Spotify vs. Rdio A complete review

Rdio and Spotify are two fairly evenly matched products, and for my money no one else comes close – but who reigns supreme? Hopefully we’ll be finding that out by the end of this rather in-depth article, but as ever I have a feeling it’s going to come down to your personal circumstances.

Availability & Sign Up

The number one thing that is going to determine which service many people opt for is geographical availability. At one point this was very limiting, with most services either operating inside the US or specifically outside of it in the case of Spotify until a few years ago. Thankfully, things have improved dramatically and both Rdio and Spotify are available in a long list of countries. Spotify is available in: USA, UK, Australia, Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Estonia, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Singapore, Sweden and Austria.


Rdio is available in: USA, UK, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.   Signing up for both services is an exercise in dodging social media connect buttons – both Rdio and Spotify really want your Facebook details. Regardless, it’s possible to sign up for either service without any social accounts if you hunt for the nearby email registration link.

Listening: Desktops & Browsers

Listening to either service is possible via desktop clients for Windows and Mac, though Linux support is decidedly thin on the ground. Spotify did have a Linux version of their player (available to subscribers of Unlimited or above) but I can no longer find mention of it on the homepage. From now on, Linux users will need to be subscribed and use something like despotify instead. rdio_countries Spotify’s desktop player behaves with the response you’d expect from software like iTunes or Foobar2000. The player received a facelift not so long ago and now uses a paler colour scheme and features artists you can “follow” much like Twitter. Unfortunately, this is the extent of Spotify’s rather dismal achievements with regards their desktop player over the last few years. spotify_desktop It’s also quite possibly the most prevalent piece of software that’s still under active development that hasn’t had a Retina update for Apple’s newest line of laptops. In short, the desktop player works but it feels very old-hat and has barely changed in the 7 or so years Spotify has existed. In fact, Spotify removed the ability to filter results on a page (previously accessible via Ctrl/Cmd+F) which means that the player actually lost a feature. Spotify has the edge when it comes to Facebook integration, but I won’t be judging streaming music services on the strength of their Facebook integration, rather their music-related abilities. spotify_detail Rdio’s desktop player is little more than a wrapper for its web player, though this isn’t really obvious before you download it. For this reason I’d recommending using the web player in your browser instead. On my Mac, the Rdio “app” simply looks like a tab that hasn’t been docked to Chrome. It’s not fast and responsive like Spotify is when dragging tracks around, but it’s nicer to use thanks to the superior interface and lighter colour scheme. rdio_detail The Rdio web player is a breath of fresh air, on the other hand, and provides support even if you’re using an obscure Linux distribution or similar. It’s not quite as responsive as a desktop app, but it’s great to use and works from most modern web browsers (and does not require any plugins to do so). The UI is a mixture of light solid colours, the translucent “now playing” panel and clean, straight lines. The now playing area takes the form of a separate panel that slides up from the bottom of the screen, and this clever design results in a light and uncluttered interface. spotify_webplayer Spotify also has a web player, but it’s currently in open beta (for those with a Facebook account linked to their Spotify account) though you can access it here from your paired, logged-in account. The Spotify web player is similar to the iPad app in its style, though it has one core problem for me – a reliance on Flash. Considering this is a new, and long-awaited (read: very overdue) feature; building it on outdated web technologies strikes me as a poor decision.

Listening: Mobile & Offline

Both services use a similar subscription model for mobile listening in that you must be a subscriber to the mobile plan in order to use one of the many mobile apps. For Spotify and Rdio, this is a selling point as these apps allow you to stream, manage and even sync offline music. Only one service lets you sync as much as you like though, and that’s Rdio. Spotify users can only have up to 3,333 songs stored offline on up to three computers or devices at a time. Rdio users can sync as many songs as their devices can handle, to as many devices as they own.   Spotify’s iPhone app is serviceable but has a few design quirks that stand out for me. The UI could do with work, an example being the poor location of the Available Offline button which is very easy to tap by mistake, resulting in the loss of hours of offline music (it happened to me). And that’s a button you need, because you can only sync playlists rather than individual albums or tracks, as is the nature of Spotify. Otherwise it’s a fairly standard affair, if a little utilitarian in nature. Rdio takes a different approach where each item (song, album, playlist) can be marked for mobile syncing, accessible via a long press. Both services offer high quality syncing and streaming.   For my money the Rdio app is a little nicer to use, the UI looks sharp and loosely matches Apple’s direction for iOS 7 despite being a mature and original design. Spotify’s app is less graceful and looks its age by this point, and in my experience occasionally takes a very long time to start streaming some of the service’s rarer material.   iPad owners are lucky, because they get two tailor-made apps from each service. Both Spotify and Rdio’s mobile apps for iOS are universal, which means they’re optimized for the larger tablet display. Spotify’s iPad app (above) has gone on to form the basis of the service’s web app, and it’s certainly a fuller experience than the same app on a smaller iPhone screen. Rdio (below) went the whole hog and seemingly managed to fit a scaled down version of their whole website into their iPad app, and it also looks great.   Rdio has the edge with its mobile apps because of its robust remote control feature. This works both ways, so you can plug your phone into your hi-fi and control it using your web browser and vice-versa. This is the killer feature for me, as I use my iPhone to stream via an amp positioned across the room for me while working. With Rdio I can control everything my phone plays from a web browser without ever getting up. Spotify could have added this feature literally years ago, but they didn’t (and I had to get up a lot during that time).

Music: Catalogue & Management

This is arguably one of the most important points for a lot of people – does X have Y and Z? Well, in my experience there’s very little that Spotify has that Rdio doesn’t have, but Rdio definitely has the smallest of the two catalogues (if you count 20 million plus songs as “small”). I can’t really be any more precise than that, but I will say just that just about everything I have tried to find on Rdio that I had collected on Spotify could be found (though occasionally on different albums, compilations and so on). This is why this point is so far down in my comparison: in my locale (Australia), for my tastes, they’re pretty much level-pegging. And that’s a very good thing, but it might not be the case for everyone.   You may find your personal tastes under-represented on one service, and adequately propped up on another: both services offer a free listening tier, as well as trials of their unlimited mobile services so you can find out before you buy.   Managing your music on either service is different again. I grew up listening to albums, not playlists. Even though I spent my schooldays arguing about iPods and swapping MP3s, albums are how I’ve always listened to music. For this reason, I really missed having a “collection” of music with Spotify, and instead had to make-do with shoe-horning everything into playlists. This results in a never-ending mess of playlists trailing down the side of the screen, most of which I will never actually play but only created to save an album. Rdio solved this for me by letting me add music to a collection that is separate to my playlists.   Spotify has a collection too, but it only lists songs you have already added to playlists. You could create a library playlist into which you drop all the albums you want, but it’s not quite the same as a hidden collection you can easily browse and forget about.

The Price

Both services have three tiers: top-level premium including mobile access, unlimited desktop and web access and a free service with limitations. Rdio’s free version offers a limited number of streams per track per month, and when you’ve run out you’ll have to wait or subscribe. This free service only operates for six months before it’s crunch-time and you’ll have to leave or pay. Spotify extended its unlimited free listening terms last year but users have to contend with audio adverts in between songs, full-screen adverts in-player and banner ads while browsing music. By comparison, Rdio is completely advert free even to non-paying users.   The tiers differ very little in terms of features aside from what I’ve already pointed out, and the price of each is identical: $4.99 for desktop and $9.99 for mobile too. It’s worth pointing out that Rdio also operate a $17.99 a month plan for two family subscriptions, with a third costing $22.99 a month. They recently increased this number to include a maximum of five family members under the one discounted monthly price, though it’s not currently available in all territories.   Of course, these are US prices and actual costs will be higher in other territories

Travelling Abroad

I anticipate this will be a feature that many demand – the ability to travel outside of your billing country, into non-supported Spotify or Rdio territories while being able to enjoy the service. I am pleased to announce that both services offer this feature to paying customers. Spotify’s policy is:

If you’re going on holiday, or visiting friends, take Spotify with you. You can log into your Spotify account on any computer – just download the Spotify player and start listening. If you have a Premium or Unlimited account, you can listen abroad for as long as you like. Spotify Free users can listen for 14 days. If you have a Spotify Premium account, you get full access to Spotify on your mobile, wherever you are. So you can stream music and sync your playlists to listen offline.

While the Rdio FAQ says:

Paying subscribers from one of the countries listed above can use Rdio on both the Web and Mobile phones while traveling abroad. Rdio’s Mobile apps need to connect with Rdio’s servers at least once every 30 days.

Spotify: A Few Words

You might think I’m being a little harsh on Spotify in my criticism, but as a casual user of the service when it first launched in the UK, and a paid subscriber on the first day the service launched in my current country of residence (Australia) I can honestly say progress on the software, new features and improving the music library (at least in the latter locale) is moving at what can only be described as a glacial pace. When you’ve watched so little happen for so long, while other products (like Rdio) have come from nowhere, with no subscribers and then manage to outpace innovation, release a beatiful web player, a range of smartphone apps and an all-singing iPad version you have to question whether you’re giving your money to the right people. Spotify is defitely seen as one of the big names in music streaming thanks in part to the fact that it introduced many to the notion of subscription-based music consumption. This means there are a lot of Spotify users sharing tracks, using integrated services like Twitter #music, creating playlists and sharing them and generally making the service feel busy. This means there’s a lot of discovery to be had through playlists and other users, something that you might find lacking on Rdio. I can’t help but feel Spotify got in early but have since done little to innovate in the field and keep their product moving forward. The desktop app is woefully in need of a complete redesign. It’s always asking to be restarted to apply an update, but I’m never quite sure what exactly has changed afterwards.

Rdio: A Few Words

Rdio strikes a different chord, and I’ll be honest and say this might be because I’m a little jaded about a lack of progress in the Spotify camp.  The two things that have me leaning more towards Rdio at present are two things Spotify could have easily implemented years ago: a proper music collection and two-way remote control using the mobile apps. The only thing is you will miss a few things when you jump ship from Spotify to Rdio – particularly if you use the social aspect, as previously mentioned. You can connect your accounts to Rdio but I was surprised to find literally none of my social contacts to be using the service. If you’re used to sending music to friends or getting recommendations from family, you’ll miss it on Rdio. Similarly you might miss any Spotify apps you’ve gotten used to, though in my experience they’re all a bit pointless anyway. Rdio has a radio feature that will match Spotify’s, and both services can be used by paying premium subscribers from abroad even if that country can’t supported by Rdio yet. These areas place the two on equal footing, so it’s down to personal preference, music catalogue and past experience to determine the victor.

And The Winner Is…

In order to answer this question you have to ask what is it that you are happy paying for. Do you want a slick web-based mobile-friendly streaming service that embraces a proper music collection, “album listening” and a slicker, remote-controllable UI or a playlist-oriented desktop app that’s clunky to use but deeply integrated with Facebook and has millions of active users? Do you care about Spotify’s new public profile pages which will allow others to peruse your musical tastes as if it were your Twitter profile or would you rather keep your listening habits to yourself? Perhaps a better way of phrasing that might be: is the music you listen to more important than the image you portray while listening to it? Then again can you tolerate the rather solitary listening experience that Rdio provides? With no Facebook-like ticker telling you what your friends are doing, those big blank white spaces can feel rather rather lonely at times. Personally, my Spotify subscription will remain “Free” for now, but I won’t uninstall the client. Rdio will be getting this month’s $12, but I’m not going to make the mistake of signing up for a year’s service. This is a competitive market space right now, and as other products like Xbox Music and Sony’s Music Unlimited edge their way onto the market you’ll want to keep your options open.

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