Shopping around for your next music-streaming service? Looking for something first-party or unmetered on your data plan? Here’s our round-up of every music streaming and online radio service worth looking twice at.
Apple has finally thrown its hat into the music streaming ring. The whole point of Apple Music is to bring you closer to your tunes on an iOS device, and the whole experience is broken down into a few different sections: My Music, For Me, curated Radio, and Connect.
It also features a streaming radio station called Beats 1 which broadcasts 24 hours a day around the world.
Everyone's on a free three-month trial at the time of writing, but after that it's going to cost you $11.99 per month or $17.99 per month for the family sharing plan.
Apple Music isn't just for iOS users, either. Apple is so hellbent on dominating the streaming music game, it’s doing something I never thought I’d see: Bringing its first app ever to Android. The ported version will land in a few moths time.
For Aussies, it's interesting to trace the Apple Music story back to its origins. Apple Music actually started its life as MOG. MOG was offered in Australia by Telstra as an unmetered music streaming option.
MOG was recently acquired by Beats who turned it into Beats Music. Soonafter Beats was nabbed by Apple, who spun it up into the Music service.
The movement from MOG to Beats to Apple Music left Telstra in a bit of a lurch, but now that the dust has settled, Telstra has made a pledge to offer its customers a free 12-month subscription to the new Apple streaming service. It's worth pointing out, however, that it's different to Telstra's approach to MOG in that Apple Music usage won't be unmetered on customer accounts.
Google Play Music
Google Play Music All Access – catchy name, right? – launched in Australia in last year, giving all-you-can-listen access to Google’s library of 18 million music tracks. It’s a flat $9.99 per month with an Android app available, but no iOS version. You can try Play Music All Access free for a month before you’re automatically charged.
All Access is a service that takes the best parts of other music services and blends it together. You can upload 20,000 songs to a digital locker in the cloud to keep and have and hold forever like iTunes Match, you can stream songs from curated radio stations like on Pandora and you can buy stuff to keep forever just like Google Play, ironically.
There are plenty of companies offering subscription music services in Australia, but virtually all of them ask for a monthly fee. Spotify is one of the few that offers a free ad-supported service, but you still have to pay to use it on a mobile device. Enter Guvera: An Australian developed free music streaming (supported by advertising) which you can access on iOS and Android devices.
You can sign into Guvera using Facebook or set up an account via your email address. The site claims “millions” of tracks; my searches suggest that the range isn’t as broad as Spotify and there are some problems with metadata on quite a few tracks, but there’s enough there to keep your playlist ticking over for quite a while. If you want to avoid the ads, you can sign up for an $11.99 a month Platinum account. The free option will probably be enough to please casual listeners; as with any streaming service, stick to Wi-Fi to avoid excessive data charges.
iHeartRadio is the free streaming audio service of choice primarily for people who love terrestrial radio and want to be able to get their local channels over the web. (Yes! Millions of these crazy people exist.)
iHeartRadio has teamed up with the Australian Radio Network to launch in Australia to bring free and unlimited internet radio streaming to the local market.
Thanks to that partnership, iHeartRadio now supports streaming Australian radio stations through the service.
JB Hi-Fi NOW
JB Hi-Fi is still one of the most prolific sellers of CDs and vinyl records in Australia, so naturally it’s going to try and cash in on its dominance in the online space, too.
In terms of charges, Now will cost $8.25 per month for the premium tier or $6.67 for the standard tier.
Premium gets you unlimited music streaming, access on two mobile devices as well as a browser and you can pay for it using JB Hi-Fi gift cards rather than a credit card. The standard tier only gets you access via the browser, as well as streaming to your Sonos or AirPlay-compatible devices.
Nokia Mix Radio
Sometimes all you want to do is press play on a magical big red button and hear the music you like. That one-touch startup has never been done as simply as has been in Nokia Music’s overhauled Windows Phone app, MixRadio. You turn it on, and it plays a station that’s perfectly tailored to all the data you’ve ever given them.
Nokia Music is one of the many software perks that comes with owning a Lumia Windows Phone. If you have the phone, you have the service, which is basically a streaming radio app that doubles as an iTunes like hub for music you load on from your computer. You can either play your music or listen to generated “mixes” based on artists you like.
Pandora isn’t so much a music streaming service as it is an internet radio service.
Pandora’s point of difference is music curation by the numbers. It analyses what you give your up votes and down votes to before recommending other tracks based on that information.
Beyond the basics, you can introduce variety to your mixes by adding additional artists to the calculation. Or you can mix everything together into a giant party shuffle. Following the success of services like Spotify, Pandora has added some very basic social integration that lets you see what artist-based radio station your Facebook friends are listening to, which is very basic compared to other stuff out there.
If Pandora has a selling point it’s simplicity, but you get the sense that it still harbors intense pretensions about the strength of its music genome.
Rdio is fantastic. It's cheap (with a free tier and $6 streaming tier), it's easy and it's gorgeous to look at.
In the future, streaming radio stations will be so sophisticated that they’ll know based on all sorts of factors exactly what it is you want to listen to. We’re not quite there yet, but Rdio has a personalised radio feature, which takes a bold step in that direction.
You get a station named after you (Luke FM, as an example, spins great tunes), as well as a view into your friends' playlists thanks to deep integration with Facebook and Twitter. You don’t need to enter an artist, genre, or anything — you just press play and the station spins the jams it thinks will make your butt move (or not move).
And where does that data come from? The engine firing under the hood will sound familiar, but its implementation is slightly more sophisticated than what you’re used to. The new stations use two forms of information to generate playback specially tailored to you: Your listening history within Rdio, and the rich library of data from music information clearinghouse The Echo Nest.
According to Rdio, listening history includes everything from what you play to what you put in lists to what you give the thumbs-up to. The information from The Echo Nest, then, allows Rdio to classify your likes and dislikes into different categories, which they use to generate more music for you to listen to.
It's that personalisation and ease-of-use that really makes it simple.
Samsung Milk Music
If there’s one thing the smartphone has done, it has well and truly killed the traditional MP3 player. The advent of streaming services like Spotify have shifted our music consumption from offline to online, and now there’s a new way for Samsung owners to listen in. Samsung wants to give you Milk Music, for free, on your Galaxy smartphone or tablet.
Milk Music isn’t an a la carte music streaming service in the same vein as Spotify, Rdio or Deezer. Instead, it’s more like an Internet radio station, but one that you can tailor — heavily — towards your interests and musical tastes. Because of that, it’s not targeted towards the hardcore music listener that wants to build their own library of audio and have access to it at all times, but towards the everyday user that wants to set a single song or genre as a starting point and then work off that.
Exclusively available to Galaxy device family users, Samsung’s tagline for Milk is “a fresh spin on music”, and that’s very much true — purely because the one central control interface is a single spinning wheel, like a clock face with different musical genres at different points on that wheel. To start the Rock station, for example, all you have to do is tap and drag to the Rock section of the dial, and a track Because of that, it’s very very simple to use if you don’t want to delve deep into menus.
Spotify is so close to becoming the by-word for streaming music. You don't stream: you Spotify.
Spotify took the world by storm when it launched, and eventually it blew into Australia as the streaming wars were hotting up and got everyone all excited for new music paradigms or whatever.
Spotify has both an ad-supported (read: free) tier, as well as a premium tier that ditches the ads, ups the audio quality and enables offline synchronisation with your devices. That will set you back $12 per month.
Spotify also has a slew of data on how you listen to music on the service, and it's using it to make streaming way better.
Katy Perry makes you smile. OneRepublic makes you cry. David Guetta makes you angry (yeah, I know, me too). This is what Spotify has discovered in a study with a Dutch neuroscientist. Katy Perry’s Birthday — you know, the one that is just about birthdays and balloons, without any innuendo — is apparently the best song for making yourself happy. OneRepublic’s I Need makes you sad, David Guetta’s Bad makes you angry, Coldplay’s Magic makes you overcome fear.
What was once Xbox Music is now just Groove. Groovy, yo.
Over the years, Xbox Music has been a pretty decent service, but it lacks the showiness and hype of immensely popular products like Spotify, and more recenly, the just launched Apple Music. In an effort to distance itself from a brand that doesn’t scream “music,” Microsoft is renaming the product Groove. Admittedly, it’s a pretty good name. (Xbox Video will be getting the infinitely more boring Movies & TV.)
Besides a new interface Microsoft claims will be magically easy to use, the new app is getting OneDrive integration that mimics some of the storage locker options offered by Google Play Music and Apple Music. If you’re a subscriber, you’ll be able to upload your music to Microsoft’s cloud storage and then access it alongside the Groove streaming music catalogue across desktop, mobile, and yes, your Xbox. Though it’s not exactly new to the world of streaming music it’s definitely a nice addition for people who are customers. (I see you Microsoft fanbois!) Woohoo! All your Grateful Dead bootlegs, in the cloud.
The coolest part by far here is pricing: You can either pay $US10 per month (likely to be $11.99 in Australia) or $US100 per year. Saving $US20 a year might not be a big deal to all you moneybags people out there, but it’s something. A cheeseburger and a couple a beers, courtesy of Microsoft. We’re told that most of the big changes lie ahead. Let’s hope so. Spotify ain’t slowing down, and that new Apple Music Goliath is looking mighty imposing.
Tidal was a tiny Norwegian streaming service that basically no-one had heard of, until Jay-Z bought it (and parent company Aspiro) in January. The service is meant to offer a premium streaming experience, with 25 million high-definition tracks offered in lossless format. Lossless is a high-definition music format that streams music at CD quality rather than the crappy music you’ve been streaming through Spotify.
One feature that also hasn’t been talked about much is the vast library of music videos and behind the scenes content available on Tidal. If you’re the sort of person who loves the music DVD and Blu-ray section of your local JB Hi-Fi, Tidal is probably for you.
That's the other catch with Tidal: it’s expensive. You’ll pay $23.99 per month for the lossless tier in Australia. There’s also a $11.99 tier if you’re not a fan of lossless audio, but why would you jump ship to Tidal when you already have Spotify/Rdio/Google Play Music All Access/Pandora/iTunes Radio/etc, etc.
So, it’s expensive and is kind of annoying to use. At least the music sounds good, right? Sort of. It all depends on whether you can really hear the difference between "normal" music and lossless music.