Spotify has been getting a lot of press lately after their huge US release this month. All the good press boils down to one of two things: 1) if you’re a consumer, music streaming is awesome; and 2) if you’re an artist, getting paid by Spotify is a good thing. Both very, very good things.

However, I’m pickier than that. I’ve played with Grooveshark. I’ve been using Pandora forever. I’m a recent convert, but I dig that too. I need something that will really break my 10-year-old iTunes addiction. Something different, big, dramatic. And Spotify… ain’t it.

Spotify, so far as I can tell, is just iTunes with streaming. Oh, and without smart playlists. And without being able to easily sync to my phone. Or my iPad. Did I mention it doesn’t have smart playlists?

Okay, it’s got Facebook integration. But I’m not a huge Facebook fan. And yes, it has a mobile app, but I can’t use it because it takes literally at least FORTY-FIVE SECONDS to load on my iPhone 3G. Let’s say I jump in the truck, want to turn on some tunes, and drive home from work. FORTY-FIVE to SIXTY SECONDS of just Spotify loading on my phone… that’s not cutting it.

But I’ve been digging Rdio. I started using it about six months ago at the recommendation of Eli over at Hyperbolium. It’s an amazingly well-designed, real-life web application, not just a weak desktop app that streams music. It is very social. When I’m listening to an album, I can see other folks who’ve reviewed it or listened to it recently. (I’ve actually seen friends on there a lot.) I can create playlists that you, anyone, and everyone can listen to, not just my friends like on Spotify. Even better — I can create collaborative playlists with my friends. We can basically create a mix tape together, giving tracks back and forth.

And the mobile experience? Fantastic. I can sync any music that I want to my phone, so I can listen to it without needing web access. I hear I can do that on the Spotify app too, if it would ever load on my phone.


Rdio has Pandora-like and “radio stations” where you can listen to songs similar to an artist. Spotify has this feature in Europe, but for some arcane licensing reason doesn’t support it in America. I think this is a major oversight, and one of the best ways to use Rdio. One extra feature that is unique to Rdio — I’m able to create a “radio station” that plays only a specific artist. I haven’t seen this feature anywhere else. It’s basically shuffle of an entire artist’s catalog.

So what’s the drawback? Rdio only has about 2/3 of the music that Spotify has. Not good. So until Spotify buys Rdio for it’s vastly superior customer-experience and mobile tech or else Rdio catches up on the music licensing front, I’m subscribed to both systems. However, at $10 per system per month, that’s still not bad. Far less than I usually spend on CDs. I’ve pretty much relegated my iTunes to listening to old music or crazy off-the-radar new stuff that neither system has. Everything else I’m listening to Rdio or falling back to Spotify.

Bottom line? Spotify is good… streaming is good, but Rdio is a better music discovery experience that blends the best features of all of them — the simple streaming of Spotify or Grooveshark, radio-stations from Pandora, and automatic scrobbling access to In short — I want Rdio to win. Or at least, I hope Spotify buys Rdio, integrates their tech and music libraries, and then we all win.


Note: Originally published over at ye olde Hickory Wind.


Views: 4379

Comment by Kyla Fairchild on August 9, 2011 at 11:04pm
Thanks for the comparison. I've been curious how these services compare. I use Rhapsody and they have a great song selection. Sounds like Rhapsody is the one who should buy Rdio.
Comment by Kim Ruehl on August 10, 2011 at 5:08am

I'm gonna have to check this out. I love Spotify, and have found the playlist function to be super smart and intuitive. The "if you like what you're listening, you might like..." function is great, too, and generally spot-on. And, it's pointed me to some obscure artists. Not a Pandora-like situation (I have to leave what I'm listening to in order to listen to what's recommended), but it's been helpful. 


I keep hearing people complain about Spotify's spotty library, but in over a year of using it for all my music listening, there have only been maybe three times it didn't have what I was looking for. But, maybe that's more reflective of my listening habits. Rdio sounds great, though, and sounds like it would be augmented a great deal if Rhapsody bought it.

Comment by Larry Karnowski on August 10, 2011 at 5:39am

I always forget about Rhapsody... not sure why.  It just never stuck with me.  I'll have to go dig into it to compare it's user experience.


The other BIG differentiator  of Rdio is it's developer API (application programming interface).  Spotify has... none.  It's very easy to build applications on top of Rdio's services and even embed it into websites like No Depression, but Spotify is strangely silent on this topic.  They have limited support for creating/sharing playlists programmatically, but in a very difficult technology.  Rdio's tech is web-based, open, and easy to play with.  


I expect to see a lot of new services built on Rdio soon.  (I'm tinkering with a few myself.)

Comment by Kyla Fairchild on August 10, 2011 at 9:36am

I'd be curious to know how Rhapsody compares. I've been using it for about four years now but only through a Sonos so I've never used the computer application.  The song selection is great and I've generally been quite happy with it.


The API aspect that you mention about Rdio is of great interest to me. I've long wanted to incorporate a "virtual jukebox" on the ND site that the community could program. Playing around on made me think that having something like that sitting on No Depression as a way for people to interact with music on the site would be even better and a great asset. If you find a way to embed Rdio into a website please let me know. I'd love to talk to you about that.

Comment by Hal Bogerd on August 10, 2011 at 4:54pm
I've been playing around with Spotify at home but I'm not sure why. I already have way too much music, discs to review and not nearly enough time. And Larry, you and your ReviewShine are at least partially responsible.
Comment by David Haskin on August 11, 2011 at 4:50am

Thanks for the comparison.  I agree in general -- I now subscribe to Spotify but, in the past, belonged (briefly) to Rdio.  But (and this is a huge "but") the relatively small size of Rdio's selection was a massive drawback for me. In particular, I found the selection particularly weak for artists not on the major labels (which is most of the artists most of us ND denizens care about most).  I was constantly frustrated when I couldn't find the music I wanted to listen to and it sounds like that hasn't changed. Since the main reason I use these services is to discover new music, I didn't last long on Rdio.


So I'll stay with Spotify.  If they catch up in terms of quantity/selection, though, you bet I'd switch -- I really did prefer their user experience to Spotify's.

Comment by Larry Karnowski on August 11, 2011 at 6:00am

I've been using Rdio (and Spotify) to listen to "Rolling Stone" type music -- i.e. stuff that magazine would cover, i.e. major label stuff, without having to actually pay for those albums.  I find that makes a lot a sense -- listen to the "popular" stuff to know what's what but then actually shell out for a CD or MP3 album from an up-and-coming Indie artist that I like.

I'm also digging deep into some old-old stuff, including old-school British Folk Rock (Fairport, Pentangle, Steeleye Span), country, and classic rock.  Quietly on the side I'm nursing a new guilty-pleasure of modern European heavy metal.

In short -- I'm using the subscription services for music I enjoy listening to while working but that I wouldn't necessary feel passionate about enough to buy.  Having a broader context, however, is making me appreciate the things I do buy even more.

Comment by Marshall Preddy on August 11, 2011 at 7:37am

I too prefer Rdio, but I think it's misleading to say that Rdio has 2/3 of the music Spotify has. This isn't an accurate description of the real holes each service has in its catalog. To name one REALLY prominent problem with Spotify: no Bob Dylan. Where as Rdio has ALL Bob Dylan. Another good example: Arcade Fire. All their albums are on Rdio. None are on Spotify.  


Kinda important if you like Bob Dylan or Arcade Fire (I like both immensely).


I've found very few instances in which Spotify has something I want that Rdio doesn't have. The Sharon Van Etten EP being one unfortunate example. Galaxie 500 is another. But they seem like minor omissions.


So yeah, 5 million songs sounds like a big difference, but I urge you to compare their selections more closely before you decide Rdio isn't your bag. It's got most of what you want. Promise.

Comment by PLMelton on August 11, 2011 at 11:37am

It's a little presumptuous to use a term like "better" to describe Rdio over Spotify, when Rdio so  far declines to specify bit rate or codec information beyond: "We experiment with different rates and encoding formats in an effort to provide the best possible listening and user-experience, and stream CD-quality audio over the web and wifi (for mobile devices), and only stream a lower bitrate if you’re on a 3G connection." Spotify on the other hand notes: 

"We use the Ogg Vorbis format for streaming. There are three quality ratings that we use:

  • q3 (~96 kbps)
  • q5 (~160 kbps)
  • q9 (~320 kbps)
Note: not all tracks are currently available in high bitrate.

Desktop: Streams are q5 quality. Premium subscribers can enable higher bit rate streaming at q9 from the preferences menu.

Mobile: A higher quality q5 is offered, along with a “low bandwidth” option of q3. You can choose separate qualities ratings for streaming and synching in the More tab of your Spotify mobile app."

Delivery of audiophile level sound by streaming services isn't always necessary, but not providing information where you can make a comparison among services is not satisfactory if sound quality happens to be a consideration.

Comment by David Haskin on August 11, 2011 at 11:49am

@Marshall: I used to write extensively about these services (and other consumer-related gadgets and services).  I learned quickly that it's hard to compare which service had which content because very service had gaps.  I subscribed to Rdio when it first came out and, at the time, I also subscribed to Rhapsody and was constantly frustrated by Rdio's missing content.  That was a couple of years ago, so perhaps the situation has improved.  


I've hit a few gaps with Spotify, to be sure.  But, then, I'm also given to understand that they're still adding music for the American market.  I still am frustrated by Spotify's focus on tracks and playlists, as opposed to albums and I sorely wish they'd support iTunes smart playlists.  But overall, I think they do most other things quite well.


Whether one prefers this service or that one, the best part of this discussion is that finally folks are looking beyond iTunes, which consider a serious rip-off in terms of price.  And while I use Apple hardware (iMac, iPad, iPod Touch), I hate how proprietary and closed Apple is in terms of requiring you to use their software and services. If Microsoft had done this 10 years ago, it would have been part of the anti-trust action, but Apple has so much good will, they get away with it. 


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.