and I never have it stop, either randomly or after I’ve been interrupted by something – if I get a phone call while listening, Spotify stops, then starts again after I hang up. Obviously a case of YMMV (Different networks, seeing as I’m in the UK?).

  10. Jeff Rivera Says:

    I would really like to try Rdio. It seems to be more user-friendly.

  11. Rasmus Says:

    Nice article and intersting comparison. I am myself an Rdio-user considering switching to Spotify.

    One question regarding audio quality. I know that Rdio streams at a lower quality when streaming over 3G versus wifi – probably so that it does not use up all of your allocated data when you are out and about. When you did your comparison, did you stream over 3G or wifi, and if you did use 3G, how is the difference in audio quality between the two on wifi?

    Thanks

  12. Sarah Says:

    I tested both over wifi and 3G on my mobile device, as well as both wired and wireless on my laptop. On all counts, the audio quality was noticeably higher with Spotify.I am not a Spotify fan, except for the audio quality…I wish Rdio would dial it up, then I wouldn’t be torn between the two.

  13. Geoff Says:

    I’m currently doing the MOG vs. Rdio debate.

    MOG really shines on audio quality, and I like the iPhone app and it’s download and queue options. Also, great playlists and radio feature.

    BUT, I love Rdio’s Mac desktop app, and most of my online circle from Twitter etc. are on Rdio, which makes finding and sharing music fun. Audio quality is noticeably lower than MOG, though.

    Tried Spotify but it didn’t click with me at all. At least I don’t have that service to pull me in yet another direction!

  14. Gail Says:

    Thanks for this great comparison. Have you looked at turntable.fm? I’d be interested in your reaction.

  15. Rob Says:

    I really want to like Spotify, but it is frustrating at times. I’ve been a Rdio subscriber for about a year now. I use the mobile apps most of time on my iPhone over 3G. I’ve loaded (synced) both apps with music so I can played them locally without connectivity issues. The Spotify app skips in the middle of songs!! The Rdio app never did that even when streamig over 3G.

    Also, is there a way to sort all the tracks in my playlist in the Spotify mobile app? I want to see a list of all the artists that I have in those playlist but when I am in the “search” area all I see is a blank page unless I search for something. All I want to see is a list of artists in my device like Rdio does. I don’t want to have to scroll infinitely through playlist to see who is in those lists.

    I also think the 15 million songs thing is false advertisement. They might have those available in Europe but not in the US. I was going through the BBC radio Spotify playlists and half of the songs “weren’t available for the US”. Don’t come sell me that you have all those extra songs if at the end I cannot play them! I think Rdio has more relevant content for the states and Spotify has it for Europe and guess what I live in the US.

    I give Spotify the better audio quality (I also did some test listening to the same track on both services) and also like the iTunes integration (although if the song is going to skip even when it’s stored locally that is irritating).

    At the end I am also torn between the two. I have 2 weeks to decide which one I keep but Rdio looks like the keeper right now.

  16. Jonathan Says:

    Some hard numbers on audio quality.

    Spotify encodes their songs as 160kbps mp3 audio. If you have the Unlimited-grade account, some songs are available at 320kbps.

    Rdio encodes everything at 224kbps.

    Personally, I find 160 kbps to be the low end of what I consider tolerable. 224kbps, to my ear, is indistinguishable from lossless CD audio.

    The perceived difference in audio quality probably has more to do with the way the digital audio is being mastered by the two services — that is to say, how the music is being equalized and the quality of the encoder used. This can be very subjective.

  17. JB Says:

    Some quick comments.

    I think “Immediate play” is the key for most users since that means Spotify will be even faster than your local music player. Waiting “2-5 seconds” per song like in Rdio is just not going to cut it for most users.

    As for sound quality, Spotify does not use mp3 but rather a superior format called Ogg Vorbis.

    Regarding the size of the music library you can be certain there are lots and lots of music still to be added for the US. When I started using Spotify in 2008 I was thrilled when the service hit 2 million tracks. Then, despite a few problems due to restrictions, it only got better.

    As for the Reliability issue I have only had one or two big issues in 3 years. Most problems I’ve had were related to my ISP. It’s also possible that scaling can cause some problem early on in the US.

    Finally, a point that many people fail to notice is the fact that with Spotify you can easily switch between paid and free and still keep your playlists. For students and others with low income it can be a relief to stop paying for a couple of months and then subscribe again. In contrast, with premium only services (such as Rdio) you are forced to pay or else you will have nothing left.

  18. Lesley Says:

    I’m considering cancelling our library’s music CD purchases in light of all the web based music services now available. I ran this by my niece who plays in a band, ans she asked how artists are recompensed under the various services: Spotify, Rdio, iTunes, Mog, Freegal etc. She thought buying CDs would be better for the artists, but I don’t know if that’ true.

  19. Krunk Says:

    Thanks for the helpful comparison! I had just gotten my Spotify invite yesterday and have been playing with it for no more than a day when I read that Rdio was going to announce family plans, which sounds rather enticing.

    As Tasha already noted above, during the 1st 6 months of free service, there is no cap. If you were to update your comparison, I’m sure new readers would appreciate the corrected information.

    The Spotify Service can be accessed (i) as an ad-supported free-to-the-user service having no monthly cap on listening hours or a cap on number of plays of a unique track during the first 6 months following creation of your Spotify account but thereafter a cap of 10 listening hours per month and a cap of 5 plays per unique track (the “Free Service”)

    via http://www.spotify.com/us/legal/end-user-agreement/

    I’m actually quite satisfied with the Spotify Mac client, as it was extremely quick to respond. As you noted, playing and adding songs was pretty much immediate. Coming from the bloated Zune and iTunes, this was a refreshing change for once. One thing I noticed was that the Rdio site is mainly ran on Flash and given that I purposely don’t install Flash on my default browser, that was a negative to me. It’s also why I was very excited when Pandora announced they were releasing a HTML5 player.

    I’m currently on the Zune Pass ($15/mo for unlimited access to the Zune library and 10 free downloads per month). However, I just recently purchased a MacBook Air and Mac min and plan to get rid of my PCs. Keeping the Zune Pass no longer really made sense. With Apple releasing iCloud in the coming months and with the Spotify/Rdio options, I’m trying to decide which music services I want to use. Price-wise, both Spotify and Rdio have the same tiers at the same cost. Just something I’ll have to figure out.

  20. Tom Fontana Says:

    I’m pretty torn between Spotify and Rdio. The reason why I like both these apps is the ability to sync libraries to my android phone. This is very important because I am not allowed network access with my cellphone at work and the 3g signal inside the building is lousy. The advantage I see to Spotify is the sound quality I do notice a difference, I believe Spotify plays back at 160 Rdio doesn’t specify but I can tell its more compressed, so the music just sounds more flat and less detailed.. On the other hand I hate the interface of Spotify on the android phone. There is no organization. It displays your libraries only in the order you create them. You can’t organize them by artist, genre, album or song like you can with Rdio. As my list of libraries increases, its become very difficult to find the library I want to listen too. Spotify will also play your local music, HOWEVER, it doesn’t appear organized in any way. I have a few thousand songs stored on my phone, its impossible to find a particular song that I want to here, so this feature is useless. I rather just shut down Spotify and use Power Amp to play my local stuff. The other thing I notice is that even though spotify has a larger library of songs, I seem to be finding more of the artists I listen to on Rdio and not Spotify. This includes a lot of new indie stuff and lots of 90s rock. So the main tossup for me is Sound quality or UI.

  21. Lesley Says:

    Found the answer to one of mys questions, “How much do artists get paid form various digital download services ?” here:http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/how-much-do-music-artists-earn-online/

    and for more details

    http://bit.ly/DigitalRoyalty

  22. Spotify vs. Rdio · Hidden Peanuts Says:

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  23. Ian McKellar Says:

    FYI, Rdio and Recorded Books…

    Nothing seems to be up on the Recorded Books site, but talk to your rep…
    http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=210084145697281&id=163400547032308

  24. download free keylogger Says:

    I haven’t tried rdio at all. But I am using spotify these days and find it quite impressive. Thanks for the review will soon try rdio to make effective decision of choosing the premium service.

  25. K Whitehair Says:

    The major problem with Spotify is that it requires a local install. Ideally, it would be totally cloud-based.

  26. SS Racha Says:

    I know it is beside the point, but verizon’s 4G is true LTE 4G, unlike tmobile or att’s 4g networks. BTW, I am a premium spotify subscriber and am extremely happy with it.

  27. Julian Says:

    I used Rdio for 6 months. Today, I switched to Spotify, because all of my friends were raving about it. Worst, decision, ever. I already want my $10 back… Rdio is much more user friendly and by far better.

  28. El L Cool J Says:

    I have been on the RDIO bandwagon for a few months and decided to check out Spotify as it came to the US.
    The Rdio interface is far superior in my mind to Spotify.
    I don’t want the music in my iTunes, I want NEW music. When I want my iTunes I play from my iTunes.
    I like being exposed to music from people OUTSIDE my friends. I get enough from them (although they are all on RDIO now!!!) I find it much easier to get music I haven’t heard of from Rdio by finding a song I like, seeing other people who like the song and then looking at their collections or playlists.
    GO RDIO!

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