The world of streaming music is exploding.  Since the early days (well if you consider 2001 early) of Rhapsody and Pandora, which are still major players, the types and choices of streaming music services have expanded into a mind boggling array.  I’ve already reviewed Pandora, MOG, and Spotify in earlier blogs, so I thought it would be fun to dive in again and look at some of the new choices.  This blog covers RDIO, which hands down wins the award for “coolest, slickest, happiest feeling user interface”!  In some upcoming blogs I’ll cover Tunein Radio, Rhapsody, iHeart Radio, last.fm, Aupeo, Stitcher, and Slacker.  There are a few others out there, but they are not supported by our favorite way to play back streaming music, the incredible Sonos system, so we’ll just hold on them.  In a couple of months, I’ll give you a comparison chart to help you out in making a decision in which one or ones to go with.

For those of you who are new to streaming music, it is the best way on the planet to discover new music from your favorite artists, and find new ones.  It requires a device to get the music into your audio system.  Sonos is by far and away our current favorite choice for this.  The great news is, you can get started for as little as $349!  You just sign up with one of these services, control it with your computer or smart phone or iPad, and within minutes you will have millions of songs at your fingertips.

Most streaming services have moved to a monthly no contract fee system.  Most also now offer the ability to put some of their music on to your mobile device so you can listen when you do not have a connection to the internet, which is just great for travel.

So, let’s move on to RDIO.  Last night I got an email from a friend of mine asking if I had heard the new Dr. John album.  I thought, hmm, I have a couple of his albums, and I am in the middle of playing around with RDIO, so I’ll go check it out.  Lo and behold, I found Dr. John has 65 albums, three of which have come out in 2012 already!  I had every single album right in front of me with full cover art and album info with just one click.

The 65 Dr. John Albums at my fingertips! Pretty cool.

The 65 Dr. John Albums at my fingertips! Pretty cool.

RDIO s user interface is their big advantage.  They have a Pandora like feature of playing artist radio, or if the artist has lots of content, you can just shuffle all of their songs.   With RDIO there are a ton of songs to choose from, currently at 15 million and counting!

The RDIO service is paid and has three levels; $5/month for streaming to your computer; $10/month if you want to use it with your Sonos and one mobile device; or they have two family plans that give you 2 or 3 multiple streams and 2 or 3 mobile devices for $18 and $23 per month.

Like many of the new streaming services, there is a Facebook connection so you can let your friends know what you are listening to or see their favorite music.

I am just having a ton of fun playing around with RDIO.  They have four pretty neat ways to find new music called, Heavy Rotation, Recent Activity, Top Charts, and New Releases.  The Heavy Rotation is really slick as it will get better the more you use RDIO.  This looks at what you have listened to and who you follow on the social side of RDIO and makes album suggestions based on this!  How slick is that!  Recent activity shows what your friends are doing, while Top Charts and New Releases are pretty self-explanatory.

As with most services, you find music and bring it over into your collection, but it’s got another great feature called history.  This pulls up everything recent you have explored so you can go back and find that great song you may have forgotten to drag over.

Finally, just like iTunes, you can create your own playlists.  iTunes could actually take a que or two from RDIO on the user interface side.  It is subtle, but I’ve not seen anything as fun to use as RDIO.

When it comes to exploring and reading, RDIO has copied the features of Spotify and taken it up a notch. This is probably the easiest (and most fun) way to find music.  Every artist has an overview which is very well written.  From there you can see all of their albums or songs AND you can sort them by most popular, name, or release date.  You can read a more in-depth biography or go to my favorite, related artists.  This is where they have outdone everyone.  Like Spotify you can click to go directly to related artists, but there is a whole separate page where you see all of the related artists categorized by similar, inspired by, or inspired.  There is a brief overview here of number of albums and songs, and with one click you are on that artist’s page.

A view of the easy navigation offered by RDIO

A view of the easy navigation offered by RDIO

I’ve just had a blast playing around with RDIO.  So, how does it sound?  RDIO, from everything I can read has a variable bit rate, which reaches as high as 328kbs, but can go as low as 128kbs.  I did a couple of comparisons to Spotify and felt like RDIO was slightly compressing the audio to make the relative volume levels more equal, although this was pretty subtle.  There does appear to be some variability in songs on each service.  On some, the difference was almost undetectable, however on others, it was pretty easy to hear and Spotify was the winner.  A comparison to songs I have ripped from the actual CD’s shows they both pale in comparison as you would expect.

In summary, RDIO has the best interface I have seen for exploring and finding new music.  If you are a purist, like me, it’s a fun way to find CD’s you want to buy.  If you want something to provide background music, it sounds perfectly fine for this, and has tons of music to choose from.  Is it perfect?  Well if it offered uncompressed music (which no one does yet) yes it would be.  Also for some listeners, the way Pandora is set up may still be better.  In a future blog, I’ll cover what I feel are the pros and cons of each.