Bottom Line: Hands down, bar none, the best on-demand Internet radio service I have ever used. And, even if I don't mention them here, I have, for all intents and purposes, used them all. Rdio -- the perfect complement (and compliment) to Pandora.
What's It Good For: Put simply, for better or worse, Rdio eliminates the need for a purchased music collection.
This piece from May -- Music Industry Should Worry About Rdio, Not Pandora -- adds color to that statement. More recently, Downloads Die, Apple Lives, Music Industry Suffers expands on the subject.
Everything at Rdio -- or at least everything should -- revolves around your "collection."
You can search for what you want to hear on Rdio or use other sections of the platform, such as "Heavy Rotation," "Top Charts," "New Releases" or what's trending among people in your network, to find music. One click. Clear interface. And, most importantly, it's easy to add either a single song or an entire album to your collection. And it's all stored and synced across devices.
From there, you can play individual tracks, listen to albums, listen to a particular artist or play a station based on your collection. Depending on what you tell Rdio (powered by Echo Nest) to do, it will only serve you songs that are in your collection during this mix or you can instruct it to add some stuff you don't "own" on a spectrum that begins with "in collection" and ends at "adventurous."
I can't tell you how many times Pandora serves me a song by a artist I am unfamiliar with (or I want to hear more of), triggering me to head to Rdio to hear more. It's the perfect 1-2 punch and drives home the notion of nuance and distinction between Internet radio services. I probably spend about 45% of my listening time shuffling my growing Rdio collection, 45% on my Pandora shuffle and the remaining 10% with other services.
Cost is $36 a year for commercial-free Pandora and $9.99 a month for Rdio -- it's easily the best bargain in entertainment. $155.88. That beats the heck out of the hundreds, if not thousands, I would spend buying music.
At first, it pained me to say that. It made me feel like I was ripping off musicians. But that's simply not the case. As I explain at many of the links throughout this article, particularly this one, the potential for artists to get exposed, succeed and earn money has never been bigger than it is in the Internet radio era. And it's only getting bigger.
Why You Might Think It Sucks: Probably because it requires greater scale to survive, Rdio doesn't focus as much as I would like on the notion of the user's collection. When you slide Rdio's music discovery lever closer to adventurous, the experience turns almost unlistenable. In fact, it might be worse than Apple's.
The best analogy I can come up with -- you tell your significant other you would like to spice things up in the bedroom. She (or he) agrees. The next day you show up with the hot girl (or guy) from the office wrapped in a bow. Music discovery, if not done with the level of thoughtfulness Pandora puts into it, can backfire on the Internet radio service and, worse yet, the stunned and unsettled end user.
To be a great Internet radio service, Rdio doesn't need to go here. However, to build scale and survive, it might feel as if it has to. The company just hired a new CEO, a former Amazon.com (AMZN) and Microsoft (MSFT) executive. I plan to get in touch to see where Rdio goes from here.
Platform Observations: Of all Internet radio I have used, including Pandora, Rdio's mobile and desktop environments are the best. Check them out for yourself. Just the right amount of user control and social media features. Simple to navigate. Pretty much the opposite of Spotify.
Rdio on Roku is another story. It works. Just not as well. Several bugs and limitations persist that drive me slightly crazy. For instance, you can't shuffle your entire collection from the collection tab on the Roku. You have to go to your history (which only loads half the time) and play what feels like an abbreviated version of your collection from there.
Additional Thoughts: Nitpicking here (and I apologize if this already exists and I just missed how to make it happen), but it would be swell if, after adding an entire album to your collection, you could easily go back and delete individual songs as you move through the LP.