Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple years I’m guessing you’ve heard of Last.fm. On the off chance you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick high-flying overview. It’s a music streaming service (similar to Pandora or Spotify) that goes a little further to make listening to music a real experience and exploration.
Last.fm is a web app, and through their website you are able to access all the features of the streaming service. The website is great, a lot of fun to explore and the only way to really get into Last.fm. But there are times when you don’t want to open another web page just to listen to some music.
SweetFM is an application that functions using the Last.fm stream service without using a browser. Let’s take a look and see how it performs!
SweetFM is an open source Mac client that integrates with your Last.fm account. It allows you to take advantage of the streaming music service without the need to go to their website. SweetFM provides all the core radio functionality of Last.fm and even throws in a couple of new extras.
Last.fm provides its users a ton of directed information about music, and lets you explore a huge wealth of content – not just listen to music. SweetFM essentially pulls the player (Radio) functionality out. This leaves you with a much cleaner, more basic music listening experience.
The interface is clean and simple. It is purely and simply a music player, and the interface reflects that. While the Last.fm website can be a bit overwhelming – with almost too much information at times – SweetFM is a nice alternate to that method of listening to the streaming service. The player is small and definitely won’t take over your desktop.
SweetFM opens to show eight ways to listing to your Last.fm music:
The functions of the player are accessible by clicking icons across the top of the window. These become active when they can be used.
Overall, it is a really nice interface. It’s aesthetically pleasing and functional. It really doesn’t feel like you’re listening to streaming music – which I guess is the point.
As I mentioned above, SweetFM offers you eight different ways to begin listening to music. You’ll notice the familiar options (from the Last.fm interface) to listen to your library, recommended songs, or search by artist as well.
You can also search by multiple tags to create a station. Last.fm allows its listeners to tag music, and SweetFM will create a station based on multiple tags. There isn’t really anything different from the Last.fm radio interface.
Once a station is chosen, the actual music player will appear. You’ll have all the main interactive features of Last.fm available to you within the player. You can “love” a track if you’d like, tag it, or attach a message to it as well. The stop and next track buttons are also in this area.
And if you’re curious, the connection with your Last.fm account makes SweetFM completely in sync with what you’d see if you logged into the site.
You’ll see all of the songs and stations you’ve recently listened to, along with things like playlists, loved songs, and updates to your listening stats.
One cool feature that SweetFM boasts over the Last.fm website is an equalizer. For some people, this probably doesn’t matter, but for others (like me) it is a very welcome feature. There are 22 presets to choose from and you can also make manual adjustments.
The quality of streaming services is pretty good, but not as good as you would get from an MP3 in your iTunes library – so having an equalizer available to make some audio adjustments is a really solid feature.
All of the info you see in the player is interactive. What I mean by this is that you can click on the artist name (for example) and a Last.fm page will open with all of that artist’s information. The same goes for track and album name. So there is a quick way to jump to more information on the Last.fm website if you feel the need.
The album cover art within the player links you to the iTunes Store. Clicking it will open iTunes, and take you to the store where you can purchase the album if you’d like.
It’s a nice feature – and really a big part of streaming music services in general – so it’s good to see that functionality remain in a desktop application like this.
One of the frustrations I’ve had with browser based streaming music services is that you can’t use the controls of your Apple Remote or keyboard. SweetFM allows the use of those controls to stop and skip to the next track.
The application aims to make listening to streaming music more of a desktop type (i.e. iTunes) experience and this is one of those features that helps it take a big jump in that direction.
SweetFM is a free piece of software. You do, however, need to be a subscribed user of Last.fm to gain access to their API. So there is some cost, but it certainly isn’t a ridiculous amount.
For $3 a month you can take advantage of some cool subscriber features within Last.fm itself, and also tie it to your SweetFM player. Not a bad deal.
In the process of doing this review I did a bit of research and it seems as though SweetFM used to have some additional functionality that I’m not seeing – most notably the ability to record or export to your iTunes library.
I just can’t for the life of me find this functionality in version 2.0.3. I even found that specific function listed as a feature on the SweetFM GitHub page readme file. Maybe it has been recently removed… I really have no idea.
I wanted to make note of this feature being gone (unless it’s just me) as it seems like a significant one. I will say that it does seem like it could have the potential to be something that Last.fm wouldn’t particularly like.
Last.fm is a super robust streaming music service. In fact, I’d argue that it is actually far more than a simple streaming music service. It provides a wealth of information about the music you’re listening to and makes recommendations based on that information. The space to wander around checking out new music is almost endless.
I’ll be honest, I was a regular Last.fm user up until around two years ago, and have only recently gotten back into it. SweetFM really makes the experience far more enjoyable.
Now with all that said, I will say that the fully immersive Last.fm experience isn’t always what I’m looking for. It can be a bit much, and sometimes I just want to flip on a few of my favourite tunes.
SweetFM is a perfect companion to the full blown Last.fm service. It pulls out and perfects the core part of the service… listening to music.