Spotify, a Swedish DRM music service has landed in the USA!  Currently Spotify will work on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers and can be accessed via a Sonos player or the Logitech Squeezebox.

There are three levels of service, free, unlimited, and premium.  Most of Spotify’s current users in Europe have signed up for the free service, which does include both video and radio type ads.  The Unlimited gets rid of the ads for $4.99/month; Premium for $10/month gets you allegedly higher bit rates, access through Sonos or Logitech and greater choices in portability.

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I signed up for the Premium level, downloaded the software and updated my Sonos system to work with it.  I must say, the concept is very cool.  Searching for music is blazing fast, and you can do nested searches to drill down quicker.  You can also import your entire iTunes or other form of media library into the Spotify interface to get all of your music in one place.  The only exception is files created by Windows Media in WMA; Spotify does not currently support WMA.

Spotify is also full of hooks for the popular social networks of Facebook and Twitter.  You can drive your friend’s nuts if you want to; tweeting out every song you play!  The concept though is pretty neat.  Your friends can suggest songs you might like and you can work together creating shared playlists.

Speaking of playlists, these are also a snap.  You just create a new one, name it, and as you find music you enjoy, just drag or right click it to add it to your playlist.

You’ll find most popular music on Spotify as they have agreements with Sony, EMI, Warner, Universal and more.  The home page on the computer application shows the new releases of the day on one screen, the most popular songs being streamed on another, and finally a page of Spotify streams of recommended playlists.  Drilling deeper, you’ll find the top albums, tracks, and other info of the day.

If you are really into audio and want the best sound, Spotify is simply a great way to find music you might want to eventually purchase on CD.  I’m currently listening to the latest REM release and will probably buy the CD.  To make Spotify sound it’s best, requires a little fine tuning.  You have to go to the preferences and change a couple of things.  First check the box to enable high quality streaming, and un-check the box that sets the volume level the same for all tracks.

I’ve only got one gripe, but it’s a pretty significant one.  Unlike iTunes and other players, Spotify does not show you the bit rate of the music being played.  The Premium service touts playback at 328kbs, which is really good for streaming audio. However as I started jumping around playing snippets of songs I found, I noticed a huge difference in audio quality, so I started looking for albums I knew were recorded well.  Some sounded like you would expect for 328kbs and others sounded pretty bad.  In digging, it turns out some people have dug really deep into this and discovered only a small percentage of the music is in 328kbs.  Spotify claims it’s up to about 60% and growing, but this appears to be questionable.  I suspect if they are going to gain a foothold in the USA and get people to shell out $10/month for the Premium service, they’ll need to fix this pretty quick.

The Sonos app is more limited compared to the computer app. On Sonos, you lose the home page and all of it’s cool stuff, but you can see your imported libraries, your playlists and search for anything.

So, I know you all want to know, how does it compare to Pandora? Well, it’s different!  Pandora is simpler to set up for background music as it will take a while for you to develop enough playlists in Spotify to rival the depth of Pandora.  Pandora helps you discover new music by just sending it out to you, whereas in Spotify you have to go digging for it, but trust me, both are fun.  The 328kbs feeds of Spotify sound better than Pandora’s current stream.  And of course if you have friends over and one of them is just dying to hear a particular song, it’s a snap with Spotify and impossible as you know with Pandora.  I think Pandora will not suffer much from Spotify in the USA; however Rhapsody could lose lots of customers to Spotify if they do not upgrade their bit rate.

Summary, recommended!  Try out the free version and see what you think!