Head to Head: Spotify vs. Rdio

Brad Chacos

At first glance, Spotify and Rdio could be mirror images of one another. Both streaming services offer a catalog of on-demand songs from all the major music labels, both feature strong social media integration, and heck, each offers two tiers of premium subscriptions at matching dollar amounts. Dig down beneath the surface, however, and you’ll see that the devil’s in the details. So which Internet music service delivers the most bang for your buck? Let’s dive in and see!

Spotify's interface resembles Windows Media Player's or iTunes', but the free version includes advertisements.

New users are greeted by Rdio's social media features, rather than Rdio's song catalog.

Round 1: Music Selection

When it comes right down to it, the most important aspect of a streaming music service is the songs it offers. As we mentioned previously, both Rdio and Spotify enjoy song catalogs buoyed by participation from the major U.S. music labels, but one definitely outshines the other. Rdio features a 12 million‑song catalog, while Spotify tops that with a 15 million‑title library that includes almost everything you can think of—and it's adding thousands more on a daily basis. Plus, a lot of Spotify’s tracks come from indie labels, which could sway many on-the-fence listeners.

Winner: Spotify

Round 2: Pricing

Both services offer a similar structure for their premium content: The $5 plan unlocks unlimited, ad-free streaming, while moving to the $10 version opens up device support. The difference lies in their free plans. Rdio’s free model is ad-free, but limited to an unspecified number of tunes; Rdio wants users to treat it as a sampling rather than a free service. Spotify, on the other hand, recently announced that new users will get six months of unlimited free tunes in exchange for listening to a handful of ads; after the six-month mark, you’ll be limited to 10 free hours every month.

Winner: Spotify

Round 3: Flexibility

The similarities between Rdio and Spotify continue on the flexibility front. Both offer support for most of the major mobile phone operating systems. Spotify supports Symbian, while Rdio supports Blackberry. Both let you play music around the house on your Sonos system or a handful of other home audio devices, but to be honest, each service lacks the sheer device support of, say, Pandora or Slacker. Then there are the sign-up woes: Rdio’s limited free option may keep some folks away, while Spotify requires new users to have a Facebook account in order to sign up.

Winner: Tie

Round 4: Audio Quality

Making a call on audio quality is made more difficult by Rdio’s refusal to settle on a solid number: All the company will say is that it’s constantly tweaking the bitrate to achieve the best experience for listeners. Spotify’s audio quality is more concrete. It streams songs at 160Kb/s through the desktop client and either 160Kb/s or a lower-bandwidth 96Kb/s (user's choice) on mobile clients. The bitrate goes up to 320Kb/s with a Premium subscription or for those listening over a Sonos player. If you toss aside the numbers and actually listen to the two services, however, Rdio sounds much more crisp and clear.

Winner: Rdio

Round 5: Social Features

Rdio asks you to start following other Rdio users, “influencers,” or your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, or email before it even shows you a single track, and its dashboard shows recent activity that any Rdio subscriber has made. Plus, Rdio’s group playlist collaboration is awesome. Spotify gives users the ability to quickly and easily share playlists and songs on Facebook, Twitter, and Windows Messenger by simply right-clicking a track, and the service allows you to create HTTP and Spotify links that open specific tracks when they’re clicked. Both services can fully integrate with Facebook’s Open Graph.

Winner: Tie

And the Winner Is…

Rdio does a lot of things right; its desktop client features some of the best sounding tunes out there, and its social media integration is second to none and tied with only one. Unfortunately, that one is the one that matters in this particular contest: Spotify. While both services offer only average device support, Spotify’s gargantuan 15 million‑track song library—the biggest of any streaming music service—gives it the lead over Rdio, and its free, ad-supported plan delivers the knockout blow. Both services have their strong points, but when it comes down to spending your hard-earned dollars, Spotify gets the nod.

Winner: Spotify

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