Streaming quality music from cloud

Streaming quality music from cloud

Gone is the heyday of the vinyl record. The cassette tape is all but forgotten. Even the CD is losing its relevance; my children are amused by the idea that a little silver disc has music on it.

All of these sound storage systems are disappearing because of the rise of digital music files and the iPod. But today, the rise of wirelessly connected smartphones and tablets has brought a new way to listen to digitally stored music: streamed from a cloud-technology music service, via an app.

Pandora and Spotify are two apps that get all the attention in this digital streaming radio era, but what if you want to try a different one? There are plenty.

TuneIn Radio Pro ($1 on iOS and Android) is one of the cleverest of these apps. It’s got a very clear interface. Users will mainly focus on the app’s “browse” section, where there is a list of categories of online radio music sources, from local radio to popular “trending” stations alongside categories for talk, music or sports.

Tapping on “music,” for example, takes you to a subcategory list of types of music, and each of these then takes you to a relevant online radio station. You can also search by name for radio stations, shows, songs or artists.

When you’re listening to the radio, the app displays graphics like album covers and other data. If you wish, you can record the audio to play back later inside the app. It’s also clever enough to recommend similar music.

With a tap of an icon you can share music info over Facebook, Twitter or email. I love the app’s ability to find something to listen to based on language – it’s a boon for learning a new one, and it’s great for finding global music that may be different from your usual favorites.

While the app’s “recommended” system does a pretty good job of suggesting stations to listen to based on your previous music choices, it’s not quite as handy as having it concoct a playlist of songs for you.

Rdio (free on iOS and Android) is another streaming app organized in a different way using a very different user interface. It requires a monthly fee because instead of connecting you to free online radio services, it’s simply a vast database of tracks stored by the company. This is its strength: acting like a huge iPod with an amazingly broad array of tracks.

The app tries to help with finding new music and offers you the option of seeing music in “heavy rotation,” which is a fabulous way to discover new music from an eclectic list, or a list of popular tracks or new content. The “recent activity” tab lists what Rdio users have been listening to recently. This system could let you find someone with similar tastes, and thus act as a way to finding even more great music.

When playing a track, Rdio’s interface is similar to TuneInRadio Pro’s, without the “sharing” options. It’s a powerful app, but though its interface is easy on the eye, navigating through it can be confusing. There is lots of swiping up and down among the app’s different sections, and then side-to-side swipes to get to settings or your playlists.
The Rdio service is also pretty expensive at $15 a month, although this does include unlimited access.

Shoutcast (free on iOS, and via WinAmp app on Android) is another “radio” style music app, with a minimalist-looking but easy to use interface. You can go with the app’s recommended radio stations, or search among stations that are grouped by category.

You can also search for a particular band or track, then click on the right radio station to listen to it. This can be an interesting experiment. For example, I found it amazing how many stations around the world were playing U2’s “I Will Follow” at the same time.

But the iOS app’s “favorites” facility, like the “recents” one, just lists radio stations, which may not help you remember the genre or track you were listening to that led you to that particular station in the first place. There’s no playlist power either.

Songza (free on iOS and Android) is a popular streaming music app akin to Rdio but with a simplified icon-driven interface similar to Shoutcast’s. As well as letting you “explore” to find music, Songza’s strength is its great “concierge” recommendation system based on mood.

For example, it groups music into such categories as “unwinding” or “a sweaty dance party.” The app then creates a playlist so you can simply leave it running. There’s a great social-sharing angle to this app, including publicly shared playlists, but though it looks wonderful and simple, with easy icons, its interface can be a little awkward to get through.

These apps will probably result in some music discovery for you; they’ve certainly led me to unfamiliar bands. But be aware when using them on the move, as they can eat up your mobile data fast.

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