OnlineMusic streaming services
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Very easy to use
Upload all your own music
Over 82 million tracks
Ads on the free service
Streaming limits on the free service
Spotify is rightly the market leader in the relatively new area of online music streaming. Packed with features and with a slick interface, Spotify sets the bar for the others to reach up to.
Spotify was first set up in 2006 by a Swedish team and rolled out on an invitation-only basis across several European countries. Creating a buzz in the music sharing world, Spotify nevertheless experienced some tricky ups and downs in the process of expansion.
Spotify finally launched a US service in 2011 after years of issues and problems with several major record companies. Spotify is a legal music sharing service as it seeks deals and licenses from record companies, so you won’t run into any problems if you decide to use it.
Spotify is currently available in the UK, US, Sweden, Norway, France, Spain, Finland and the Netherlands but the company is looking to expand further. The aim of Spotify? To make all music available to everyone at any time. A lofty goal, but does the Spotify service deliver?
You can use Spotify for free (Open access) by signing up and creating an account and although the service is limited compared to what you get with the paid subscriptions, you do have over 13 million tracks to listen to. By using this free service you can search the music in Spotify and stream it to your computer (listen to it online but not download it) but there are limitations. For the first six months you get a package of 20 hours’ free streaming time and five additional hours every week. If you don’t use all the streaming hours it gets saved up to a max of 20 hours. After six months, you only get 2.5 additional hours a week and the max saved time is 10 hours.
For streaming without these limitations you’ll need to pay for a subscription. With Open access you get ads (limited but still noticeable and can be annoying) but with the Premium and Unlimited subscriptions listening is ad-free.
With a Premium subscription you have unlimited access to all the streamed tracks you can possibly listen to, you can synch to your mobile, listen offline and enjoy enhanced sound quality.
With an Unlimited subscription you can enjoy unlimited access to the music and you get no ads, but you don’t have the offline or mobile synching features.
Once you have your login you can access your Spotify account and playlists from any computer or mobile device with an Internet connection.
Spotify contains over 13 million tracks for you to choose from. The Spotify catalogue is so diverse because the company has signed deals with a large number of record companies and now enjoys a good relationship with major publishers and labels. From jazz to 80s pop, classical to obscure indie, you’ll definitely find something to listen to in Spotify.
Selecting music from Spotify is on a pick-and-play basis – you type an artist or song title in the search box and Spotify delivers a list of compatible choices which you can then play on your computer. It’s worth remembering this service allows you to play the tracks in full, for free, with no cut-off. There’s also a radio feature which automatically streams tracks similar to/ based on the artist you are currently listening to.
If you love the sound of a particular track you can pay and download it. When you buy tracks the sound quality is either 256 or 320 kbps and the music you buy can be downloaded between three and five times.
You can add all of your own music to the Spotify program – this is called local music and it means you can import all your MP3s and other music files into Spotify so you have a combined music collection.
Creating playlists is easy with a simple drag-and-drop functionality. Each playlist can store up to a massive 10,000 tracks. Star your favorite tracks and shuffle your playlist tracks if you want a random selection of music.
Each track and album is part of a top list – the rank of tracks and albums based on number of plays so you can see which tunes are currently most popular.
The Biographies tab is great for getting the inside story on artists and bands, with information on influences, band members, history and more.
While you’re listening to an artist and want to continue in the same mood, the artist radio feature streams a lineup of similar artists for you to listen to. And you can also see what fans of the artist also listen to by going to the related artists tab and checking out the bands there.
Social networking capabilities – Spotify has a full set of sharing features meaning you can spread your music taste to your friends. Simply copy the link to your track or playlist then email it or publish it on Facebook and Twitter. When people click the link, they play the music. You can also share music and playlists inside Spotify with people you are friends with on Facebook, and see what they’re listening to. If someone sends you tracks from Spotify the links are all there in your inbox.
Mobile – If you pay for Spotify Premium you can listen to the tracks on your mobile phone. This is available on Spotify-compatible mobiles (you can check on the Spotify website if yours is compatible). You’ll need a wireless connection to send the files from your computer to your mobile device. If you are on Spotify Open you can synch your own music files to your mobile through Spotify. And Spotify is now synching with iPods.
Offline mode – If you have Spotify Premium you can also make playlists and tracks available offline. The offline mode – which means you can continue to listen to music when you have no Internet connection – doesn’t include all of your music; you need to specify which albums, tracks or playlists you will make available offline. Spotify synchs up to 3,333 tracks.
Ease of use
The Spotify interface is very similar to iTunes, with a darker background but all the functionality of the iTunes experience. Browsing and navigating through the Spotify world is easy, swift and instinctive, leaving you with more time and space to enjoy the music. Spotify provides a list of keyboard shortcuts too.
We couldn’t really find any fault with how easy Spotify is to use. And Spotify’s response time is near-instantaneous. The experience is akin to playing your own music collection and the only minor lags occur when you try to skip to the middle of a song.
Help & support
The frequently asked questions section is where you’ll find a lot of the answers to your questions. There’s also a forum for posting suggestions and questions and if all else fails you can contact Spotify support through the online form. This last option isn’t the quickest way to get answers, and you are better off searching the FAQs and forum before you try it.
The best free music streaming service and the one most likely to get you to give up your regular CD collection.
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