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Rdio | music subscription service review

While everyone was waiting for global market giant Spotify to finally arrive in Australia, Rdio has quietly sneaked into the local marketplace with a fully-featured music streaming service of its own. Is it a case of ‘you snooze, you lose’ for Spotify?

Rdio (pronounced ‘are-dee-oh’ making it sound more like a rostered day off than anything to do with radio) certainly has some tech-savvy backers, with its founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstron also inventing Skype. Friis and Zennstrom were also responsible for the legally dubious –- in its early days, at least — music file-sharing site Kazaa.

All four major labels – Universal, Sony, EMI and Warner Music – support Rdio so its 12 million-plus songs catalogue is impressively vast. Users can listen to Rdio via the internet on computers/laptops, a separate desktop app or on an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or Android mobile phone.

It’s great to see a service arrive with all these listening options in place at the outset. Far too many rival music streaming services have launched here as an internet-only streaming service while promising mobile listening features which, alas, more often than not never eventuate.

Ease of use

Navigation through Rdio is fairly instinctive. An attractive onscreen layout welcomes users to dive right in and begin searching for their favourite artists and/or songs. You can listen to full albums, individual songs and build your own or listen to other Rdio users’ playlists. It’s fantastic for both listening to old favourites and finding some new gems.

I tested Rdio on an Apple iMac and 2nd generation iPod Touch and also streamed music to my home hi-fi system – both from the Mac using Airfoil and iPod Touch using Airplay – via Airport Express. It all worked seamlessly.

Music quality was also very good. Rdio are a little cagey about their official streaming bit rate. It’s shaped according to internet connection speed and specific device used. Rdio states music will stream at 320 kbps (kilobytes per second) wherever possible. This is almost CD quality and indistinguishable from CDs to most ears. This approach seems to work well since Rdio very rarely suffered sound dropouts and there was no noticeable degradation in sound quality at any time.

Playlists can even be collaborative so friends on Rdio can add to compilations. Fun if you’re having a party at home, for example.

Pros

Rdio encourages social interaction within its eco-system. Users can follow each other and listen in on playlists. Spotify has annoyed some with its official Facebook partnership forcing new subscribers to also sign up for a Facebook account. (Although it is possible to opt-in to link Rdio with Facebook if you’re comfortable with the social network).

With the major label backing most mainstream artists are well represented. There are still a couple of gaps in the service: notorious holdouts The Beatles and Led Zeppelin to name but two are still trying to sell, not stream, albums. That’s not Rdio’s fault – it’s the same situation on any available legal music streaming service.

Rdio: even better that the real thing?

In fact, one of Rdio’s neatest features is how it handles albums it doesn’t have permission to stream. Rather than pretend an unavailable album doesn’t exist it still lists all albums in an artist’s discography (if the artist has at least one album available via Rdio) so at least you’re aware of what’s missing (and can find alternative means to listen if desperate). Any unavailable album has its artwork slightly faded out so it’s clear what’s playable at a glance.

Albums are handily grouped into ‘new release’ and ‘what’s hot’ categories so it’s easy to browse when in the mood to listen to something different. Strangely, there’s no ability to cluster albums via genre classification. However, as you use Rdio the system learns which types of music you listen to and proffers recommendations based on listening habits.

Do you vaguely recall the fuss Apple made about its $34.99-per-year iTunes Match offering enabling listeners to access their music on the go via the cloud? Well, you can sync your iTunes library to Rdio and access your music via the cloud as part of Rdio’s service. Only the iTunes songs that are also available via Rdio will be synched and available via the cloud though. Rdio synched a none too shabby 85% of my 7,000-plus songs collection.

It’s all rather impressive. The ability to sync playlists or full albums to be available to listen to anytime offline – therefore not quickly chewing through mobile broadband limits – is another incredibly useful feature.

Cons

Nothing’s perfect – there are flaws. Rdio lists all international versions of albums which can lead to confusion if four or five versions of the same album are listed. Especially when some of these international versions, mostly with the same track listing, are accessible in Australia while others aren’t. It unnecessarily clutters the screen and somebody at Rdio should make it a priority to tidy this up.

Also, occasionally, a song that is accessible via computer is not available to be synced offline to a mobile listening device. This is presumably due to licence restrictions for some individual tracks but it’d be nice to receive some onscreen notification of this when compiling playlists on computer/laptop rather than only finding out when you try unsuccessfully to play those songs on your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad/Android Phone.

Most truly independent music labels (i.e. the ones not owned in some way by the majors) also don’t have their back catalogue available via Rdio.

The Verdict

Rdio: Spotify killer?

Rdio is an extremely reliable, legal streaming service for music fans. It’s a fantastic way to ‘try before you buy’ or just listen to songs by artists whose full album you’d never have bought anyway. At least they’ll get some revenue (there have been some complaints from artists about royalty rates but that’s another article for another day).

A free one-week Rdio trial is available –- try it here — with monthly subscriptions costing $8.90 per month for web only access or $12.90 per month all inclusive for additional access via mobile devices. $12.90 per month is a reasonable price to pay for access to new (or indeed old) music from anywhere. It’s less than the cost of one new release physical – or digital download – album per month.

(Warning! Do not subscribe to Rdio from inside the iPhone/iPod Touch app – for some reason the monthly subscription costs a more expensive $20.99 per month from there.)

Australia finally has access to a legal world-class music streaming service.

Your move, Spotify.

★★★★

Listen to a Crikey earworm Rdio playlist HERE featuring songs from albums reviewed.

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  • 1
    ggm
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    (there have been some complaints from artists about royalty rates but that’s another article for another day)

    Its the whole story for me: at the $144 p/a pricepoint, I’d rather buy the CDs.

  • 2
    Grover Jones
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    So, you get access to “less than CD quality” music, and have to pay for it again, and again, and again to keep access to it? Is that about the sum of it?
    At least with iTunes, you keep the music you buy. At least with a CD you get “CD quality”, and can rip it at any bitrate you desire. Combine the two, and you have the best of both worlds.

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