Mobile Cloud Music Showdown – Subscription Services, 6th Place: Rhapsody
Ed. – This article is part of our roundup featuring all of the mobile cloud music services currently available in the US. Click here for more.
Founded in 2001, Rhapsody was purchased by RealNetworks shortly after signing deals with the major US music labels. Recently declaring independence, they’ve made a recent push to take their service to the mobile space. How do their latest offerings compare with its competitors in the crowded mobile cloud music space?
iOS, Android, BlackBerry
More than 10 million songs; music store sells 256kbps DRM-free tracks. Rhapsody’s library size and scope is impressive, covering most corners of pop music spectrum. It demolished our shuffle test with a perfect 10/10 score. Its track licenses are still negotiated through the major labels, so it can’t compete with the user-submitted glory of Grooveshark’s collection (and at the moment, neither can anyone else). But it is much better organized, and the metadata is clean and accurate.
The Shuffle Test
Ed.- we took 10 songs shuffled from our iTunes library and checked how many each service had.
10/10 – Roxy Music – 2HB (Y), Big Star – Life Is White (Y), Sufjan Stevens – Jacksonville (Y), The National – Slow Show (Y), Daft Punk – Da Funk (Y), Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter (Y), Big Punisher – Dream Shatterer (Y), John Legend – It Don’t Have to Change (Y), Desaparecidos – The Happiest Place on Earth (Y), The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (Y)
After installing the most recent version, we found the software to be pretty reliable, and it didn’t crash on us. The interface is not the most intuitive, but it’s designed for a particular type of music listening (on the go playlist building), and it does it well.
Software (User Interface)
Not unlike Grooveshark, Rhapsody’s user interface is designed for a particular type of music consumption. It caters not towards people who prefer to consume music in the album format, but rather towards those who like to shuffle all their music and create spontaneous playlists. It was extremely easy to search through their library and quickly build up a playlist from the mobile app.
Songs in saved playlists can be downloaded, as can select individual tracks. We’re not sure what criteria are used to select the tracks that can be downloaded, but we curiously seemed to have more luck finding tracks to download on the iPhone app than on Android.
We liked how Rhapsody clearly labeled albums with explicit lyrics, as well as their censored versions. There are few things worse than queuing up your favorite track only to be greeted by its bleeped and brutalized Walmart counterpart. On the iPhone version of the app, we found it troubling that unlike other audio applications, it doesn’t kill sound from other apps when it plays a track. Instead, you’ll hear both simultaneously.
One of the things we liked about locker service mSpot was that despite the one-device limitation of one of their plans, authorizations could be swapped easily, from whatever unauthorized device you were attempting to sign into. Rhapsody, however, annoyingly forces you sign into your account from the Web to do so. They also kindly remind you that if you want more than one device to be authorized, you need to upgrade to the Premier Plus plan ($14.99).
We were impressed by the mobile app’s streaming speed; tracks usually played within 2-3 seconds of being queued up. The consistency of the stream left a little to be desired, occasionally skipping during playback, even on a strong wi-fi connection. But such instances were not persistent, and the experience was mostly pleasurable.
Recommendations (Finding New Music)
Rhapsody gets major points for their music recommendations. While often ignored by music services, it can be a key feature. Most users aren’t religiously scanning music blogs and stacks of vinyl at record shops; many times they just want a little guidance.
The music guide shows albums released that week, albums recently released in previous weeks as well as the always-appreciated staff picks. For those interested in the pulse of Rhapsody’s user base, charts show the top 200 artists, tracks and albums on the service.
The Rhapsody playlists are a bit of a mixed bag. Most are boring and generic, like “60’s music” and “Bob Dylan” or “Alternative Hits.” The interesting options are the curated “celebrity playlists,” which were suspiciously missing from the iPhone app. The Android app serves up playlists from the likes of Bob Mould, Al Jarreau and Charlotte Gainesbourg. Some playlists are more inspired than others (AFI’s Davey Havok seems to be more concerned with promoting music done by him and his friends), and they’re all limited by Rhapsody’s library (though a perfect 10/10 on our shuffle test indicates blanket coverage of the mainstream). The “Label Spotlight” section even highlights some independent labels and modest imprints like Barsuk, Arts & Crafts, DFA, Blue Note and Matador.
Rhapsody offers offline playback on mobile devices with their Premier plans. It worked as advertised, but we were puzzled to find some songs were only 30-second previews and weren’t clearly labeled. When they’re downloaded, you still only get the 30 second preview. We did find the organization of offline tracks to be a bit awkward, as it doesn’t group by artist or album, simply dumping all downloaded tracks into one depository.
Free (30-second previews), Premier (full access to library, mobile access, $9.99/mo) and Premier Plus (up to 3 mobile devices, $14.99) plans available.
As one of the oldest streaming music services still in existence, Rhapsody has certainly had plenty of time to perfect their product. We found the scope of their library to be broad and far-reaching, covering almost all corners of the pop spectrum. And the recommendations from some of our favorite artists (we love knowing what’s on Charlotte Gainsbourg’s iPod) is a major selling point.
But their licensing deals with the major labels were forged years ago, and the landscape of streaming music has shifted significantly since their debut. We feel the pricing on the Premier Plans is a bit pricey, mainly due to the clunkiness of the mobile apps. If we’re spending that kind of money per month, we’d like to see better organizational options for our collections on our mobile device. We should be able to replace our iPod with the app, but unfortunately it’s more of an on-the-go playlist-building novelty than anything else.
The mobile apps are new, however, so we hope to see some organizational improvements in Rhapsody’s future, taking it from a good service to a great service.
For more on our mobile cloud music feature, and to read reviews of the other services, click here.