Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Battle of the RADIO stars.

You may have heard that there is yet another “Pandora-killer” on the market: iTunes Radio. It works the same way all the internet radio services work. It plays a station based upon an artist/song/genre of your choice and you can “star” it or reject it. We all know the drill of user-input internet radio. 

I decided to compare 4 of these radio services in a highly scientific (I made a chart and everything!) analysis. I gave each service a point for each of 8 set parameters they excel within. With each service I listened to a station based on Grimes’ “Circumambient” for an hour counting songs listened and songs liked, then converted the ratio to a percentage. If the percentage of songs liked was at least 75%, the service gets a point. Math! Who will win the battle of radio??

Spotify Radio --

Availability/Convenience: Available on computers, Apple and Android apps. (+1)

Price: free with ads or $10/mo (+1)

Library Size: 20 million songs (+1)

Ability to Customize Stations: Once a station has been started, only customization is “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” within tracks.

Streaming Quality: 320 kbps (+1)

User Interface: Pretty if a bit of a learning curve. There are a lot of apps/features within the computer program that make it easy to discover new music. (+1)

Standout Features: When you “like” a song, Spotify automatically adds it to a “Liked from Radio” playlist. This playlist isn’t playable on mobile devices if you’re a free user, however.

Listening enjoyment: 65%

Overall Score: 5/8

Pandora --

Availability/Convenience: Available Everywhere. (+1) 

Price: free with ads or $36/year (+1)

Library Size: 1 million songs

Ability to Customize Stations: You can rename stations and add multiple artists and songs. (+1)

Streaming Quality: free users are stuck at 128kbps and paid subscribers can only get up to 192kbps. 

User Interface: UI is fine online but the mobile app’s ads take up a lot of space and are incredibly annoying if you’re a free user. The album artwork is typically low quality and often altogether missing.

Standout Features: Pandora started it, but they are way behind and need to retool their approach now that everyone else is in the radio business.

Listening enjoyment: 92% (+1) Though this percentage is high, the selection was boring overall.

Overall Score: 4/8

iTunes Radio -- 

Availability/Convenience: The service is conveniently integrated into the iTunes app on computers and iDevices, but it’s not available on Android devices. 

Price: free with ads or $25/year (+1)

Library Size: 27 million songs (+1)

Ability to Customize Stations: You can rename stations and add multiple artists, songs, and genres. There’s also an option to tune your station to “hits, discovery, or mix” which is pretty cool. (+1)

Streaming Quality: Apple hasn’t revealed their kilobits per second, but it sounds decent. Purchased tracks from iTunes are 256kbps, so that’s likely their streaming bitrate as well. (+1)

User Interface: UI is user-friendly and pretty, as is Apple’s wont. I also really enjoy the simplicity of the service being integrated into iTunes apps. (+1)

Standout Features: That ability to tune your stations is pretty sweet. You can also add songs to a wishlist and/or buy them directly from iTunes. (+1)

Listening enjoyment: 79% (+1)

Overall Score: 7/8

Google Music Radio --

Availability/Convenience: Available on computer, Android and there are workaround apps for Apple, but no Google Music app proper as of yet. (+.5) 

Price: $10/mo to access the radio feature and Google Music All Access, their on-demand music service.

Library Size: 20 million (+1)

Ability to Customize Stations: You can rename stations only.

Streaming Quality: 320 kbps. (+1)

User Interface: UI is great on Android and computer, but the workaround apps for Apple are clunky and don’t always work. (+.5)

Standout Features: Because Google’s radio service is only available with their subscription service, you have the ability to add songs to your library, skip, replay, and see your future queue. (+1)

Listening enjoyment: 65%

Overall Score: 4/8

WINNER -- iTunes Radio.

FINAL THOUGHTS -- iTunes Radio wins for me because it’s convenient, customizable, and I have several Apple products. It was incredibly liberating to FINALLY give up on Pandora. Their bad bitrates and annoying ads led me to close Pandora’s box, maybe forever. If you’re an Android user who is similarly vexed with Pandora, Spotify Radio is an excellent free alternative. Which radio service to use is highly subjective, so pick your favorite and email me your thoughts at mixtressrae@yahoo.com