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Infinite entertainment

Music streaming hits a high note

Aug. 8, 2014 - 11:40AM   |  
Many music fans are starting to stream music from online services such as Pandora rather than paying by the download.
Many music fans are starting to stream music from online services such as Pandora rather than paying by the download. (Gannett)
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Downloading music is, so, like, 2010.

Nielsen SoundScan says on-demand streaming services jumped an incredible 42 percent in the first half of this year compared to a year ago, soaring to 70.3 million streams. Sales of digital downloads, meanwhile, dropped 13 percent during the first six months of 2014.

In case you haven’t yet tuned in, here’s a brief look at 10 big players: how much they cost, what devices you can stream to and one or two features that make each unique.

Songza

Available on the web, smartphones and tablets, Songza has thousands of curated playlists. Along with genre or decade, they’re based on day of the week, time of day, your mood, location and more. Recently acquired by Google, Songza is free to use but along with ads you can only skip forward a few times per hour; the premium membership removes ads and gives you twice as many skips. (songza.com; free basic service; $3.99/month for Club Songza)

Music Unlimited

Sony’s Music Unlimited offers instant access to more than 25 million commercial-free songs on demand. Along with streaming high-quality music (better than most other services), you can sync your personal music library to the cloud and enjoy it on PCs, mobile devices and PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita, or listen offline (with premium service). PS4 owners can listen to Music Unlimited while playing video games. The service suggests songs based on your tastes. You can “Like” or “Dislike” each track to further personalize your music. (sonyentertainmentnetwork.com; $4.99 to $9.99/month)

Rdio

Pronounced “ar-dee-o,” Rdio lets you listen to more than 25 million tracks on multiple devices. The free option includes streaming stations on the web, desktop apps (PC, Mac) and mobile devices (iOS, Android). The upgraded plan removes short, in-stream advertisements and adds custom playlists, support for more devices (such as Sonos, Roku or Chromecast), and the ability to share playlists with friends. Subscribers can log in with their Facebook accounts and add songs to their timelines. (rdio.com; free for basic version, $9.99 a month for Unlimited plan, discounts for families and web-only listeners)

Xbox Music

At 30 million tracks, Xbox Music has the largest collection of songs. The app is bundled in Windows 8 phones, tablets and PCs, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, with downloadable apps for iOS and Android. Stream on-demand music or create and save playlists for later. You can also listen to profiled artists and tracks curated by musicologists; see what’s trending; or select “Smart DJ” to create a custom radio station on the fly. The upgrade gives you ad-free music and offline listening on a PC, tablet or phone. (xbox.com/music; free for basic service, Xbox Music Pass costs $9.99/month for unlimited access to millions of ad-free songs)

Spotify

There’s a lot to like: Access to more than 20 million new and classic tracks; support for computers, smartphones and tablets; ability to choose music by song, artist, album or playlist (with shuffle mode, if desired); social media integration; and high-quality music streams (320 Kilobit per second audio compared to Xbox Music and Pandora’s 192 Kbps quality). The optional Premium service takes away ad interruptions and adds features such as offline playback and support for more devices (even Smart TVs). (spotify.com; free, $9.99/month for Premium version, $4.99/month student option)

Pandora

The streaming powerhouse delivers curated music to your smartphone, tablet, computer or home appliance such as Xbox, Sonos and Roku. Though it has just over one million songs in its catalog — a much lower number than the other services in this round-up — Pandora works quickly and reliably and lets you give tracks a “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down” so it can deliver a custom listening experience based on your individual tastes. You can also create up to 100 personalized radio stations with your free account. (Pandora.com; free for basic version, $4.99/month for ad-free Pandora One with an optional desktop application and custom skins)

iHeartRadio

Completely free iHeartRadio offers ad-free streaming of more than 15 million songs between its many live radio stations (search by genre, country and/or state). You can create a custom radio station, select a playlist based on mood or activity, or tune in to exclusive programming including concerts, album release parties and more. Works with a large number of devices: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Kindle, Windows and the web, along with many home devices including Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Sonos, Xbox video game consoles and more. (iheartradio.com; free)

SiriusXM Internet Radio

Along with SiriusXM’s satellite radio service, there’s also the slick SiriusXM Internet Radio for web browsers (on a PC or Mac) and iOS/Android apps for phones and tablets. Access a ton of on-demand and exclusive content, such as Howard Stern or Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure, along with streaming music from multiple genres with DVR-like functionality. The “Tune Start” option plays songs from the beginning of the track when you land on a new station — instead of catching it in the middle or near the end. MySXM lets you tweak the kind of music you want to hear on some channels, such as more rock or more hip-hop in your pop music. (siriusxm.com; from $14.99/month for satellite service, plus $4/month for Internet Radio)

Google Play Music

Discover, play and share ad-free music on multiple devices — including smartphones, tablets and the web. The free account lets you access roughly 20 million tracks. You can upload up to 20,000 of your own songs, access them across all devicesand even save your favorites for offline playback. (music.google.com; free for Standard account, or $9.99/month for All Access with no skip limits, customized playlists and smart recommendations)

TuneIn Radio

Available for multiple mobile devices, computers and Smart TVs, the free TuneIn Radio gives you access to more than 100,000 radio stations from around the world as well as online-only stations and more than four million podcasts. Search for music by country or genre including news, talk, comedy, sports and old-time radio dramas. A “Pro” version for iOS and Android lets you record audio to listen to later. (tunein.com; free for basic service or $9.99 for “Pro” version)■

— Gannett

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