· 871 words · 5 minute read

Streaming services compared

After the fiasco of Google Play Music can any other streaming service do it better?

I’ve tried both Apple Music and iTunes now for two months. I’ve added my experiences with Google Music Play as well (used it for two years) and Plex.

Apple Music #

The nicest thing about iTunes is that it listens to the play button on my Mac keyboard and on both my headphones. That is a huge relief.

Also, the discover function is nicer than Google’s and Spotify’s. It is more ‘in your face’ and the playlists are curated. In other words, they are made by humans. Consecutive songs blend into eachother and the playlists are more creative than the automatic ‘radio stations’ from Google and Spotify.

This is how you get playlists like ‘Intro to Deafhaven’ (a list of songs to get you into a certain band), ‘Behind the boards: Max Norman’ (playlist with songs by a certain producer), ‘Talking Heads live’ (best live songs of a band) and ‘One bourbon, One scotch, One beer’ (rock songs about alcohol). In other words: fun playlists that fit my rock/metal music-style.

Compare this to Spotify, where the discover function keeps defaulting to ‘hit songs’ and ‘most popular’, or simply listing albums ‘you might like’.

Now onto the negative points:

  • navigation is tricky. All music is located under ‘New’, confusing if you look up a 80s metal-album. Sections (such as ‘New’ and ‘For you’) have a strange navigation, where you can’t go back to the start screen without clicking the back button multiple times (and how do you get back to where you were then?).
  • Albums, singles, compilations, etc. are all mixed on an artist’s page. I’ve found myself going to Wikipedia multiple times, because it was faster to look at a list of albums there and then look it up in iTunes!
  • no integrated last.fm: I use Neptunes
  • no last.fm on mobile: this definitely sucks.
  • sometimes I get ‘you are listening on a different device’ eventhough this is not the case. The music stops playing until you head over to iTunes and click the play button. Hugely annoying.

Especially the lack of last.fm on mobile is a dealbreaker, in combination with the navigation it puts me off from using Apple Music.

Spotify #

Seeing as Spotify has been on the market longer, it makes sense they have the most mature user experience. It has some very nice tidbits, like picking songs to your running rythm and great integration with other online services (like Last.fm). When you subscribe, you can pick a higher quality for music playback.

  • better navigation in the application: this navigation makes more sense to me than Apple’s.
  • ’now playing’ syncs between desktop and mobile: continu playing on a different device. Seems like a minor thing, but I very much enjoyed it.
  • play in the browser: when you don’t want to start the app
  • lyrics with the songs
  • Chromecast support: nice ;)
  • last.fm support
  • you can turn off ‘Set the same volume level for all tracks’ (since it’s implemented in a very simple way, it reduces the dynamic range of songs)

Minus points:

  • not everything’s there, eventhough it got better with the recent addition of the Beatles (the lack of Beatles was the original reason to pick Google’s streaming service), I still find that Apple Music has more songs listed
  • no playlist suggestions like Apple Music. The ‘radio stations’ are automatically generated, so songs don’t fit nicely together.
  • annoyingly, iTunes takes over the play button on Mac. There are hacks around this, but they are unreliable or introduce a delay of seconds between pressing the button and pausing the music :(

Google Play Music #

Major minus points:

  • horrible music quality on some tracks (tried all settings)
  • recommendations were quite bad (I’m disappointed in Google!)

Some good points:

  • upload your own songs for free (so you can listen to the Beatles and Rammstein)
  • mobile app quite okay
  • had better pricing (8 euro p/m)

Plex #

  • searching is a biatch
  • no recommendations or nice playlists
  • music library limited to my own music
  • superior quality (because most of my library is in the lossless FLAC format)

Music quality #

From good to bad:

  • Plex
  • Spotify
  • Apple Music
  • Google Play Music

I’ve tried the same songs on multiple streaming services (“Awakening the Fallen” by Avenged Sevenfold, “Everglow” by Coldplay and “Untouchable” by Anathema). None of the streaming services can really beat Plex, which is transcoding FLAC to MP3 on the fly. I find this very strange: ultimately, you’d expect either the same quality or better (because streaming services, especially Apple, sometimes remaster a song for streaming).

Apple Music and Spotify are close contestants, but Spotify has some deeper bass on Untouchable. In the end they are both ‘good enough’, but some music (like Anathema) really needs a good quality streaming and for that I’ll still stick with Plex…

(to listen to a comparison, check my previous blogpost: [Horrible quality on Google Play]({% link _posts/2014-07-30-stronk_googleplayquality.md %}))

In conclusion #

Spotify wins, in combination with Plex for when I feel a band needs the higher quality sound.

update I’ve also checked out Deezer, not a winner:

Neg

  • no Radiohead
  • OSX app rather limited
  • needs Flash on web
  • recommendations not so good

Pro

  • scrobbles to last.fm