A few months ago I tried Spotify, the music-streaming service, but didn't get round to starting a subscription. I've now taken the plunge with a £9.99 monthly sub for Spotify Premium* and am very impressed. All year we have heard rumours that Apple would introduce an iTunes subscription streaming product but nothing has happened, despite the company's new North Caroline server farm going on-stream in November. Spotify is here and now and gives us Europeans (it isn't yet available in the USA) a taste of things to come.
For my near-£10 a month I get unlimited access to over ten million tracks and tens of thousands of albums on any computer and on my iPhone or iPod touch. Cut out the mobiles and I could have the same deal for half price, but one of my motivations was to be able to stream to the iPhone.
The Mac Spotify app looks very much like iTunes. You can play with your music, make up dynamic playlists and general do most things you do in iTunes. The main difference is you don't have to buy any music, the £9.99 a month is all you pay. You can buy tracks if you really want to. And, of course, you have to be connected to the internet to listen. However, with this top sub you can make up off-line playlists which are downloaded to your computer or mobile for listening when you have no connection or wish to save on 3G usage. On the Mac, Spotify works flawlessly. The quality is excellent to my untutored ear. Spotify say they use the Ogg Bobis format in three quality ratings (96, 160 and 320 kpbs) and Premium users qualify for the highest bitrate available at all times.
When I consider that my existing iTunes library consists mainly of classical CDs I ripped years ago, even I can tell the improvement in quality I'm getting from Spotify. I really begin to question why I would ever want to buy music ever again. And I wonder why I am still taking up permanent disk space with an iTunes library.
The biggest pleasure of Spotify is to explore the whole spectrum of music and to share selections with other users via Facebook. There are thousands of playlists you can use and, if you have friends into the same type of music, it's an easy matter to share with them.
Spotify works equally well on the iPhone, with all playlists synced for easy access. I do worry about use of bandwidth, though. Up to now I've been averaging 200 MB a month on my O2 account (which had a limit of 500MB). Currently I have a 1GB limited with Vodafone, but I have noticed heavy bandwidth consumption since using Spotify. It's something to monitor if you are streaming several hours' music a day to a portable device.
For now, though, I'm delighted with Spotify and will report on long-term experiences in the near future.
* There are three levels of Spotify account. The basic free service (Spotify Open) gives access to everything but you also get radio-style advertisements popping up between tracks. This isn't too much of a distraction with popular music, but it is annoying when an ad comes between two movements of a symphony, for instance. The free service is an ideal way of trying Spotify to see if you like it. For £4.99 you can get Spotify Unlimited which cuts out the ads; and for £9.99 Spotify Premium brings, among other benefits, the ability to steam to an iPhone or other mobile.