If you were an early adopter of music streaming, you may have already linked up with Pandora, Spotify, or Rhapsody, or perhaps you expanded your SiriusXM satellite radio service to include streaming. However, there are quite a few newer players in the field. Let's take a look at a few of them and how they compare to other established systems.
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Tidal – Tidal is artist-owned and tries to keep a connection between consumers and artists with "access to exclusive music, videos, tickets, merchandise and experiences." They are also aiming for audiophiles tired of listening to streamed music on tinny headphones by offering CD quality audio with 44.1kHz/16 bit tracks. Approximately 25 million songs and 75,000 videos are available. Playlists from other streaming services can be imported using Soundiz.com.
The downside is cost. At $19.99 per month for the high-fidelity service, Tidal may have trouble convincing people that the improved sound is worth the price (given that streaming is far more about convenience than cost). Realizing this, Tidal also offers a $9.99 pricing tier with standard audio quality.
PonoPlayer – PonoPlayer is focused on downloading instead of streaming, but it is unique enough to warrant mention. Pono is swimming upstream by offering the Pono "ecosystem" of a player and high-fidelity, uncompressed downloads at far higher costs. The darling of Neil Young may find a small niche with audiophiles — but at $400 for a player plus expensive downloads, most audiophiles will probably opt for Tidal.
Apple Music – Apple Music, which launches June 30 as a successor to Beats Music, is likely to be a dominant player. The branding and popularity of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine's Beats Headphones was already well-established before being purchased by Apple (APPL). Current Beats Music members are urged to transition to Apple Music. With the added branding power, loyalty, and leverage that Apple brings, it is hard to see how this streaming service can fail, although it may not dethrone Spotify.
The service, featuring more than thirty million songs, will operate on iOS devices, Apple Watches and PCs (an Android version will be available later this year) streaming at 256kbps. With an Apple ID, users can listen to various radio stations with limited skipping for free. Apple is offering three-month trials; subscriptions are $9.99 per month and $14,99 per month for families. One advantage over Spotify is that the service is set to launch with Taylor Swift songs.
Google Play – Yet another 800-pound gorilla enters the streaming service market. Google Play (GOOGL) provides 320kbps streaming with over 18 million songs, as well as the ability to upload up to 50,000 of your own songs. You can also share music with others through Google Plus. While it is a favorite of Android users, Google Play is still compatible with iOS. As of this writing, it is compatible with Windows desktops but not with Windows phone/tablet apps.
The free version allows you to store your own songs and buy music separately, while the $9.99 monthly All Access package gives you unlimited listening privileges and the ability to create a personalized radio feed with smart recommendations based on your music choices. The radio function features unlimited skips (passing over songs).
These are just a few of the new streaming contenders, and others like Rara, Rdio, Deezer, Slacker, and the Xbox Music Pass (MSFT) may well surge ahead of these candidates in the future. Do some detailed research on any of the players you are interested in, take advantage of any relevant free trials, and make your choice. Throw away that Walkman, and welcome to the digital music streaming revolution!
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