Long, long gone are the days when we could only tune into FM radio or use a turntable for listening to music at home. Or AM radio and 8-tracks. Who remembers those days? Now, the entire music world is literally at our fingertips and we have so many choices for listening to music online!
When it comes to choosing what service or subscription to use, there are several factors to consider, most of which depend on your preference or tastes. Personally, I like to use a service that is most intuitive and easy to use and has a clean, organized interface. I also like to use something that can be accessed on several of my devices, from my home laptop to my mobile phone.
And lastly, I want good sound quality. One thing to keep in mind is that for high quality home audio, streaming music at 320kbps (320 kilobytes per second) is what you want for the best sound. Spotify and Deezer both have options for this. We LOVED listening to Deezer on Sonos speakers.
Finding the right music streaming options is definitely a personal preference, so we recommend that you test a few out before settling on one. We’ve outlined a few key things about five of the most popular services.
Spotify started in 2008 in Europe and has quickly grown to be one of the more popular ways to listen to music online. Spotify has a free version—with ads—and a paid version that has no ads, offers higher quality audio at 320kbps (kilobytes per second) and allows for some downloading of tracks for offline listening. Spotify also integrates with social media channels such as Facebook so you can share your picks and get track suggestion from friends. For some, this is great, for others, it is an annoyance. Either way, Spotify tops our list for online music.
Price: Free, or Spotify Premium at $9.99/month
- Huge library of over 20 million songs.
- Artist selection goes deep into genres.
- Can create playlists of tracks OR listen to “radio” based on original artist of choice.
- Access can be via web player, via desktop app for Windows or Mac.
- Compatible with iPod, iPad, iPhone, Android and other mobile platforms.
- Streaming is free on all platforms – but you get ads.
- Newly added family account allows for separate playlists and recommendations for everyone and everyone can play at the same time.
- Free mobile apps have limited functionality
- Limited number of tracks for offline use.
For: People who don’t mind paying for offline access. People who want to listen to what their friends are listening too by integrating with social media. People who have obscure music tastes and want to find obscure music.
Rather than playing tracks on-demand, Pandora users pick a song and let it create a radio station of similar and related music. It actually works pretty well. However, due to the limited size of the library, you may find yourself hearing the same tracks over and over if you listen to the same station for a very long time. The quality for the paid service is decent at 192kbps, but not quite the 320kbps that we look for when playing on a robust home audio system.
Price: Pandora Free or Pandora ONE $4.99/month ($54.89/year.)
- Music is curated, meaning it is high quality (the downside—there is less of it.)
- The ability to set up a station based on a favorite artist makes it easy to find music you like.
- Free account users can create up to 100 stations.
- Free accounts can be accessed through desktop, tablet or mobile devices.
- Access via website, desktop app and iOS, Android and Windows phones.
- You can rate songs with a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” which helps hone in your future recommended songs.
- The free version definitely has ads and “takes breaks” every so often.
- The free version also allows a limited number of “skips” when you want to skip a track that you don’t like.
- Song catalog is not as huge as others – only a million songs.
- There are no offline options.
- Sound quality is limited to 64k AAC+ for free listeners and 192kbps for subscribers, making it not as great for high end home audio.
For: The picky listener who wants to listen to only music that is well matched to their artist preferences. People who want to stream radio stations rather than on-demand tracks across a variety of platforms.
The bad news first: Deezer, right now, is only available by invite in the U.S. until they make their official launch here and is ONLY available to owners of Sonos wireless audio systems (which we love.) But, stick with us, because we think this will be a very good option for our customers. At its most basic, it offers playlists, music discovery, favorites and integrated social media features. It has some very good sound quality options.
Price: Deezer Elite: TBA in the U.S.
- Has a big library at 30 million tracks or more.
- Upgrading allows access to very high quality tracks at 320kbps, great for home stereo.
- Access via web, Mac and PC desktops, and iOS, Windows, and Android phones.
- Allows importing of your local library for playback through the desktop client.
- Not fully available yet in the U.S., but coming soon to Sonos owners.
- No real free option. You get one month unlimited music, then only two hours per month after that.
For: The Sonos (current owner) audiophile that is okay with paying for high quality, full access music through their desktop client.
Want Sonos? Contact us!
Tied to the largest digital music store, of course, iTunes Radio is a big player in the Internet music world. iTunes Radio can be used on all Mac products, including Apple TV as well as the PC desktop app. It offers up to 250 curated and genre focused radio stations, or you can also create your own iTunes radio station based on a song, artist, or genre. For users that are used to the iTunes interface, it can be a good option.
Price: Free, free (no ads) with iTunes Match subscription for $24.99/year.
- You can integrate your stored music with iCloud if you have iTunes Match subscription ($24.99/year), so you can play it back on any device.
- Purchasing music that you like is seamless and easy.
- Large music library.
- The free version seems to have fewer ads than say, Pandora.
- The free version also has less “skips” than free Pandora.
- No offline use for the radio. You’ll have to use iTunes the old fashioned way.
- There are no non-music options, like talk radio.
- Some users report that the stations do not make the best recommendations based on your preferences.
- Strangely enough, Apple hasn’t released specs on sound quality for iTunes Radio, so we don’t know what type of sound you get.
For: People who own multiple Apple devices, regularly use iTunes, and are happy listening to radio format streaming.
Despite its lengthy and boring name, Google Music Play is worth a mention. It reportedly has high quality streaming at 320kbps. Google Music Play biggest unique feature is that you can have a “storage locker” that allows you to upload and store your own collection from your computer and then stream or download that music to virtually any device that is connected to the internet. As of February of this year, they upped the storage capacity to 50,000 songs.
Price: Free for Google Play Music Standard, Google Play Music All Access subscription is $10/month.
- More than 20 million tracks.
- High audio quality at 320kbps streaming.
- Access via web, Windows, Android, and iOS.
- Upload and store 50,000 of your own songs in your locker.
- To play music on a non-web browser on a Mac, you’ll need a third party app as there is no native Google Play for a Mac.
- The only real social media integration is with Google+ (Google does love itself!)
- No family plan available.
For: The listener that wants to be able to store a lot of music and listen across multiple devices.
At Home System Solutions, we take pride in being Central Oregon’s leader in home theater, entertainment and automation. We offer beautiful custom design, installation, and calibration and programming for home theater, surround sound, media rooms and full home automation and surveillance. Contact us by email or call 541-610-7915.