Like many of my friends in the UK, I’m a Pandora-mourner. The great thing about Pandora was the great range of music, the unobtrusiveness of the client, and the robustness of the stream - all issues that Last.fm significantly under-delivers on in comparison. Not only is Last.fm’s interface not as pleasant, any time I’d stress my machine (such as hitting all the cores at once with a major batch build), I’d get streaming hiccups. And if there’s one thing that chronically interrupts a sustained groove, it’s hiccups. 😕
Yesterday a friend of mine (thanks Jim) pinged me to recommend a relatively new service, Spotify. It seems to have been expanding significantly in the last few months, and knowing my friend had similarly high standards set by Pandora too, I decided to give it a go.
Wow. It’s great! Unfortunately like Last.fm it requires a download & install rather than in-browser play like Pandora, but it’s worth it. The interface is obviously influenced heavily by iTunes, which is no bad thing, and it’s very slick. The most important thing to understand is that unlike either Last.fm or Pandora, Spotify actually lets you pick the exact music you listen to. It has a ‘Radio’ mode too where it picks tracks for you, but this is only based on genres and time periods, rather than the music characteristics which made Pandora so great at introducing you to new stuff you’d like. But, it’s big advantage is that you can just use it just like iTunes and search specifically for tracks / albums / artists - and listen to exactly what you wanted right there, rather than being given ‘similar’ tracks. It’s like a streamed iTunes effectively, with a massive library - I’ve unscientifically tested it out and so far the range seems very good.
The sound quality is excellent, and most importantly it is completely unfazed by heavy CPU usage by other applications. As a test I did a full (fully parallel) build of Ogre in the background, while jumping around doing a few other things too, pretty much maxing out all my cores for a sustained period of time, and not once did the music skip. Yes!
Of course, there has to be a catch, but it’s a small one. In return for being able to access any music you like, you have to listen to occasional adverts. These are basically just like radio ads, except that if you happen to go to the client while they’re playing, you get web links to the products - which I’m sure is a pro for the advertiser over regular radio advertising. Alternatively, you can upgrade to a ‘Premium’ Spotify account (a tenner a month, or 99p for a day pass) to remove the ads entirely. To be honest, I found the ads to be less intrusive than those on regular commercial radio, which considering that you get to pick your music and don’t get some DJ talking inanely in between tracks, it’s overall a net gain.
I’m going to keep trialing it to see where it goes, but so far colour me impressed.