Streaming Music Services

I’m a musician and have loved listening to music off any medium (record, tape, cd, MP3) since I was a kid. With the advent of online streaming services (and I’ll speak to all the ones I’ve used or am using) I use more than one due to a number of factors. I’ll attempt to break this down and explain why I was using more than one as well why I’m going to be moving to Tidal.

Rdio

Now dead, Rdio was the best streaming service until it closed its doors in 2015 and sold off all its assets to Pandora. What I loved about this platform was the ease of which I could search and find certain artists or songs, I could easily share either socially or directly to other Rdio users from the player and sound quality was excellent. More on these items later as Rdio was where I got started streaming music and was sad to see it go.

Apple Music

With most of my personally owned (read ripped) music living on a 120GB external drive, exported at some point from AudioGalaxy, Napster and Winamp, moving to MacOS my only option (at the time) was to play via iTunes. I will not get into the pain that is the iTunes UX but that’s why I’ve always looked for alternatives to Cupertino’s media management app. When Apple launched Apple Music with the ability to stream songs based on a subscription service I was very interested. I signed up and started adding whatever music I could find which turned out was not much. Also, I hate iTunes… searching with any accuracy whatsoever in this app is futile at best and usually the results were nowhere near what I was looking for. The streaming experience was awful as was the phone app which I used in the vehicle to stream while driving. I only lasted about 2-3 months on this service and was completely fed up with the horrific search, buggy apps and UI and glitches in playback using iTunes.

Pros Cons
  • Works with all Apple devices (most folks own at least 2)
  • The Beatles (initially launched on Apple Music exclusively in 2010)
  • Good sync between devices and accounts
  • Able to merge both local library and streaming library in playlist(s)
  • Able to create family plan and sync libraries across accounts
  • Affordable at about $10/month
  • Max bitrate to stream is 256kbps AAC
  • iTunes is painful at best and buggy, causes jumps in playback, poor buffer size
  • Apps were almost useless and had issues with sync, even more horrible buffer size
  • Search in all UX was bad and returned unrelated results
  • Account management was bad because… iTunes…
  • Tough to share to social if folks didn’t also have an Apple Music Account

Google Play Music

Since I’m an Android user and long time Google Apps (GSuite?) user, it made complete sense to me to switch to Google Play Music. I was dubious at first but the immediate ease-of-use in the online app had me sold. I still use Google Music and am mainly on the service because there are certain Artists, Songs and Albums that exist in this service that don’t on Spotify (the other service I use). Really there’s not much difference between Google Play Music and Spotify with the exception of a few things but I will sum up here.

Pros Cons
  • Excellent UX, apps work well (mostly, see below) and of course search is excellent
  • Sharing to social media works well but Google is still pushing Google Plus…
  • Great selection of artists and search results don’t return too many unrelated results
  • High quality video also shows in results because… YouTube
  • Very easy to create, manage and update playlists
  • Song queue is also very simple to manage or clear if required
  • Affordable at around $10/month
  • Mobile app skips (like a discman…..) songs and is very very annoying
  • Mobile app likes to eat battery life but not as bad as Spotify
  • Lossy bitrates (~ 64kbps – 128kbps), they claim 320kbps but I don’t hear it…
  • Still some unrelated search results but better than anything Apple ever did
  • Limited albums for certain artists and missing some stuff in certain genres
  • Radio (let it play) will eventually start choosing its own playlist and ignore genre

Spotify

I read somewhere that Spotify would be streaming at a minimum 320kbps bitrate and as an audiophile, I was all for it after hearing the various results from Google Play Music. I signed up for Spotify and still have an account today to essentially supplement the missing artists and albums that are missing from Google Play Music. Really there’s not much difference between that and Spotify and the reason I just kept both around since together they had the song catalog I wanted. There are some differences between them and I’ll summarize here:

Pros Cons
  • Excellent UX, apps work well and search is good
  • Sharing to social media works very well and is probably the best for this feature
  • Great selection of artists but search results…
  • Very easy to create, manage and update playlists
  • Song queue is also very simple to manage or clear if required
  • Radio is excellent and curated playlists are well done
  • Bitrate is mostly high quality but still ~120-320kbps varying with internet speed
  • Affordable at around $14/month
  • Mobile app likes to eat battery life, if driving for 30 min I’ll use half the battery
  • Lossy bitrates but still a bit better than Google Play Music
  • Lots of unrelated search results and usually nothing close to actual request
  • Limited albums for certain artists and missing some stuff in certain genres

Tidal

Tidal came out in 2014 and was purchased by none other than Jay-Z. Another streaming service added to the fray and I just couldn’t be bothered having experienced 3 and continued to use 2 of them. That said, I visited The Audio Room in Calgary and was treated to a demo of some very expensive (read, I will never own) Focal speakers streaming Toto via the Tidal Streaming Service. I listened and could not believe the quality of music coming through the speakers. I went home and had to see if the quality was the same on my old-school JBL speakers. It was… I was amazed. I was able, through Sonos, to play samples of the same song (Steve Miller Band, Fly Like an Eagle) on Google Play Music, Spotify and Tidal. It was a no brainer after hearing the difference between the first two (which are pretty much identical) and then Tidal. I signed up for the HiFi subscription which has a lossless format of 1411KBPS and MQA. This week I’ve been building all the same playlists I use Google and Spotify (merged) for with absolutely no issue finding songs or artists at all. In fact, the search in Tidal’s web, desktop and mobile apps is stellar. I have yet to find issue with any search for music at all. What’s interesting is that there are video results as well, likely to compete with the results found in Google Play searches. For me it’s a simple switch… super high quality streaming, excellent UX, excellent search, fantastic catalog of music and seamless integration across all of my devices.

Pros Cons
  • Excellent UX, seamless integration of all UX and the best search
  • Sharing to social media works very well
  • The Best selection of artists and perfectly accurate search results
  • Very easy to create, manage and update playlists
  • Daily updates of new artists and trending songs/albums
  • Music player is simple and clean and very responsive (all apps)
  • Radio is excellent and curated playlists are impressive
  • Bitrate is the best and lossless at 1411kbps uncompressed without variance
  • Highest payout to artists across all streaming platforms
  • Affordable even at top level at $20/month
  • I haven’t found any yet. I’ve tried:
    • run the comparison sound checks,
    • searched for obscure artists,
    • ran the app while driving more than 20min from home,
    • played “artist radio” and didn’t get something totally different…
    • I’ll be sure to update if I find something.