After the CD came the MP3, then the streaming subscription -- but where should you spend your £10 a month? For UK music lovers old favourite Spotify has recently been joined by the US-based Rdio and the France-based Deezer. Which offers best value for money?
We tested out all three packages based on the higher £9.99 (USD $9.99, AUD $11.99) monthly subscription. Each service also provides a £4.99 (USD $4.99, AUD $6.99) plan that excludes mobile use.
There are some variations with the Australian Dollar (AUD) pricing: Deezer is AUD $14.49 and $7.49 for each package and is not available in the US. Rdio is AUD $12.90 and AUD $8.90 for each package.
Spotify is the only platform that provides a free level, with listening limits and advertising, though both Rdio and Deezer offer free trials you can use to test the water.
Spotify vs Rdio vs Deezer: Apps and third-party support
Spotify has always existed solely as a desktop client, though rumours from TechCrunch suggest the launch of a browser-based app is imminent. Perhaps this is due in part to the influence of Rdio and Deezer, which both run through a browser. Rdio also has a desktop app available, though it doesn't offer much more than the online version.
All three services offer competent mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, though the Deezer app feels more rough around the edges than the other two. In addition, iPad-specific apps have been released for each of these services; Android tablet users have to make use with a one-size-fits all app, at least for the time being. In terms of mobile compatibility, all our contestants are on a level playing field, with Spotify just edging it for the most mature and classy client.
Spotify is the oldest service here, and you'll find support for it baked into hardware like the Sonos speaker line-up and online platforms such as Tumblr. It also has an app eco-system of its own, though for us this doesn't really bring anything of particular use to the table. Spotify, Rdio and Deezer all support scrobbling to the popular listening history tool Last.fm.
Spotify vs Deezer vs Rdio: Look, feel and ease of use
Rdio has recently revamped its interface and it's a real thing of beauty, particularly if you like a minimal approach (and pale blue). Spotify's app feels somewhat dark and foreboding by comparison, and could take a leaf out of Rdio's use of spacing and album art. Again, Deezer has a few rough edges -- a phrase that keeps cropping up with this service -- and there's something vaguely 80s about its appearance. Still, it's not a complete eyesore.
Moving around all three apps and controlling playback is smooth and straightforward. There's little to choose between them for ease of use, though Rdio would be our winner for the cleanest, most intuitive interface, the one that beginners will be able to pick up the quickest.
Spotify vs Deezer vs Rdio: Catalogue and audio quality
Assessing a catalogue of millions of tracks is difficult and more than a little subjective. All three services claim a catalogue of "more than 18m" tracks, though we found disparities, so it can't be the same 18 million songs. Artists such as Coldplay, Beyoncé and the Beach Boys are everywhere; digital hold-outs the Beatles and Oasis are nowhere.
Where we did find gaps, it seems to be the smaller labels involved -- you'll be able to get a flavour of our music taste when we say Canadian rockers Arcade Fire and pop duo Sleigh Bells were on Deezer and Spotify but not Rdio, while Sufjan Stevens' latest LP is only on Spotify, and Pink Floyd (surprisingly) appear on Deezer but not the other two services.
From our enquiries with press contacts, all of these services claim a maximum quality of 320kbps when streaming music. To our layman's ears, there isn't a great deal to choose between them, both streaming tracks and playing from the offline cache. If you have a serious music setup at home, you'll have to test Spotify, Rdio and Deezer in turn for differences in listening quality.
Spotify vs Deezer vs Rdio: Playlists and sharing
Smart playlists have yet to appear in streaming subscription land, but Spotify, Rdio and Deezer make it very straightforward to create and build playlists manually. Rdio and Deezer make it easier than Spotify to manage your 'collection' - think iTunes Library vs the whole iTunes Store - but Spotify was our favourite for managing a queue.
If you prefer to add on songs, albums and playlists to the end of what you're currently listening to, in one long uninterrupted stream of music, Spotify does this a little better than the others.
If you want to work on collaborative playlists, this is possible in each service. Spotify and Deezer give you more control over shared playlists, enabling you to choose specific users who can make changes. In Rdio, playlists are either private, public (can be edited by anyone), or accessible to everyone you are following.
In terms of simple, non-collaborative sharing, this is again available on all three of these platforms, whether you want to use Facebook, Twitter or the service's built-in user-to-user sharing capabilities. Deezer and Spotify really push their friction-less Facebook sharing capabilities, though it is just about possible to keep your listening habits private if you tweak the relevant settings.
Rdio vs Spotify vs Deezer: Offline syncing/local files
Offline syncing is pretty essential for mobile use, and Spotify, Rdio and Deezer all have this functionality built into their mobile apps.
It can also come in handy on the desktop, should your Internet go down or you want to use your bandwidth for another task -- Spotify's desktop client can cache files for offline use, and so can Deezer's web client, if you install the official browser extension. Rdio doesn't currently offer offline syncing on the web or in its desktop application.
Both Spotify and Deezer let you import your own tracks into your collection, though the process is much easier with Spotify, which can monitor particular folders or libraries on your hard drive. Deezer uses a clumsy browser-based upload system -- it's not ideal, but it works.
However, there's no ability to do this in Rdio, perhaps the biggest black mark against it. Its desktop app can scan and match what's in your iTunes or Windows Media Player library, but anything that isn't matched isn't available.
Spotify vs Deezer vs Rdio: Verdict
It's a close run race between Rdio and Spotify at this moment in time, though both services are introducing new features on a regular basis. In many ways we found Rdio to be the best-looking, easiest-to-use, most intuitive platform. It has a Collection feature to beat Spotify's, but there's one huge problem -- no local file support.
That means the gaps in Rdio's catalogue (like Arcade Fire) can't be filled, so you'll still have to start up iTunes if you want to listen to something Rdio doesn't have. There's also no offline caching on the desktop, and for these reasons our £10 a month is staying with Spotify.
Its desktop and mobile apps have improved in recent months, and it has matured into a stable and comprehensive service. If the rumours of a browser-based app are true, we'll love it even more.
Deezer is a decent bronze medal winner -- in many ways it offers the best of Spotify and Rdio, but it was too fiddly and too unintuitive in too many areas. It has potential, but it's not up to the level of the other two yet.