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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

July 14, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Hands-on: Spotify vs Rhapsody on Sonos

Here’s a quick look at Spotify – the new London-based music service that’s debuting in the U.S. today – used on a Sonos streaming music system.

I compared Spotify on the device with Rhapsody, the Seattle-based company that spun out of RealNetworks. Both offer unlimited access to huge music catalogs for $10 per month. Spotify also has a free, ad-supported service but it’s not yet available here.

Spotify began in Sweden in 2008 and now has 1.6 million paying subscribers in seven countries in Europe. Rhapsody has 800,000 paying customers in the U.S.

Rhapsody claims to have 12 million tracks and Spotify claims to have 15 million. It didn’t take long for me to discover that Spotify has some European versions of albums that Rhapsody doesn’t. It’s kind of neat to have both a U.K. and U.S. release of the same track but it probably doesn’t matter in most cases, if the songs are exactly the same.

Spotify has some of the same glaring holes in its catalog as Rhapsody. Neither one has the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, apparently because of licensing issues. So fans of those and other “unlisted” bands still have to mix their own collection with a cloud service.

On the Sonos, at least, Rhapsody has superior menu options providing a music guide, channels with different themes and genres and access to favorite artists, albums and genres:

rhaps.jpg

Spotify’s primary menu offers “search” and sets and starred tracks from iTunes, which it maps when you first set up the service. One of its best tricks is the way Spotify pulls your existing music collection into its library, combining offline and online libraries. On my system it found lists from when I was testing iLike and pulled them onto the menu:

IMG01146-20110714-0933.jpg

On a PC desktop, Spotify’s player looks very similar to the iTunes jukebox and it seems designed to function as a cloud extension of iTunes:

spotifypc.jpg

Yet Rhapsody still has some advantages. It trounces Spotify when it comes to information about the music you are playing on the Sonos, at least. On the device you can tap to learn about related music and background about the artist that’s playing. Spotify’s “information” button calls up only offers to show you “all albums” by the artist, at least on the one I tried. Maybe this is because of Spotify’s affinity for iTunes – it seems designed by and for people who use it in parallel with iTunes, where you can learn more about a particular artist.

Rhapsody’s artist information:

IMG01160-20110714-0940.jpg

IMG01161-20110714-0940.jpg

Spotify’s artist information:

IMG01151-20110714-0936.jpg

There are slight differences in search results on the two services. It’s funny – when I searched for “Rolling Stones,” Spotify called up the local band after I typed “rolling.” Rhapsody showed other results until I typed in “rolling sto.”

But Rhapsody guessed faster when I search for Portland band The Decemberists. It chose the right band after I typed “decemberi” while Spotify couldn’t figure it out until I typed three more letters to spell the whole name.

I couldn’t tell a difference in the audio quality but I was intrigued by the Stones U.K. releases on Spotify. Rhapsody listed 57 different Stones albums. Spotify didn’t number the albums and I didn’t take the time to count them all, but appeared to have more Stones albums because it included things like soundtracks on which a Stones song appeared.

Spotify has U.K. and U.S. versions of some albums:

IMG01166-20110714-0942.jpg

If you want a huge music library at your fingertips, these services are well worth $10 a month. You can browse before subscribing to see if they have your favorite bands or major exceptions, but the catalogs seem roughly the same.

Spotify has some better features on its desktop player and connects to Facebook.

But on a handheld device like the Sonos – where you want the best menu and discovery options – Rhapsody has the edge.

Comments | More in Reviews | Topics: Digital media, Gadgets & products, rhapsody

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