When Google announced its Google Play Music would soon include an on-demand music streaming service, dubbed All Access, I prepared to pack up shop and migrate from Spotify to Google’s streaming service.
I signed up as soon as All Access went live and never looked back. I made sure everything was where it should be and that the service worked as advertised. Then I canceled my Spotify account.
For the last 11 months, I’ve truly enjoyed All Access. I love the interface, the marriage of streaming my own digital collection with on-demand streaming, something unique – in a sense – to All Access, and how well it integrates with other Google services (i.e., direct sharing to Google+).
However, about a week and a half to two weeks ago, things started going south, for no explicable reason.
At the time, I was using the LG G2 for the latest episode of After The Buzz. I could be listening to an album, a radio station, or a playlist, and after just a few songs (two, three, sometimes five or six), the app would throw an error: “Music playback error. Couldn’t play the track you requested.” Other times, the error would read “Unable to play the song. Make sure the device is connected to the Internet and tap Refresh in the action bar menu.”
I’ve since contacted Google and they’re looking into the issue. But it wasn’t just the G2 giving me trouble. I’ve received the same errors on the Moto X, Nexus 7, and Galaxy TabPRO 8.4. I’ve also had some issues playing via Web on my MacBook.
The fact of the matter is, I pay money to listen to music. I’ve put hundreds of hours of listening into Google Play Music All Access, and I rely on the service to serve music to my devices for listening while I work, while I’m driving, and any time in-between. This error doesn’t prevent me from listening, but it disrupts service every few minutes, and it forces me to manually start music again.
That’s not all, either. I’ve spent a lot of time using the iPad lately. Google promised to bring All Access to iOS, and it did. But there is no iPad support – it’s iPhone-only, and that rubs me the wrong way.
The fact of the matter is, I’m leaving Google Play Music All Access and looking for something more reliable, with wider support, and possibly more features. You know my problems, but what all does All Access offer?
Google Play Music All Access
For starters, Google Play Music (read: streaming your personal digital collection) is free of charge. You can upload as many as 20,000 songs without paying a penny. Any music you purchase from Google Play will be added to your library and won’t count towards your 20,000 allotment. You can listen to this music from any Android device, PC or Mac, or iPhone as much as you desire.
The upgrade to All Access is $9.99 per month, and that gives you unlimited access to over 18 million songs, on-demand. You also have access to unlimited artist- or song-based radio stations, and “smart recommendations” based on your interests.
The major selling point – at least for me – is the ability to listen to my own collection (especially local or grass roots artists who aren’t available on most streaming services) with Google’s collection in a single playlist. This particular feature isn’t specific to Google Play Music – you can also do it with Spotify. The difference is that my music is stored in the cloud, alongside All Access. With Spotify, personal music has to be synced with your device and stored locally. Google’s method is much more hassle-free and hands-off. I like that. But reliability, of course, has become an issue, and I’ve been forced to look elsewhere.
Google Play Music isn’t so open with its specific bitrates, but its higher quality setting is 320 kbps and can be set for downloading or streaming, separately.
$9.99 per month
Android (phones and tablets), iPhone, Mac, Windows
So what does the competition look like?
Since I paid for Spotify for well over a year, I’ll start there.
Recently, Spotify went free for mobile listening. It’s ad-supported, of course, but you are able to play any artist, album, or playlist, so long as it’s in shuffle mode. So free is not truly on-demand, but it’s a lot closer than its competitors in that regard, as there is no expiration for this specific mode. This mode also includes ad-supported radio stations. You’re allowed up to six skips per hour.
If you want more, you’ll have to upgrade to premium, which is $9.99 per month. That’s on-demand access to over 20 million songs (depending on country).
The catch here is that there is technically no library with Spotify. Everything is managed through radio stations and playlists. You can play whole albums from artists, but the only way to listen to, say, an artist’s entire discography is to create a playlist including all its albums. This was my biggest gripe with the service.
Spotify is also a very social-driven listening platform, deeply integrated with Facebook. You can share songs with friends, share what you’re currently listening to on Facebook, and follow different users and bands.
Uses Ogg Vorbis format in three bitrates: 96 kbps (normal, mobile); 160 kbps (standard for desktop/web, high quality setting for mobile); 320 kbps (premium-only, high quality for desktop, extreme quality setting for mobile)
$9.99 per month
50% off for students
iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Windows Phone, BlackBerry (some). For a full list of supported devices, check here.
Rdio is a client that’s been recommended to me countless times. The premise is very similar to Spotify. It’s a social-driven music streaming service. Rdio Free offers playlist, album, and radio listening for free, though it’s ad-supported. Upgrade to Rdio Unlimited for $9.99 per month to remove ads.
Rdio itself has quite a few standout features, such as Match Collection, not unlike iTunes Match. Rdio will scan your iTunes or Windows Media Player Library music library and associate all your existing music with your account and automatically add the matched songs to your catalog.
Another great feature is Auto Play. Once your queue has ended, Auto Play will kick in (if enabled) and continue playing music from similar artists. So if you start an album and it finished, related artists will begin to play.
Like Spotify, you can also follow your friends and other people by logging into Twitter or Facebook.
What I really like about Rdio so far is the application support – dedicated apps for all the popular mobile platforms, Windows, Mac, and the ability to listen from Web.
Rdio hasn’t officially noted its current bitrate support, but the widely accepted estimate is 192 kbps. An Rdio developer allegedly confirmed this in a head-fi forum thread, as well as revealing plans to up to 320kbps around the middle of this year. Take that with a few spoonfuls of salt.
$9.99 per month
50% off for students
Family account offer – 20% off second account, 50% off 3rd-5th accounts
14-day free trial of Rdio Unlimited
iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Mac, Windows, and Web
Another popular choice is Xbox Music. It’s not all that different from the above options either, though it’s more like Google Play Music All Access than Spotify or Rdio. You can purchase music from Microsoft’s store and stream those songs alongside the on-demand service. It’s free to use, thanks to intermittent ads, but the premium upgrade to Xbox Music Pass, for access to cross-device sync, is $9.99 per month.
The major perk here, especially for Xbox owners or those invested in Microsoft’s ecosystem, is the ability to sync music to your Xbox and between all your devices. Xbox Music Pass also comes with over 70,000 streamable music videos.
I have no personal experience with this service, though, so I can’t vouch for its quality – just the numbers and features.
Microsoft doesn’t officially post bitrates, and searching the Internet high and low only yielded some conflicting numbers. 192 kbps seems to be the estimated rate, though if you purchase albums or songs, those will come in 320 kbps.
$9.99 per month
iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Mac, Windows, Web, and Xbox
Are there others?
Of course. Those listed above are simply the heavy hitters, particularly here in the US. There are a handful of others, such as Deezer, Rhapsody’s Napster, MOG, Beats Music, or Grooveshark. You can stream some great indie artists on SoundCloud, and, of course, if you’re into just radio stations, Pandora is a great option. The premium offering for Pandora One is just $3.99 per month.
The bottom line
On-demand music streaming services are on the rise, and there are some truly great services out there. But there is no one-size-fits-all service. While most of the listed services are strikingly similar on the surface, the more granular features are what differentiate them so well. Where one service excels in a particular area, another stumbles, and vice versa.
Spotify may have all the bands you listen to, but you may find its lack of a library difficult to cope with. Or Google Play Music All Access’ music selection may not be as broad, but you can offset it by either purchasing music from Google Play or adding your own collection to your library.
The only sure way to know is to get your hands dirty and use the trials, fixed time or ad-supported, and get familiar with all their offerings.
I’m reluctant to leave Google Play Music All Access, but the stability has gotten worse over time. I’m still testing Rdio out – I’m only two days into the trial – but it seems like it could be a keeper.
What streaming service do you use? Have you had a similar experience with All Access? Share your sentiments below!
Images via Spotify