Which music streaming site rocks hardest?

Vintage jukebox from eBay

Or you could always buy this thing on eBay for $18,500.

Maybe you’ve been enjoying the era of all-you-can-pirate music and how plugged in to the culture it makes you feel. Problem is, now you’re running out of hard drive space and you just know everyone’s going to be talking about how bad Lana Del Rey’s debut album really is when it comes out in two weeks. The Internet, as usual, can fix your problem with its variety of big-music sanctioned streaming sites, which have popped up like mushrooms now that all those labels are getting a cut of the action. Which one is the best? We compared free and paid plans at Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, Rdio and Rhapsody. Read on to find out which one wins.

spotify logoSPOTIFY
Three plans: Spotify Free (Free. Duh), Spotify Unlimited ($4.99/month) and Spotify Premium ($9.99/month)

The music service on everyone’s lips and Facebook news feeds, Spotify has an interface that will be familiar to any iTunes user, which is everyone on Earth but the ten militant Winamp holdouts. Stay strong boys. Spotify boasts “millions” of songs that would take you 80 years of non-stop listening to get through. It would take even longer if you choose the free version and put up with the occasional ad and the 10 hour per month limit. Spotify Unlimited removes the ads and listening limits, Premium gives you access to Spotify’s mobile app and the ability to stream it through a variety of expensive home entertainment items like Sonos and Boxee.

PROS:  Free service isn’t just meant as a pipeline to shunt you over to paid service. The addition of Apps (add-ons to the original Spotify program) brings varied new ways to stream music from curated services through Pitchfork or Rolling Stone to Moodagent, which creates playlists for you based on a specific mood you’re searching for. Spotify also allows you to see what your friends are listening to, which allows you to form wonderful new bonds over good bands. On the other hand…

CONS: There’s always the risk of drunken browsing and accidentally letting everyone know you’ve been listening to Third Eye Blind’s gross pro-OWS single “If There Ever Was A Time.” I’ll never live that down. YOU, you won’t ever live that down. That’s what I meant. Songs are interrupted by ads, which can be a bit jarring, especially if you’re listening to an album that thrives on continuity, like “The Monitor.”


Pandora logoPANDORA
PLANS: Free, Pandora One ($36/year)

WHAT YOU GET: We’ve all been there: prepping for a party, you’re too busy cleaning up your apartment to remember to make a truly rocking playlist. With the guests filtering in, you just decide to throw your iTunes library on shuffle and hope for the best. It works for a bit, until the little men in your computer pick a track off of “Final Fantasy IV: Celtic Moon” and you have to explain the merits of video game soundtracks to your guests, who are confused and possibly doubled over with laughter. Pandora can fix this, by finding like-minded artists automatically after you pick just one song, artist or genre. You can also play musical Gregor Mendel and do weird genetic experiments by grafting Sam Cooke, The Walkmen and Toby Keith to a playlist and seeing what comes up. If you upgrade to Pandora One, you can get ad-free listening and ditch the 12 skip-per-day limit.

PRO:  Discover music you’ve never heard of, without even trying.

CONS:  You have to be willing to cede control of the party rockin’ jams to creepy music science and it comes with a limited number of skips. It gets repetitive and  you don’t get an expanded library by paying up.


PLAN: $10/month for unlimited music

WHAT YOU GET:The only streaming service that doesn’t offer a free option, Rhapsody has a library of 13 million songs, but they stay hidden behind a paywall.

PRO: They should be commended for being very upfront about being in it for the money.

CON: If your goal is to listen to streaming music as cheaply as possible, Rhapsody loses out.


Grooveshark logoGROOVESHARK
PLANS: Free, Grooveshark Plus ($6/month or $60/year) and Grooveshark Anywhere ($9/month or $90 a year)

WHAT YOU GET: Grooveshark is like the anarchist of the music-streaming crowd. It should be commended for trying to push boundaries, but isn’t a realistic alternative to just pirating music. The five-year-old service doesn’t give a precise number of how many songs are in its library, but that’s mostly due to the fact that users can upload songs directly from their computers. Paying for Grooveshark Plus removes the ads and gives you access to a desktop client so you don’t need to go to the website to use it. Paying for Grooveshark Anywhere gets you unlimited access on a phone app. It can also assist you in puking your brains out: the site has a Power Hour-friendly feature that ends every song in your queue after 60 seconds. [1]

PROS: Good for just jumping in and streaming something you want without any hassle.

CONS: Allowing users to upload songs means the site suffers from a total lack of vetting. This is why searching for say, Catch-22’s “Alone in a Crowd”, will get you four separate results claiming to be the album but all of them are incomplete or out of order. Grooveshark is also collecting lawsuits like yuppies collect visors, so it has the best shot at suddenly blinking out of existence one day.


Rdio logoRDIO
PLANS: Free, Web ($4.99/month), Unlimited ($9.99/month), Family Unlimited ($17.99 for two accounts, $22.99 for three)

WHAT YOU GET: Like Grooveshark, Rdio doesn’t require you to download a desktop application. Unlike Grooveshark, you have to register to use it, but at least you won’t have to deal with a nightmare of shit strewn everywhere, masquerading as a music library. Rdio puts a limit on how much music you can listen to for free, but unlike Spotify’s 10 hours per month, this one’s cloaked in mystery. Seriously. Rdio’s website offers no hard number on how many hours you can listen per month, but in an interview with Fast Company Spotify’s CEO said the service would be dynamic and dependent on how often a user took advantage of it. Rdio also offers the option to follow other users a la Twitter and let them curate your music choices. These “influencers” range from music magazines to record labels to regular schmucks that just amass a bunch of followers. So you’ve got yet another thing to work towards in the struggle for internet bragging rights.

PROS: No ads between songs. If you’re into paying for things, Rdio’s big advantage over Spotify is found in the Family Unlimited plan. It comes with a reduced price on two subscriptions or even a third, if you want to enjoy it without ever having to listen to Five Finger Death Punch or whatever your rotten kids are listening to.

CONS: The possibility of suddenly running out of free service. Relatively no-frills compared to Spotify.


SO WHICH IS THE BEST, DAVE??? So we’re still left with the question of which service to use. Keeping in mind that there are artists not available on any of the services — The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Metallica being the biggest names — until the services offer a cut deemed big enough, the respective libraries don’t differentiate themselves in any major way. As much as I hate to jump on a bandwagon (the reason I still won’t root for the Giants) I’d recommend Spotify as the top free service, ads and all. The Moodagent app alone makes it worth it since it takes the work out of making your just got laid/just got dumped playlist, which gives you more time celebrate/weep.


[1] Power Hour: a drinking game where one takes a shot of beer every minute for an hour

9 Comment

  • i have to agree with the assessment on pandora, even though it’s my first pick of these. i tried spotify but didn’t like the interface (hiss, itunes), and the ads were way too jarring and threw my groove off consistently. pandora is like the old familiar binder of mix cds from the last 10 years that i never quite get sick of even though i should.
    also, it apologizes if it plays a song you don’t like. i appreciate the robotic subservience.

  • You didn’t even think to compare the best service of them all in your study? MOG!

  • Yes, not including MOG is a big mistake. Its free version has no ads, an arguably shorter time limit, however that can be extend the more music you share, playlist you create or friends you sign up. Overall it seems to have a better selection of non-mainstream music than Spotify and you don’t need any “apps” to extend limited functionality since the artist radio function is adjustable by the user, a unique concept. Finally, if you want to use the mobile version, MOG’s app is by far the best designed of all of them. Spotify only wins because its software integrates with your desktop’s library and their servers are faster (MOG sometimes interrupts a stream).

    To sum it up: try out MOG and Rdio, they both have trial periods for the premium access. See which has has more albums of your favorite obscure artist and which one has the design you feel most comfortable with. Keep Spotify as the 2nd option and because everybody else has it (just like iTunes even though it’s the worst media player (one word: Mediamonkey)).

  • Give me free. There is no reason to ever pay for digital music. Ever (unless it’s on vinyl)


  • I heard of this new site coming out in June of 2012 called Ourtunez.com… I read about it on their blog at blog.ourtunez.com… I’m pretty excited for it.

    • I actually came across that ourtunez site through facebook it looks like its going to be taking all the cons of these sites and turn them into pros. Im reallly looking forward to having a custom playlist on ourtunez.

    • Been hearing about Ourtunez for about a month now and looks pretty sweet. The design is pretty sweet, at least what they have so far. Dont want to wait until June though.

    • That artist of the month contest sounds unreal!

    • I am really getting excited about ourtunez.com! Just cancelled my Spotify account. June cannot come quick enough.