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Pandora

$36 per year; free version available
Reviewed
May 2012
by ConsumerSearch
Pandora

Pros
  • Learns what style music you like and dislike
  • Unlimited free version and cheap Premium version
  • Little user interaction required
  • Attractive interface
  • Unsurpassed device support
Cons
  • Average- to low-quality sound
  • Limited song skipping, even on Premium accounts
  • Frequent ads in free version
  • No rewind or on-demand options
  • Minuscule catalog compared to competitors

Pandora brings a different core function to the table than other streaming music services; while the other guys focus on creating deep catalogs with a wide range of music options, Pandora has a much smaller library -- less than 1 million tracks, in fact -- but focuses on offering you music that matches your individual taste. It does this thanks to its innovative Music Genome Project algorithm, which breaks songs down into dozens of different sound categories, such as "heavy guitar riffs," "ambient soundscapes" and "use of vocal counterpoint." As you give songs the thumbs-up or thumbs-down, it uses the information to learn what kind of music you like, as well as what kind of music you hate. Experts and users alike say it works very well and is one of the best ways to discover new music. You're also given the ability to buy the songs you listen to.

Pandora shines in other areas as well. Its web-based interface is slick and intuitive, experts say, and full lyrics are available for most songs. As a radio-style streaming music service, Pandora requires little user interaction aside from liking or disliking songs. Pandora supports a wider array of devices than the vast majority of its competitors; it's even available in many new-model automobiles.

Not everything about Pandora is rosy, however. As previously mentioned, its song catalog is fairly shallow compared to its competitors', and some users complain of songs repeating a bit too often. The sound quality is just poor to average, depending on the pickiness of your ears. Finally, while the unlimited free-listening mode draws praise, critics say it serves up entirely too many ads, and even premium Pandora One subscribers are limited in the number of songs they're allowed to skip. If you want a larger catalog and don't mind giving up the tailored Music Genome Project experience, experts say that Slacker Radio (*Est. $4 and up; free version available) is the better overall radio-style streaming music service, thanks to its numerous DJ-curated stations and ability to play songs on demand with a Premium subscription. Slacker's free mode is also unlimited and ad-supported.

Pandora's service is reviewed in exacting depth by PCMag.com. InnerFidelity.com reviews the radio-style service as part of a roundup that examines the audio quality and device support of several streaming music services. About.com, TheNextWeb.com and VikiTech.com pit Pandora against several of its competitors, while readers at both Lifehacker.com and Engadget.com name the service as one of their favorites. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)

Our Sources

1. PCMag.com

Pandora earns a spot on PCMag.com's list of the best streaming music stations thanks to its attractive interface, personalized song recommendations and large number of supported devices. The lack of on-demand listening or super-niche stations cost it some ratings points, and Jeffrey Wilson says the audio doesn't sound as good as Slacker Radio's.

Review: Pandora Radio (Fall 2011), Jeffrey Wilson, Sept. 27, 2011

2. InnerFidelity.com

Pandora doesn't rise above the rest of the crowd in this roundup, which reviews how various streaming music services sound when played through home electronics and mobile apps. John Grandberg likes Pandora's clean interface and unsurpassed device support, though.

Review: Comparing the Audio Quality of Streaming Music Services at Home and Portably, John Grandberg, Nov. 15, 2011

3. About.com

About.com names Pandora one of the best streaming music services available; digital music guide Mark Harris explains why in this five-page review. Pandora's music discovery chops, beautiful interface and overall value draw high praise, but Harris bristles at the song-skip limitations built into the service. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)

Review: Pandora Radio Review: An Intelligent Streaming Music Service with Radio Stations, Mark Harris

4. TheNextWeb.com

Courtney Boyd Myers says that Pandora is the easiest streaming music service to use and thinks it does an excellent job of finding music that its users will like. However, she calls the social features -- or lack thereof -- "amateur hour" and expresses frustration at the large number of ads that pepper the free version of the service.

Review: Showdown: Spotify vs. Rdio vs. Grooveshark vs. Pandora, Courtney Boyd Myers, July 14, 2011

5. Lifehacker.com

Lifehacker.com readers selected Pandora as one of the five top streaming music services available. Discussion is fairly light, however. "It's not music on-demand, as in you can't request a specific song and hear it, but it does an unparalleled job at introducing you to new bands, artists, and songs you may like," Henry says.

Review: Five Best Streaming Music Services, Alan Henry, July 24, 2011

6. VikiTech.com

Rampant grammatical errors call the editors' writing skills into question, but they do a decent, albeit brief, job of discussing the highlights of the services mentioned in this roundup. Pandora is called "the gold standard" of Internet radio, but the editors caution that the service only plays music similar to the type you like, limiting your exposure to different styles.

Review: The Complete Guide to Listening Unlimited Free Music Online, Editors of VikiTech.com

7. Engadget.com

Engadget.com asks which streaming music service is the best, and nearly 350 readers answer. The best picks vary considerably, as could be expected any time 350 people weigh in on a fairly subjective issue, but Pandora emerges as a top pick again and again during the course of conversation.

Review: Ask Engadget: Best Streaming Music Solution?, Darren Murph, Oct. 29, 2011

Streaming Music Services Runners Up:

Spotify $5 per month and up; free version available

10 picks including: About.com, CNET…

Pandora $36 per year; free version available

5 picks including: About.com, Engadget.com…

Rhapsody *Est. $10 per month and up

4 picks including: Engadget.com, CNET…

Grooveshark $6 per month and up; free version available

3 picks including: PCMag.com, Lifehacker.com…

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