01.IntroductionCHOICE tests ten popular music streaming services on computer and mobile platforms.
Our detailed test reveals which services:
- have the best range of songs
- offer the best sound quality
- consume the most data on computer
- consume the most data on mobile platforms, and
- score well for ease of use.
The take-up of streaming music in Australia is skyrocketing. According to the Australian Record Industry Association, online is the biggest growth area for music. In 2012, more than 46% of music sales were from digital services, up from 36.7% in 2011.
But people aren’t just buying tracks or albums online and downloading them to a computer. Some of the recent growth is due to the launch of music-streaming services such as Spotify, which in its first year in Australia alone delivered 42.5 million hours of total play time.
Unlike buy-and-download services such as iTunes, streaming music services are more like YouTube. Instead of actually owning a legal copy of the content, you access it online and play it in real time. The music is streamed from a server directly to your computer, tablet or mobile phone.
Each service offers millions of songs from thousands of artists. Some let you listen to music for free if you’re happy to deal with advertisements (much like radio, but you get to choose the songs), otherwise you can eliminate the ads by paying a monthly fee.
Streaming services provide a level of convenience and value for money that physical formats can’t match. A month of full access to millions of song titles usually costs less than a new-release CD. However, the downside to streaming music, some argue, is that the tracks don’t quite equal the audio quality of the traditional music mainstays, CDs or vinyl records. Streaming services also don't earn as much money for your favourite performers as buying their music outright.
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How we test
The overall score is a combination of the following:
- Ease of use (40%)
- Music range (35%)
- Sound quality (25%)
CHOICE applies the following interpretation to the scores achieved in our tests. When we describe a result as "excellent", "poor" etc, it usually relates directly to a numerical score in that range.
- 0 - 24 Very poor
- 25 - 45 Poor
- 46 - 54 Borderline
- 55 - 69 OK
- 70 - 79 Good
- 80 - 89 Very Good
- 90 - 100 Excellent
Ease of use
We search for specific songs and albums across each service, including searches for part of the song/album name and through genres if they’re available. We examine how search results are organised, whether you can re-organise search results, and if there are advanced options. We gauge general navigation and whether the service provides intuitive navigational techniques to search for songs, play songs, create playlists, and access additional features. These criteria are tested across computer and mobile platforms.
Determined by searching each service for songs from a list of 50 songs from 15 popular artists, 15 mid-level artists, 10 "special interest" artists and 10 small/independent artists. Artist range is also considered.
Assessed by an expert panel of three judges who listen to one pop song, one rock song and one orchestral piece on each service. These are sourced from the same recordings by the same artist. A CD-quality version is also played for comparative purposes. Music is streamed at the highest available quality.
Ten songs between three and five minutes in length are played three times on each service. The data consumption of each playthrough is recorded and used to determine an average level of data consumption. These are added together to determine the average download consumption based on 10 songs. Music is streamed at the highest available quality. These criteria are tested across computer and mobile platforms. Computer and mobile cache is cleared after each song is played – your consumption may be lower if you don't clear the cache.
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