Music Streaming Comes to Canada

By Brian Miller

Music ownership is dying quickly, much to the chagrin of distributors such as iTunes and Amazon, who thought they had cornered the market with their online download business model. And so they did for a few years, converting music fans everywhere from the hassle of owning records, CDs, DVDs and the like.

The prevalence of condo ownership and the requisite efficiency of efficient design contributed greatly to the online, downloadable model. Now, with music streaming available on multiple devices, a new era begins, one in which wireless systems have begun to transform design considerations.

libratone

Photo courtesy of Libratone

There are a few diehards left who still love vinyl, and for good reason. (More about that in future columns.)  However, music streaming is a kettle of fish frying up nicely for several new players, though it’s burning down the formerly huge profits for the number one distributor, the venerable Apple Inc., who is working on their own music streaming model.

Whether you’ve downsized your living space (and who hasn’t recently?) or whether you’re a former audiophile who has given in to the famous SAF (spousal appeal factor), it makes a lot of sense to consider giving up the physical ownership of loads of gear crowding your living space.

For now, though, there are several streaming services making a huge impact around the world: Pandora, Spotify, Deezer, Songza and Rdio to name but a few. Only the last two are available in Canada. Seems our marketplace is deemed far too small for the likes of Spotify and Pandora. I’ve checked out both Canadian offerings extensively and while for me Rdio is clearly the superior service, I don’t hesitate to use Songza on a regular basis as well.

What exactly is music streaming anyway? Technically it’s the online streaming of music to your computer or tablet mobile device.  This means the user needs to be connected to the Internet in order to use the service. You can’t store the music in the way you do on an iPod, though for a modest monthly fee you can share the music across your devices.

Regardless of the streaming service you choose, remember this: you own nothing, and if you’re not connected to the Internet you’re out of luck if you want to listen to the playlists or albums you’ve chosen to save in your streamed profile. So streaming does have real limitations. However, many users find that its advantages far outweigh the considerations of ownership.

With streaming, you have access to as many as 20 million songs and/or thousands of albums, including classics of many genres as well as the latest releases. Not only that, you have access to some amazing playlists constructed by dedicated music fans as well as celebrities.

Streaming: A Revolution in Sound

Streaming: A Revolution in Sound

In the case of Songza, you can specify the mood you’re in or trying to create.  Justin Bieber, Ke$ha and countless other musicians have contributed their playlists to Songza. The firm also scored big when they landed a deal with Mercedes to provide all of the music for the most recent Fashion Week in New York.

What distinguishes Songza is their unique offering of playlists.  It’s great for dinner parties, background music, and the feeling it offers: cool and casual at the same time.

Songza offers free, but limited, access to their material.  The app is also free on most major platforms. Since launching in Canada last October they picked up 1 million new users within the first 70 days.

rdio-logo

Rdio offers a trial period that may well convince you (as it did me) to sign up for their service. It’s an incredibly low $9.95 per month that allows you access to content on your computer and on your iPad or your Smartphone on the go, if you have a 3G plan.  For the price of one album download on iTunes per month you get your choice of 18 million songs, and a great catalogue of new releases, featured albums, user playlists and more.

For me the deciding factors were several in favour of choosing Rdio (and paying for it): the focus on whole albums, and the availability of thousands of back catalogue classics in their entirety, the biographies, and the connections to related artists are all compelling to a true muso.

Should you decide that music streaming is possibly for you, I recommend going all the way, with wireless speakers such as the Danish branded Libratone Live, a high end compact speaker.

“Libratone’s speakers work as WiFi hotspots with a direct connection to a smartphone/tablet,” says Gregg Stein, head of sales and marketing in North America for Libratone.  “The speakers can play, (music) in your iTunes or saved on your Windows/Android device, but they don’t play streaming music. That may change in the future, but right now the system doesn’t play streaming music directly from the Internet.”

Still, this offers an amazing advance in decor possibilities. In fact, you can add an interface that allows connectivity within 100 feet.

libratone-zipp-plumsq

Photo courtesy of Libratone

Libratone’s patent pending FullRoom™ technology reflects the sound off the room’s walls to provide high quality 360-degree sound, meaning that wherever the listener is in the room they are always in the ‘sweet spot’. Offering a contemporary design, the Libratone Live is finished in cashmere. So if you want elegant and pristine sound streamed by Rdio, check into Libratone.

Of course, as an audiophile and the lover of the tactile and aural pleasures that vinyl brings to the listening experience, I still buy vinyl. In the next instalment of Plugged In,  I’ll write about one of the coolest vinyl stores anywhere. It happens to be located in Vancouver and it’s one of those Must See retail emporiums any real music lover will love. Centrally located, it’s a busy place chock full of new vinyl releases, high quality used (and professionally cleaned) vinyl, as well as turntables and record-cleaning supplies. They’ll even let you listen before you buy any used album! Best of all, it’s owned by musicians who really care about what they put out on the shelves.

Ciao for now!

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