Rdio Review: Music Streaming in Canada

Rdio for iPhone
Rdio for iPhone

I don’t remember the last time I bought a CD. In fact, I never did get around to unpacking my CD and DVD collection after my last move. I’ve been building my iTunes library for years and haven’t given much thought to all of those scratched discs collecting dust in my basement.

My music and movies are dumped on an external hard drive that is shared on my network so I can access the files from my game consoles and stereos that are scattered around my house. I never have to go hunting for a lost CD as my entire library is instantly accessible from every stereo in my house.

I’ve enjoyed the convenience of this setup for many years and don’t miss the days of having my CDs stolen from my car every few months.

So, if you’re not a vinyl collector, chances are that you haven’t stepped foot in a record store in years and have become quite skilled at navigating torrent sites for the albums you crave.

So why start paying for music now?

2011 is the year that music streaming services got huge. UK darling Spotify expanded to the US and Google Music and iTunes Match both launched to US audiences. You may have noticed that all of these services are not available in Canada. If you’re a Netflix subscriber and have any American friends who also use the service, you’ll know that our selection pales in comparison because distribution rights must be acquired in each region making it difficult for these services to expand internationally.

Fortunately, Spotify’s biggest competitor Rdio is available in Canada. Rdio is an all-you-can-eat music streaming service where you can listen to any and all of the service’s 9 billion songs for a small monthly fee. $4.99/month gets you unlimited streaming from your web browser and their Mac and Windows apps while $9.99/month let’s you take Rdio on the road with mobile and offline support through their iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry apps. The pricing falls in line with what most competitors in this space seem to be charging.

With all the hype these services are getting I thought I would give Rdio a try as they offer a 7 day free trial.

Rdio for Mac
Rdio for Mac

Signing up with Rdio was a lot like the first time you launch a new iPhone app. It asked to connect to my Facebook and Twitter accounts to pull in any friends already on the service and then presented a list of recommended users for me to follow. The cool thing was that these were publications and record labels like Pitchfork, Exclaim, Polaris, Sub Pop and CBC Radio 3. I could check out all the songs they were listening to and the playlists they made available which work kind of like a public mix-tape or compilation CD.

Before listening to any music I downloaded their Mac app which starts by scanning your iTunes library and matches the songs on your computer with those on Rdio. It matched up about 80% of my library and added them to my Rdio account.

I started by listening to a few favourite albums and they sounded as great and loaded as fast as if I was playing them directly from my computer. In fact, many albums sounded better as songs on Rdio are streamed at 256kbps which is better quality than many of my old MP3s that I had ripped from CD.

Impressed with their desktop client, I downloaded Rdio’s iPhone app and took a spin in my car. The sound quality was just as great over 3G and even survived a road trip to Regina without skipping a beat. Rdio will eat up your data plan quite fast when streaming over 3G for any length of time so you can sync songs to your device for offline play, which I highly recommend doing for your favourite albums. I’ve since removed all music synced through iTunes from my iPhone and have them downloaded through Rdio instead.

To get Rdio to play through my stereos at home I use the iPhone’s AirPlay feature to connect it up to the Apple TV in my basement and to my AirPort Express that’s connected to the old stereo in my living room. With this setup I can have the same song playing in every room of my house that’s controlled from a single device in my pocket. If you’re not an Apple fanboy and want to make things really simple, you can just plug an auxiliary cable into your device’s headphone jack and plug that into your stereo.

Rdio for iPad
Rdio for iPad

Geeky stereo setups aside, we still haven’t addressed why we would want to start paying for music when we’ve been downloading it free for years…

No matter the size of your current music library, after subscribing to Rdio for a few months I’ve found that it’s true value is all of the music that you are NOT listening to.

When a friend would recommend a band to me, I would typically make a mental note of it and then once in a blue moon I would try to remember all of these awesome bands and spend an evening downloading their albums. Now when a friend recommends a band to me, I just fire up Rdio’s iPhone app and add them to my collection in seconds.

That convenience is worth $9.99/month to me.

Have you ever wanted to swap your entire music library with a friend? Instead of lugging your computer over to their house you can just view their Rdio profile and add any of their albums to your collection.

Rdio’s library of 9 billion songs will also impress even your most hipster of friends. I’ve had friends shout out obscure band after obscure band trying to stump Rdio, but more often than not they’ll be on there. Indie music fans will love their selection.

While I consider Netflix to be a supplement to my existing movie library, Rdio nearly replaces my iTunes library and has changed how I consume music.

The service is not perfect. There will be bands that aren’t on Rdio or albums that are available to US subscribers but not to Canadians. The iPhone app is also missing a critical feature — a shuffle button.

Flaws withstanding, Rdio is an amazing music discovery tool and well worth the subscription cost for its convenience.

If you are interested in checking out Rdio, please click here to sign up for your 7 day free trial or using any of the links above so they know we sent ya!