Until recently listening to the radio online has been the choice of local stations that simulcast, Pandora and LastFM. Pandora and LastFM are similar in playlists and Spotify is the big fish across the pond. They all have similar social media sharing tools and advanced features that will cost you more money. Let’s take a look at all three of them so you know what might be best for you.
If you’re reading this on the North American side of the pond than the odds are that Pandora is your go to online music source. Pandora allows you to create multiple stations with various artists in each one. Simply add that artist to the station that you want to and they, in addition to artists that are similar to them will cycle through that station.
Once you sign up at Pandora you can play 40 hours free. You get 40 free hours a month, that starts over the on the first. The free version of Pandora does include advertisements between the songs. If you pay the annual fee ($36) then you can play it as much as you like without any commercials.
Last.FM is similar to Pandora. You can schedule in a rotating variety of songs, artists and create a number of different stations. Last.FM also has commercials in the free version. If you pay $3 a month then you don’t get the commercials and you’re able to do a number of other things.
Last.FM also has photos of the artists scrolling in the background while each song plays. I found this feature a bit distracting and it took up too much time. It certainly was interesting, but for me, online radio is a background tool that allows me to work. The photos kept peaking my curiosity and I was going back to the site to learn trivia and enjoy those 80s mullet haircuts.
Spotify is new kid from across the pond. They have had huge buzz because of their ability to do what the other two can’t-play entire albums on command. Simply type in what you’re looking for and a series of possible answers will pop up. It’s also got a What’s New section where the latest releases can be heard. You can also check out the top of charts in the U.K., Spain, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. That actually sounds cooler than it is as many of the top artists are from the U.S.
The down side to Spotify is that many of the big catalog artists like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Beatles and Metallica aren’t on Spotify. Because Spotify has such a premium of playing entire CDs on demand you can play 10 hours a month for free, with advertisements. To upgrade to commercial free, unlimited music will cost $7 a month. To upgrade to beyond that will allow you to play while offline and go mobile is $13 a month.
Spotify has a massive, 15 million song deep library of songs. They originated in Sweden and have access to a great selection of European artists that don’t even register on Pandora. For example I searched for The Housemartins and Suede and received numerous albums from which to choose from.
Spotify can’t be beat for its on demand selection. It also seems to have the best quality sound, even on the free version. Last.FM has a great selection of indie groups and does a nice job of introducing new music into your stations.
Pandora has the licensing for the major acts that the others do not, like AC/DC, Metallica, Led Zeppelin and more. While neither system is difficult to navigate, Pandora is easier to navigate than Last.fm. Also if you create a station around a particular artist, that artist appears quite regularly in that rotation. With the same station on Last.fm, that artist may take a while to appear. For us Pandora is the best. Spotify is great for those occasions when you want to hear that song or that album.
If you’re curious about Spotify and have a twitter account you can get a free invitation to try them out. Demand for them is high now, so give them a shot. Once you do let us know which online radio station you prefer.