Rdio: Bringing Music Streaming to the Desktop

I have to admit it: I’m a American Top 40 junkie. I spend too munch money on songs that get overplayed on the radio and eventually get ignored in my library. The $1.29 charges start to add up, and soon I’m spending $20/month on music.

I figured that there has to be a better system that doesn’t require me to waste that much on music each month. That’s when I ran across Rdio and their new application for the Mac.

So far, I’ve been really impressed. Read on to find out how it works!

What’s On the Rdio?

Rdio is an online music streaming service, similar to the UK/Europe’s Spotify. Just type in an artist and within seconds you have access to all of their songs. There aren’t any ads, and they have an accompanying iPhone app. You can even set up a ‘collection’ which is similar to an iTunes library, except the music is streamed to your computer.

Rdio's Login Screen

Rdio's Login Screen

Their freely available Mac app brings the best part of this web based service to your desktop. The app is one part SSB (site specific browser) and one part iTunes replacement. It has all the basic Play/Pause/Foward/Back buttons as well as a very iTunes-esque interface. When you first sign up for the service, you start with an empty collection.

Rdio's Start Screen

Rdio's Start Screen

Rdio helps you jump start your collection with a matching service. It brings in all of the music from your iTunes library and adds it to your Rdio collection. It works pretty well, and doesn’t take much time.

Unlike similar service Grooveshark, your music isn’t being uploaded. Instead it’s going through your iTunes Library Database and finding songs that are available on Rdio that exist in your old iTunes library.

Easily Match your iTunes Library with Rdio's Collection

Easily Match your iTunes Library with Rdio's Collection

After a few seconds, Rdio mirrors your iTunes Library

After a few seconds, Rdio mirrors your iTunes Library

One of the neatest features is how the the Mac app even takes over control for the media buttons on the top of your keyboard.

Rdio takes over your keyboard's Media Keys

Rdio takes over your keyboard's Media Keys

While Rdio’s library is huge, it isn’t all-encompassing. Sometimes certain artists, like one of my favorites: Owl City, will be lacking an album or two due to licensing issues. Instead, it will let you ‘Preview’ the songs. Otherwise, Rdio has most of the music you’d even care to listen to. I’m also a huge fan of the way they organize the music in both your collection and when you’re browsing around.

Browsing around Rdio

Browsing around Rdio

Similar to Last.FM, you can add friends to a personal network. This is similar to Twitter’s follow system. Follow friends and people who’s music tastes you like and their activity will appear under the ‘Your Network’ tab. Alternatively, you can track your own personal taste. In either view, you can create on-the-fly radio stations with one click.

Rdio also offers a strong recommendation engine. It watches your listening habits and makes recomendations based on artists and songs. I’ve found it to work pretty well, on the whole. Rdio also shows some neat graphs that represent the artists you spend the most time listening to. It’s actually very interesting and useful to see the circles change over time.

Rdio's Recommendation Engine

Rdio's Recommendation Engine

Listening Habit Graphs

LIstening Habit Graphs

Features I Wish Were in iTunes

A Queue

One of the features I find so intriguing, beyond the ability to listen to songs without paying a per-song fee, is their Queue system. I often find myself browsing my music collection while listening to a song or two.

In Rdio, I just add things to the queue for them to played next. It works flawlessly. Even better, their corresponding iPhone app can pick up the queue that you create. This is a super easy way to make custom playlists before you head out of the house.

Wireless Sync

iTunes doesn’t offer any way to synchronize your iPhone or iPod touch without plugging it in. Rdio allows you to click on any song or album and tell it to Sync to Mobile. The next time you open the iOS app it will download (“sync”) the music that you told it to over the air.

Playlists and your entire collection, history and recent activity also sync wirelessly to your mobile. Rdio’s iOS app also lets you store music for offline listening as well. That way, when you’re in the plane or out of coverage, you can listen to your favorite tracks.

A Few Downsides…

Within the Mac app there are just a few little issues I found. One problem is that the app requires Flash to be able to work. I had to download Flash since I had eliminated it from my Mac. At first, I didn’t understand why the app wasn’t working, then I got the “please install Flash” pop-up. I wish it was more like Chrome, bundling in Flash so it wouldn’t ‘contaminate’ the rest of my computer. Second, the media key ‘takeover’ means that it prevents iTunes from seeing the keys when iTunes is quit. If iTunes is open, alongside Rdio, the keys will work for both. This is a bit confusing and dumbfounded me for a bit why everything was playing at once! Finally, the Mac version doesn’t allow for offline sync, so if you’re on the go with your laptop you’ll be without music as long as you’re without an internet connection. However, nowadays that amount of time seems to be shrinking quite rapidly.

Rdio's Subscription Options

Rdio's Subscription Options

Rdio works on a subscription model. While it does let you buy songs for $1.29 each to keep permanently, if you stop paying for the subscription you essentially lose access to your Rdio music collection. The subscription, at the time of writing, costs $4.99/month for Web and Mac access.

It costs $9.99/month for “Rdio Unlimited” which includes the mobile apps and offline sync features.

It should also be noted that Rdio is currently only available in the United States. Those in other countries should check out Spotify, as well as Grooveshark. Neither has an official US based iOS app. Spotify’s app is only available in European markets and Grooveshark’s is only available via the Jailbreak (Cydia) app store.

Wrap-Up

I really, really like Rdio. I’ve been using and happily paying for the service for three months now. I’ve found some amazing bands and tried music that I would have never tried if I had to pay to download an entire album or on a per song basis.

I couldn’t imagine a better service for listening to the latest music without buying each song. Give it a try with their free 7 day trial on their website. Rock on!


Summary

A online music subscription service comes to the Mac with style, and substance.

9
  • skz

    spotify is swedish not british :)

  • http://www.tysonwilliams.com Tyson Williams

    I have used it for a few months now and I swear I will never buy anymore music thanks for Rdio. Really who needs to store all this music on their hard drive… when you can have it on demand anywhere, anytime – on your laptop, desktop, iPhone or iPad

    • http://davidappleyard.net David Appleyard

      I completely agree, Tyson. Definitely the future! It feels crazy that the same exact files are duplicated millions of times, on millions of devices. One copy in the cloud is all we’ll need eventually…

  • Brendan

    Not available in Australia. I would pay for this if it was. We don’t have netflicks or spotify. And Apple still hasn’t readjusted their prices based on the strong Aussie dollar. I know where I’d rather go to get my media…

    • Blair Doherty

      Exactly.

  • Bruno

    Too bad it’s just US (afaik).

  • http://rtest.ws Richard Testani

    I really love rdio, and I’ve always swore I’d never subscribe to music.

    The downside to the app, is it really is just a wrapper to the website. It even uses the same session as your webkit session, so there’s almost no difference in using the web vs. the app since it probably uses the same amount of resources and would have no benefit of a real desktop app.

  • KT

    Rdio is great, really like it! I think the price is spot on. I hope Google’s/Amazon’s/Apple’s (forthcoming) cloud media services do not cripple rdio (as they’re certainly a threat to the subscription service by rdio). Only one problem I’ve experienced with Rdio is that they don’t have a lot of music yet and brand new releases that you want to listen to are not available. Hopefully this will change as more and more record companies sign up however. Definitely worth checking out. :)

  • Pablo

    UK/Europe? As if UK wasn’t Europe?

    And by the way Spotify is Swedish

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