Is this the end of music ownership?
A new generation of music subscription services is changing the way we listen. For under $16 a month, the world’s music is at your fingertips – and you don’t need to own any of it…
Below are the best music subscriptions services which were being tested under the scanner. Let’s see which can make your music listening more fun and entertaining.
Deezer is new here but aims to make its presence felt. Treading a similar path to Spotify, it claims to support more devices than any other, with apps for Android, Blackberry, iOS, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung phones, Logitech and Songs devices and, soon, Philips TVs.
The main client works within a web browser, busily displaying an impressive spread of content which claims 13 million songs- though(as much as you can test such a catalogue) we found the odd gap. There are music videos, radio channels of tunes; social functions and even a clever and addictive DJ tool that lets you mix tracks. It’s bells and whistles over simplicity, for sure. Pay £9.99 a month and you can use a mobile app, which is colourful, easy to use and offers offline access to your music, You don’t get that for the £4.99 a month option, which offers unlimited streaming of music without ads. Both options deliver 320kbps MP3s-but sonically it could be more dynamic and rhytmic, with deeper bass. It tries hard to best its rivals, making it a worthy choice, but it’s pipped on performance.
FOR : Works across plenty of devices; neat frills to desktop client
AGAINST : Sound lacks spark; library could be bigger
VERDICT : A worthy addition to the market, which brings some clever and unique features.
2. The Lounge – Pure Music
Here’s something we didn’t see coming: a fully fledged music streaming service and music store from radio maker Pure Digital. It works across desktop, mobile and the company’s internet radios. It syncs streamable tracks, and those you’ve bought, across devices. Clever. The service, albeit with a refreshed design, which incorporates live radio streaming, on-demand podcasts and the ambient noise (yes, really) that is Pure Sounds. The Pure Music tab is new, with tracks to stream or buy from an impressive roster of 15m tracks provided by 7 Digital, the same engine behind Spotfy. The interface is clear bordering on basic, but browsing could be faster. Tag tracks and they pop up on your internet radio for instant playback, which is nice. At £4.99/month the service is cheap, but there’s no offline playback on mobile devices yet. But if that isn’t an issue and, more crucially, if you already own a Pure internet radio, we can definitely see appeal.
FOR : Clean, interface; big library; work across Pure’s internet radios; includes on-demand BBC radio and podcasts
AGAINST : No offline playlists on the mobile app
VERDICT : There’s a lot on offer here, especially for Pure internet radio owners
3. Music Unlimited
Sony is getting its act together when it comes to delivering online content: It now has video and music services under the Qriocity banner. The Music Unlimited service provides streaming songs for £9.99 a month, with the added bonus, of its Music Sync scans your library of tunes and gives you streaming access from a range of devices. Sony already offers a wide selection, from TVs and Blu-ray players, to Android phones and tablets, and the PS3, or through the web service on a PC-but there’s no joy for Apple users. The library is slightly smaller than some, although for pop and rock the selection looks though. There’s also a List.fm-style feature that creates a radio station from an artist or track. Sonically it’s OK but not as strong as the best-though its special 48kbps streams still sound better than Napster. The Sony content is a boon, but getting one account to cover it all proves challenging. The service remains a perk for Sony and Android customers, but there’s room for improvement.
FOR Neat cloud feature; works across a range of Sony devices…
AGAINST…but largely only Sony devices; so-so sound
VERDICT The Music Sync feature sets apart a good but improvable offering
Having started life as the infamous file-sharing site, Napster has been reborn, after a series of bur-outs, as a legal streaming service. Similar to Spotify, Napster has desktop and mobile options (Android and Apple iOS),and appears on Sonos, Logitech and other devices. There are £5 and £10 monthly plans that give access to unlimited streaming first and then mobile and offline playlists. Pay upfront and you can make a saving, too: yearly plans are £50 or £100 respectively. There’s a music store for buying files, too. The 15 million+ tracks are streamed as 128kbps MP3s, while mobile is a teeth-gnashing 64kbps.Bought downloads are 256kbps MP3.
The interface is clean, with lots of space (but why is the search box so small?).Napster does well at recommending content, from having the UK charts to showing what ‘other members like’. The desktop app seems slow to navigate, though-and looks glum nest to the excellent mobile app. The real shame is sound quality, which is flatter as a result of the lower bit rate. As the services search to differentiate themselves, we’d certainly stumble at this point with Napster.
FOR Easy to browse; good mobile app; wide device support
AGAINST Relatively poor sound, slow interface
VERDICT Mediocre sound quality lets down a solid service
Spotify has become the poster boy for the streaming generation, with over 3 million daily users and a tie in with Facebook (new users must now have a Facebook account).Alongside the desktop client there are Android, iOS and Windows Phone versions, while Songs, Onkyo AV receivers and Philips Streamium systems are also compatible. In the free version you get 10 hours a week (with adverts), but the £4.99 a month Unlimited deal removes ads and limits. For £9.99, the Premium option offers mobile access and offline playlists. You can buy 320kbps MP3s, Too.
The interface is basic but fast, the library large, and there are neat social functions and the ability to integrate your own music library. The mobile app is nice enough, though if you open it without an internet connection you is nice enough, though if you open it without an internet connection you won’t be able to sign-in to access offline playlists.
Premium users get most tracks in 320kbps (the same as any downloads you buy).Free users get 160kbps,while with mobile you can choose between 160kbps and 96kbps.Sonically it’s out in front, sounding fuller, more detailed and better organised than any rival.
FOR Easy to use; 320kbps sound ; good device compatibility
AGAINST Mobile app could do with a respray
VERDICT The current front runner -recommended
More ways to stream
Launched in the US and due in the UK in the very near future, Google’s much-anticipated Music service will undeniably shakeup the landscape. Gunning for Apple, it’s a music store and cloud storage service that will let you stream music wirelessly (both your existing library and future purchases)across a range of devices not least Android smart phones. Watch this space.
Filling the void left by MySpace’s relative demise, Soundcloud is a distribution platform for music that anyone can use. Upload your own content or just listen to everyone else’s. You’ll find top producers, bands and DJs showcasing tracks and mixes to stream or download alongside undiscovered talent. Sound quality tends to be good- and clearly marked -and it’s all free.
We7 marries a radio station-style service with a more ‘traditional’ music streaming service. The free web client will play a radio station from the 8 million-track library after you enter a single song, artist or genre. Register (it’s free) and you’ll also get 50 requests a month to jump straight to a specific track. Slightly tucked away is also a subscription service with wider access and a mobile app.
One of the founding web streaming services, Last.fm offers tailored ‘radio stations’ of music triggered by selecting an artist on web or mobile. A good way to uncover new music, it integrates with Spotify, has the nigh on compulsory social media links and comes in to its own with ‘scrobbling’ which lets you log any and every track you play to compile geek-pleasing listening statistics.