Rdio – The Best Cloud Music Service (for Now)

I want to write a bit more about Rdio – a stream­ing music ser­vice that has really altered the way that I listen to music. Rdio allows you to browse a list of music on their site and steam as much as you like via their web inter­face or their free desk­top appli­ca­tion (which hap­pens to be made using Adobe AIR, but that’s a dis­cus­sion for another day) for $5 bucks a month. You can add music to your ‘collection’, basi­cally a place where you can store a list of all of the music you like, make playlists, and queue up albums to listen to. For $10 a month, you get all of the fea­tures already listed plus the abil­ity to stream music to a mobile appli­ca­tion for iOS, Android, etc. For me, this is where the ser­vice becomes truly worth­while. The mobile apps allow you to not only stream music to the devices, but also to down­load as much music as your device has capac­ity to locally store music. This means that you can essen­tially manage your iPhone/iPad/whatever Android you’re using phone’s music col­lec­tion ‘from the cloud’, with access to a ton of music instantly. 

Rdio’s track options – add to col­lec­tion, sync to mobile, share song, etc

On it’s sur­face, Rdio is sim­i­lar to other ser­vices that have come and gone, or ser­vices that are in other coun­tries but aren’t avail­able here (I’m look­ing at you, Spotify…), but of what’s avail­able to us Amer­i­cans right now, it’s hard to com­pete with what this ser­vice offers. I tend to buy an album or two a month at some­where between $5 and $10 dol­lars a pop. With the advent of Rdio, I’ve cut that down sig­nif­i­cantly while also learn­ing to not worry about sync­ing my iPhone up. If I’m ever out and about and remem­ber there’s a song or an album I want to listen to, I can quickly per­form a search on my phone and add it to my col­lec­tion, a playlist, or even sync to my device right then and there. 

Another place that Rdio excels is in social shar­ing and music dis­cov­ery. They’ve man­aged to find the per­fect bal­ance between shar­ing infor­ma­tion about what your friends are lis­ten­ing to with­out beat­ing you over the head with it. Upon log­ging in, you’ll see a screen with 12 album covers that are labeled ‘Heavy Rotation’ – this is a list of the top albums lis­tened to by you and your friends recently. No play counts, no easy way to tie an album to a spe­cific person – just what’s pop­u­lar right now. You can quickly mouse over an item and add it to your col­lec­tion, play it, sync it to your mobile, and more. I’ve found dozens of new bands since using the ser­vice reg­u­larly just because folks I’m friends with are basi­cally cooler than I am and are find­ing new music for me to check out.

The heavy rota­tion view

On top of those social and dis­cov­ery fea­tures, Rdio can be set up to send your lis­tens to Last.fm if you’re that sort of person (I am), thus enabling you to still keep track of every­thing you’ve lis­tened to. This means that now I have two ser­vices that track what I’m lis­ten­ing to and rec­om­mend­ing music to me based on that. Even better, the bar­rier to trying out these new artists is sig­nif­i­cantly reduced, so I’m check­ing out new stuff more often and also dig­ging up old favorites from my high school days with­out wor­ry­ing about wast­ing space on my hard drive. It’s a very fric­tion­less ser­vice that keeps improv­ing, and for $10 a month, is a steal.

That doesn’t mean the ser­vice is per­fect. Rdio hasn’t even been around for a year so they’re still fig­ur­ing things out and flesh­ing out their cat­a­log – and I know that takes time. Legit excuses aside, there are places for improve­ment. There are areas where the iPhone appli­ca­tion doesn’t have access to the same fea­tures as the web appli­ca­tion (things like full access to the queue, the abil­ity to add songs/albums to the queue, playlist creation/search and more), and that can be frus­trat­ing. Addi­tion­ally, what they call a ‘desktop application’ is a bit of an stretch. I cre­ated a Fluid instance of the web page and just use that, as the AIR app doesn’t do much other than just play music. I’m hoping at some point we’ll see a true desk­top appli­ca­tion that emu­lates a lot of the fea­tures you’d see in iTunes – easier playlist cre­ation, queue reorder­ing, and col­lec­tion man­age­ment. Other issues that are already improv­ing greatly are things like over­all music selec­tion, song bitrates, and the over­all web app performance. 

Another issue that is rare and goes to the core of ‘ownership vs. renting’ of music are things like what hap­pens when I get hooked on an album but I want to listen to it while some­where that’s not my com­puter or with my phone/headphones around? Some­thing like an iPod nano comes to mind. Cur­rently, your only option is to buy that album and sync it up to your device. I’d love to see some sort of DRM daemon that runs on your system that allows you to down­load DRM-​limited songs to your com­puter so that you could then sync them to non-​networked play­ers. This is a pipe dream but I think it’d be some­thing worth it to a lot of users – espe­cially folks who run a lot and listen to a ton of music. (obvi­ously I’m not talk­ing about me, I don’t exercise)

When I say it’s the best ‘cloud music ser­vice (for now)’, I’m refer­ring to the rumored entry into the US market by either (and pos­si­bly both) Spo­tify and Apple. Both are estab­lished in their own respec­tive mar­kets more than our friends at Rdio, and I think their entry would shake things up quite a bit. The pos­i­tive, of course, would be that it would also speed up the con­ver­sion of hold­outs to a subscription-​style model. There is a trial avail­able that will give you a chance to see if the ser­vice works for your style before they start billing you – I highly rec­om­mend it to anyone who lis­tens to a lot of music at work or on their iPhone. (or what­ever other smart­phone you may use) If you do end up join­ing, look me up


  1. Great selec­tion of music
  2. Mobile appli­ca­tion is fast, easy to use, and makes search­ing for songs and albums very easy
  3. Good music dis­cov­ery tools
  4. Great support
  5. If you even buy an album or two a month this ser­vice will actu­ally save you money
  6. Pandora-​esque artist ‘stations’ where you can just load up an artist and hear related bands


  1. The desk­top is basi­cally just an album cover w/ play/pause/volume. I’d love to see some­thing nicer on the desktop
  2. No iPad app yet
  3. Mobile apps don’t have abil­ity to add songs to queue yet, nor can they play through the entire queue of songs
  4. Cur­rently the only way to add an album to a playlist is one song at a time
  5. Moving songs to non-​networked devices is not pos­si­ble at this time
  6. Some songs/albums have issues with some songs only being 30 second pre­views due to licens­ing issues.

Ok, now what?

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