A Sound Salvation: More Thoughts on Rdio, MOG, and Spotify

A Spotify advertisement interrupts my listening. The ad is invisible, embedded in between the lines of my play queue. As it begins, a modern crooner soars over a twinkling piano. This is not the 311 I was just listening to. A voice very politely interrupts: “Hi, this is Bruno Mars.”

I need my riffage! Not ads!

Seconds later, a reminder pops up in my Microsoft Outlook program: “Rdio”

What the heck is Rdio? Rdio is a sound salvation. Rdio is cleaning up the nation. Rdio? Rdio? Well for starters, its pronounced “ar-dee-oh,” not ray-dee-oh, and it is a totally ad-free on-demand music streaming service created by the founders of Skype, providing access to over 12 million songs, with increasing levels of membership. Unfortunately for those looking for high quality streaming rates for free, Rdio’s streaming bit rate and selected file format are not publicly specified. Instead the company states, “We're not currently providing specific bitrate or codec information. We experiment with different rates and encoding formats in an effort to provide the best possible listening and user-experience.” All Rdio reveals is that a “lower” bitrate is used only for 3G connection streaming. Ugh. Bit-rate ambivalence is such a turn-off.

Membership registration levels are similar to that of Spotify and MOG. All three programs offer limited free listening at onset, each with varying levels of advertising. Spotify users hear ads occasionally in between play queues; although, based on my own experience, these ads always seem to come at the worst times appearing either right before your favorite song or just when your friends start groovin’ at your party. MOG, previously ad-free, rolled out ads for free users on Monday November 21st. Starting with banner ads, over the next three to six months, MOG will unroll other forms of interactive advertisements ranging from audio inserts to movie previews. Unlike MOG and Spotify, Rdio is ad-free at even the free-user level. All three programs offer two levels of paid subscription: the first being complete unlimited access to their web library via your desk or laptop without ads ($4.99 on Spotify, Rdio, and MOG); the second level of subscription enables streaming to your mobile device ($9.99 on on Spotify, Rdio, and MOG). In addition Rdio sells a family plan: $17.99 for two unlimited subscriptions, saving you a couple bucks if you need two accounts.

The Rdio Logo

The free services provided by these three programs do have playback limits. Spotify provides total access to their library for free for the first six months of membership. Following the six month milestone, playback limitations are introduced: a single track can only be played up to five times and free listening time is limited to 10 hours a month. MOG’s FreePlay “tank” indicates how much free listening you have left (Full or Empty). The FreePlay tank gets re-fueled by “use and exploration” of the service. “Use and Exploration” includes friend referrals, the sharing of playlists on Facebook, and through interaction with their new ads. Like MOG’s FreePlay, Rdio also uses a meter system to tell you when you are out of free listening. Also like MOG, the amount of free listening you get is based on usage, but the way free playback is calculated is different to that of MOG. With Rdio, a heavy user may run out of free playback quickly, while the light user may never run out. Conversely on MOG, frequent usage and sharing of your music via social networks connected through cross-referencing applications actually increase your FreePlay. If a free user on Rdio runs out of free playback, he or she can return the next month and renew their free subscription. All sites claim to have access to at least 12 million tracks.

If you are a crafty 21st Century digital sailor, you could probably sail this stream of 12 million tracks of music for free for at least a year by navigating between these programs. Or if it is a pirate’s life for you, there are always torrents of entire albums and popular singles that can download to your desktop illegally in a matter of minutes, by use of a torrent download client. (Both this writer and Stereophile do not condone illegal downloads, but denying their prevalence is turning a blind eye to the current state of digital media acquisition.) In this new digital streaming and downloading landscape, free is easy and expected.

Spotify was released on July 14th in the United States, and as of August 8th gained a total of 1.4 million users, 175,000 of which are paying customers. Come the 14th of January and months surrounding, six months after the official US launch of Spotify, many users will be faced the decision to purchase the service. Will they do it?

Let’s assume that users will not want to pay for the unlimited access to streaming material, regardless of added mobile streaming benefits. After all, free has become expected. In this situation, when the Spotify 6-month time-limit for unlimited free listening strikes, millions of users will be faced with the choice to pay for their beloved service. In a recent email blast, digital music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz asserts that “Purchase is in decline.” If someone can get something for free, then why would they pay? His comment is in reference to the choice between iTunes downloads vs. Spotify, but what happens when users have to start paying for Spotify? MOG’s offer of potentially unlimited listening based on one’s user behavior could be the alternate to paying for Spotify’s streaming service. The new MOG FreePlay system encourages the viral spread of music—so users will try to share their playlists and favorite tracks to their friends, extending their own free use and introducing others to MOG. At least, this is what MOG hopes will happen, but there is one thing holding them back: you need the people to build a movement

At the moment, Spotify has 7.4 million monthly active users. MOG has 170k. Of these figures, 32% of monthly active users on Spotify are daily active users versus the 18% of MOG’s monthly users that use the program daily. In Josh Constine’s “Don’t Believe Facebook, Spotify’s The Only Open Graph Music App Winning,” he cites the reason for Spotify’s success due to simply how many other people are using it: “The massive growth of Spotify and the meager increases of the other apps reflect a peer pressure effect…it’s hard to rationalize using MOG or Rdio while constantly bombarded with Ticker [Facebook Newsfeed] stories showing that your friends are all on Spotify.” Spotify’s consistent presence on user’s Facebook newsfeeds as well as their high user base, which Bob Lefsetz attributes to their having the first mover advantage, all help them maintain the market leader position. Spotify’s success can also be attributed to the very intuitive design of the Spotify desktop application versus the MOG alternative. MOG, a web-browser embedded player, lacks some of the filter and sort features that makes Spotify so easy to use and manage music with. To put it simply, Spotify looks and works like iTunes in terms of the library organization; MOG does not. Thus the Spotify platform reflects the interface which many users are already so familiar with, while other programs like MOG and Rdio ask users to learn their new layout schema. The possibilities of a market overtake from MOG at the crux point of Spotify’s 6-month milestone for users seem unlikely. Maybe users will just opt to not pay for a little while, circling amongst different programs, but with the superior and familiar program layout, successful permeation throughout Facebook news feeds, and as a result, the peer-pressure effect, Spotify may continue to rule all.

Considering how many of your friends are still at the Spotify party, it seems silly to just leave. Maybe it’s worth the cover charge if there are so many people here?

Share | |
COMMENTS
john abramson's picture

If there is one truth known to audiophiles it is "there is no free lunch": entering the audio world requires at least a pocketful of lunch money.  The monthly cost for Spotify "Premium" and "Unlimited" is $4.99/$9.99 is not a significant cost for higher quality sound and storage, than would otherwise be available in the free version, especiallly given the access to millions of tracks.

Readers of Stereophile invest a good bit of money into their equipment. It would be somewhat strange for readers to deny themselves better quality music streaming (up to 320kbps) and storage (basicllly, unlimited) for what amounts to 'chump change'.

But, then ,again, stranger phenomena have been known to occur.

 

john

Soothsayerman's picture

It's more interesting to me which service sounds better than which has more listeners.  From that perspective, MOG wins in my opinion.  It is all streamed at 320kbps.  Now that they are on logitechs music streamers, I am a happy camper. 

ack's picture

The cover charge and whether or not it is worth it depends a lot on your use.  I like spotify for two reasons. 

1)  The user interface is very easy.  It does not feel like you are playing a radio station the way it does with other services.  Instead, it feels almost like the music is right there on your desktop like you had a huge collection you could take anywhere.

2)  The ease of sharing playlists.  Sharing playlists is easy on the net but having people being able to listen to your list to comment is hard and fraught with legal dilemmas unless you stack your lists with standards.  This makes sharing mixes fun and legal which is all a big wow factor.

For other people:

3)  The social being tied into facebook thing is frickin' huge!  I do not use facebook but everyone who uses facebook and spotify absolutely rave over the connections and ease of use. 

I am thinking about paying for premium for the higher bitrate streams myself because it is so fun to go on to last.fm and share playlists with people. 

But on edit:  The thing that keeps me from paying for spotify is the thing that drives me nuts by so many of these online services.  The bottom tier pay option gives you almost nothing over just using the free service.  The $5 a month option is completely not worth it.  To get any true kick ass cool benefit you have to pony up the full $9.99.    All the options like storage or the higher quality streaming is on the premium level only.   Yuck.

 

 

bullethead's picture

To me being a social butterfly on facebook and all that twitter nonsense is not for me.  As an adult I like MOG, mp3 320kbps streams, squeezebox touch support and lots of the great material that I like listening to.  I tried Spotify and MOG and MOG wins, I don't need a client software to use it on the PC, and my phone is sounding really good on the commute to and from work.  $10 is about the cost of 1 compact disk.  I use MOG about 2 hours a day, and it's a nice way to start the weekend.  Put on some Striborg and I am in bliss.

Now let's see who's first on the lossless streaming, and maybe even high resolution lossless.  they'll get my money too.  I have at least 2,000 compact disks and I like lossless myself.

MOG is by far a nice way to kick back and sample in high quality mp3, but for critical listening there is only CD or Vinyl or lossless downloads if available (right now).

cityfreeze's picture

I've had MOG for about a year now - when I signed up there was no free option, but I would've elected for the Primo account anyway. Being able to download as much music as my iPhone can handle that I can listen to anywhere, whether I've got internet access or not, all for less than $10 per month? It's a no brainer.

One of the things that has impressed me about MOG that didn't get mentioned in the article at all is the customer service. If there's going to be an interruption in service for updates, etc., I get an alert in advance. If there's an album I'd like that isn't in the library, I can hop on their support page and send a note, and somebody will get back to me within a day or two. Sometimes they're able to acquire the album, sometimes not, but I always get a considerate response. 

Finally, since MOG has branched out to Facebook, I've enjoyed an increased community aspect to the site. When I open the MOG App on my MacBook, my home page features albums that my Facebook friends have listened to or "like"d. When I listen to an album on my computer, MOG posts it on Facebook, and it's started conversations with my friends. 

I could go on to talk about the high quality streaming, the playlist and radio features, and more. Give MOG a try if you haven't already, and go for the Primo account. It's changed the way I listen to music, and I'll bet it'll do the same for you. 

search66's picture

Nice article, but I really believe Spotify is for the uninformed.  Spotify is the digital Kool-Aid of 2012.  Aside from superior quality and UI; there's one deciding factor... Music discovery.

Spotify has zero music discovery in their native app.  Fanboys have told me to try the new application; which allows you to install various 'apps'.  Sounds great, and I did give it a shot... But your music discovery is limited to last.fm or Rolling Stone magazine.

I don't want to be driving down the highway; browsing a last.fm app.  I want to hit a button and have my own personal radio.  Thanks.

For the Spotify Zombie Nation... Give MOG a try and see what you are missing.

Richard Sanzare's picture

I was a Spotify user and I enjoyed it, but MOG is so much better. I'm into music as a serious listener and the sound quality of MOG is really excellent. The interface is fun and way more intuitive. I've found lots of new music on MOG as well. The MOG radio section is customizable, so you can have it like Pandora if you want, or change the settings.  Top to bottom, MOG is a much better experience for the REAL MUSIC LISTENER !

FranklinFQ's picture

I find your comparison between MOG and Spotify to be laughable. Based on numbers, Spotify is winning and MOG is unlikely to catch up. Doesn't the same thing apply to lossy iTunes downloads compared to HDtracks hi-res offerings? Does that mean you should promote iTunes over HDtracks because "all your friends are using it"? 

This is Stereophile, where multi-thousand dollar seperates are a dime a dozen. One of these services is very focused on sound quality. The others just aren't. That should be the end of discussion as far as I'm concerned. 

Your sister website InnerFidelity did a comparative review recently and chose MOG over Spotify and Rdio. Computer Audiophile, Sound & Vision, and others have also come to that conclusion. I'm not clear why you seem to disagree based on non-soundquality related issues. 

Stephen Mejias's picture

I'm not clear why you seem to disagree based on non-soundquality related issues.

Maybe because sound isn't everything. Ariel has been trying out several music-streaming services and, for now at least, he prefers Spotify for the reasons he's stated above. Ariel is a young, intelligent, cash-strapped music lover and budding audiophile. His perspective is valuable, too, and perhaps the high end world can learn from it.

Ariel is also asking questions here, searching for answers and new ideas, and hasn't reached any definitive conclusion. So, I'm not sure why you would find his work to be laughable.

Ariel Bitran's picture

1)  The user interface is very easy.  It does not feel like you are playing a radio station the way it does with other services.  Instead, it feels almost like the music is right there on your desktop like you had a huge collection you could take anywhere.

Very well put. I couldn't agree more, and I actually said this exact thing to SM yesterday. Spotify's separation from your web browser makes you feel as if the music is on your computer, and you're not borrowing it.

To me being a social butterfly on facebook and all that twitter nonsense is not for me. 

But not to A LOT of other people (approx 800 million), 50% of which use FB everyday. Social networking platforms now serve a crucial role in the expansion of artist visibility and word-of-mouth growth for music. I hope to address in a future piece how exactly this is so important for the music industry and should not be ignored.

One of the things that has impressed me about MOG that didn't get mentioned in the article at all is the customer service. If there's going to be an interruption in service for updates, etc., I get an alert in advance. If there's an album I'd like that isn't in the library, I can hop on their support page and send a note, and somebody will get back to me within a day or two. Sometimes they're able to acquire the album, sometimes not, but I always get a considerate response.

Very cool. I hope to those reading, they understand this was not intended to be a comparison piece on the functionality of the softwares and their sound quality. It started as a mini-writeup for Rdio and turned into this. I hope to address the role that programmers' and music industry professionals' decisions will play on the music listening experience and how others listen to music around you.

Nice article, but I really believe Spotify is for the uninformed.  Spotify is the digital Kool-Aid of 2012.  Aside from superior quality and UI; there's one deciding factor... Music discovery.

This an interesting opinion. But I believe you are incorrect. Music Discovery for these programs will not be happening within the programs but via social networking platforms. That is why Spotify's current market position is so damn solid. Spotify music updates infest  everyone's news tickers and you can discover new music via these updates or sent directly via friends.

I was a Spotify user and I enjoyed it, but MOG is so much better.

I hope to compare sound quality via a squeezebox touch within the next few months.

I find your comparison between MOG and Spotify to be laughable. Based on numbers, Spotify is winning and MOG is unlikely to catch up. Doesn't the same thing apply to lossy iTunes downloads compared to HDtracks hi-res offerings? Does that mean you should promote iTunes over HDtracks because "all your friends are using it"? 

This is Stereophile, where multi-thousand dollar seperates are a dime a dozen. One of these services is very focused on sound quality. The others just aren't. That should be the end of discussion as far as I'm concerned.

It is not all about sound. We are only a small part of a much larger music industry who's fate is constantly teetering on destruction yet evolving into a new beautiful flower. Sometimes we should step back and ask what shapes how we get our music instead of just asking how it sounds.

I'm not clear why you seem to disagree based on non-soundquality related issues.

Where do I disagree?

I'm presenting numbers, opinions of other industry analysts, and one additional personal opinion (the layout of Spotify is much more user friendly) and this is why they are the market leader-->not why I (or you) should use it.

himynameisjuan's picture

I tried Spotify but didn't like it. The UI is clunky, and I don't need another clunky desktop music program (*cough, iTunes). And at the free level, the ads and banners are incredibly annoying. Also, while spending a good time constructing a playlist, I returned to find it out of order, and with songs I had previously removed. This turned me off from Spotify completely.

Rdio is a huge step-up, I spend all my time in my computer browser, why not just have a tab open for sampling new music?

However, in the end, MOG takes the cake. While it's UI isn't as clean and functional as Rdio, it has a larger catalog and 320kbps streaming. I'm currently on a free month of MOG (click here and watch the video to redeem it), but I'll probably stick to the basic $4.99 streaming service for sampling music.

Gretschguy2011's picture

I found this thread interesting so I thought I'd give my perspective.  I was a premium user of MOG and I am now a premium user of Spotify.   Using both services I chose the "high quality streaming" option.   In my experience both Spotify and MOG sound essentially the same when using the high quality setting so I find that comments of "better sound" from MOG to be odd although perhaps I'm not hearing a 256k bit rate versus 320k bit rate difference.   My perspective is that this difference is neglible -- both are essentially bad for critical listening compared to the 24 bit vinyl wave file rips that I do while both are fine for music exploration or background listening on a computer for example.

I switched to Spotify for many of the reasons that the author suggests -- its a better experience in terms of the interface (the iPhone app is awesome) and the ability to share and discover music with other people.  With MOG I felt like I was on an island and iPhone app was clunky, with Spotify I'm enjoying trying new music and playlists that friends suggest that I check out and DJs assemble etc..   Although this was possible on MOG it really wasn't the focus and seemed like an afterthought and my friends simply were not jumping into MOG but they have been jumping into Spotify.   

I generally listen to vinyl records recorded to 24 bit wave files using Pure Vinyl and a high end Lyra Delos cartridge, so I consider myself an audiophile.  I also hunt down original vinyl releases to record instead of the recent remasters since I detest the modern overcompression that sucks the living daylights out of the sound.   I only reference this because I think my perspective is that of a true audiophile who puts a lot of time, money, and effort to get what I consider good sound quality.

Those vinyl rips are light years better in terms of sound quality than MOG or Spotify, therefore I focus on those services for "exploration".   As the author suggested, I've been far more satisfied with the exploration of music using Spotify since I can share playlists with people all over the world who have the same musical interest.  It's also a great deal of fun to easily share songs and playlsits with friends on Facebook.   In fact, Spotify is about my only use of Facebook.

So I find the presumption in these threads that MOG has better sound quality as odd and that Spotify users must somehow be uninformed about sound quality.  In my experience they are equally good (bad) when choosing the premium option.   Both are providing highly compressed material and often remastered versions of songs that suffer from poor modern day remastering (I realize this is my opinion).

So I'd encourage folks who really want to enjoy digital music to try ripping vintage vinyl records to 24 bit and choose MOG or Spotify based on exploration of music first and foremost -- whether one or the other is better for exploration really depends on how much interation you wish to have with other people and if you are inclined to use Facebook, even on a limited basis such as I have chosen to use it.

Meanwhile I do hope Spotify / MOG / etc.. continue to improve their sound quality since even for music exploration better sound quality would help --- but even at lossless CD quality I would still consider my primary listening pleasure to be derived from vintage vinyl ripped to 24 bit as those sound far better to my ears than modern day CDs anyway.

Thanks for "hearing" my persepctive, I know of at least one other audiophile friend who came to the same conclusion and switched from MOG to Spotify.

X
Enter your Stereophile.com username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading