Streaming music services: all the same, but different
Several reviewers say that all streaming music services deliver the same
basic experience at their core. While that blanket statement is technically
true, the details make all the difference when it comes to choosing which
streaming music service fits your needs.
Experts say you should keep the following things in mind when selecting
a streaming music service:
- On-demand or radio-style streaming: On-demand
streaming music services operate like an Internet-based hard drive: pick
the music you want to listen to and play it on a whim. Radio-style streaming
music services typically offer less control and shuffle through several
artists, but require minimal input. Several services offer a mixture of
the two, but experts say Slacker Radio's $10 Premium subscription is the
only one to offer both on-demand and radio-style streaming at a high level
size and selection: All of the streaming music services covered in
this report offer tunes from the four largest record labels in the U.S.,
but all the same songs aren't necessarily available on all the services.
(For example, MOG offers Pink Floyd, while Spotify does not.) Obviously,
streaming music services with larger catalogs are more likely to carry
songs you want to listen to. Indie music availability is another consideration.
Since Grooveshark depends on users to upload music, its selection is rather
support: Most streaming music services have smartphone and tablet apps,
but you usually have to subscribe to a high-tier premium plan to actually
use them. The various services also support a variety of home electronics
-- including the Roku, home audio streamers like the Logitech Squeezebox
and Sonos sound systems, and a variety of connected HDTVs and Blu-ray
players -- but each service's supported device lineup is different. Make
sure the streaming music service you choose supports your devices if that's
quality: Many services stream music around 192 kilobits per second,
but some offer higher quality 256 kbps or 320 kbps streaming rates. It
may not make a tremendous difference coming out of stock computer or smartphone
speakers, but if you plan on streaming music through premium computer speakers
or a home theater system, experts say it's worth spending the money for
- Try before you buy: Every single
streaming music service offers either a free mode or a free trial period.
Reviewers say to take advantage of those offers, and try out a couple
of different services to get a feel for the various music libraries and
user interfaces before committing to a subscription.
- Data caps: Streaming music
services stream audio files over an Internet connection. If your Internet
plan includes a limited amount of data, you might hit overage fees
if you stream music nonstop. If that's the case, music download services
give you the ability to keep tighter control over your downloads and
data usage. Some services also let you store and play your music offline.