Cloud Music: A Comparison

For the longest time, my interaction with music was via MPD. I had a substantial collection playing on my always-on desktop. I could connect from anywhere to control the playlist and pick up the stream via its HTTP output. I had effectively built my own cloud music service.

While that was great, there were a few annoyances:

First, I had to juggle two interfaces while listening remotely. One to actually manipulate the playlist and another to hear the stream. Second, and more importantly, my collection was stagnant. I wanted smart recommendations, and I wanted a simple way to click through and add what I liked to my collection.

So I decided to give Rdio a try, and eventually Google Play, before coming back to Rdio Overall, the experiences with each were about the same. I’m very happy to be using any cloud music service and would recommend that unquestionably. As for which of the two is better, I’m not sure I can offer an objective opinion on the matter. What I can do is provide some details about what I liked (or didn’t) about each.

It doesn’t much matter

Seriously, the benefits I experienced from moving to any cloud music service were far greater than any differences I saw between Rdio and Play.

They all manage a collection of music in the cloud which can be easily shared and listened to. They all do pandora-esque “stations” built from a seed artist, album, or song. They all do recommendations. They all have apps. They are all about the same cost.

Why Rdio

The biggest reason I prefer Rdio is that it maintains a persistent, server-side playlist. I like that I can hit pause on my desktop before heading to work, pickup the same song in the same spot on my phone as I step out the door, then do the same thing when I get to work and log in from there.

With Play, each session seemed to have its own playlist. I would also have to hard-refresh the browser occasionally to clear some transient connection bug leading again to a loss of play state. Contrast that with Rdio where, after trying Play for 2 months, I came back to the same playlist, paused on the same song, and even with the same volume setting. Color me impressed.

Surprisingly, Rdio also gets the edge in social features. I’m not hugely into “social”, but it is nice to follow people and have a “buddy list” visible where you can see who’s on and what they’re listening to. To be fair, this became a larger factor when seemingly half of my company joined Rdio one day.

The Rdio web-app generally works better for me than Play. The fact that I can close, open, and refresh at will while only noticing a small pause in the audio stream is super impressive. Play on the other hand frequently froze or had “trouble connecting” and did a generally worse job of maintaining playlist and stream state across network events.

For developers, Rdio is certainly better. It has a mature API for interacting with all of your data and has a number of wrapper libraries in most major programming languages. I’ve done little in this area so far, but it has been useful.

Why Play

Just like Rdio has that “one great thing” that is its persistent playlist, Play too has one great thing: support for uploading your own collection.

Rdio will match your iTunes library, but I don’t use iTunes (though I did eventually scratch that itch). Play on the other hand will match any music library (by importing from some exotic thing known as a directory of music files). It even has support for linux. More importantly, if there are songs in your collection which it does not have in its library, Play will add them to your collection anyway by copying your file up to the cloud.

As one might expect, Play also did better for me on recommendations. This is entirely subjective, so your mileage may vary. Relatedly, I really liked Play’s “Listen now” view. It’s a mishmash of recently added or recommended albums and stations. I could consistently go to this view, click on the most prominent tile, and be happy with the result. Again, subjective, but it is what it is.

Finally, the Play Android app worked better for me (and I should hope so, we are talking about Google). On the other hand, Rdio seems to iterate rapidly on their Android app and I haven’t used it much since coming back from Play, so they may have smoothed things out by now.

You decide

In the end, there’s not much risk in trying them out and deciding which you like best. Turning the subscriptions on and off at will is easy enough and you don’t lose any data when doing so (making it easy to come back after trying something else).

29 Jun 2013, tagged with