Music Unlimited vs Rdio: a Paid Streaming Music Battle

A few weeks ago Sony introduced Music Unlimited and gave PSN members a free month of the service (Music Unlimited appears on the XMB of the PS3, as well as on the web). A week or so later, Rdio & Roku announced a partnership that put a Rdio channel on the Roku. Rdio is also on the web as well as mobile devices.

Over the past few years I’d sort of gotten out of the habit of listening to music but I figured a free trial is a free trial and pretty soon my love of music was reborn. Now in the past I’d generally go to Pandora if I wanted some random tune to flood my ears, but both Rdio and Music Unlimited let you search for a specific song to play. Both cost about $10/month for the whole enchilada (and both offer a slightly crippled service for about half that).

I paid for a month of Rdio to test it, and I’m still on my free month of Music Unlimited. There’s no way I’ll subscribe to both services but I’m pretty sure I’ll do one or the other. And I’m having a hard time deciding which to go with.

Music Unlimited offers Channels which are pretty nice, if a bit similar to Pandora. So you can listen to a channel based on era (50s, 60s, 70s, etc) or mood (Energetic, Dance, Morning, etc) or Genre (Jazz, Rock, R&B, etc) or choose a Premium Station (not available on the $5/month plan). Premium channels are things like Hot Songs, Global Top 100 and so forth. I tend to stick to Era or Genre. The Top 100 lists are filled with songs I don’t like…

You can also create playlists or, as mentioned, search for a particular artist/song. If you search for an artist you can pick an album or a song to listen to.

You can Like/Dislike songs, or add them to your collection. It’s not clear to me what this accomplishes, if anything. On the home page there’s a “You might like” recommendation engine but it shows songs that I’ve Disliked, and the selections change infrequently. I wish this bit was a lot better because I’m open to finding new artists.

Rdio, on the other hand, is heavily social. The idea is that you Follow people and then Rdio composes a play list based on “heavy rotation” of your songs, your network’s songs, or all of Rdio’s songs. This is awesome in theory but in practice…I don’t have anyone to follow with musical tastes similar to mine. I know lots of folk on Twitter but generally speaking they’re from a different generation, assuming any of them are on Rdio (only 1 or 2 are).

Rdio doesn’t have any pre-generated play lists other than the heavy rotation stuff, so if I’m busy I can’t just click a button and start listening to music; I need to stop and think about what I want to hear. (Hmm, I just found a button to create a ‘radio station’ based on an artist. Will have to check that out.)

Rdio also offers artist or song search with the added benefit of offering you some data about the artist or a review of an album or something along those lines. Album liner notes for the internet, I guess.

But Rdio works on my Droid, and in fact you can download songs to your phone (Android and iPhone, at the least, are supported…maybe others too) so you can save on bandwidth. There’s also an Air desktop application that’ll run on Windows or Mac, and as mentioned Rdio plays through the Roku.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to explicitly Like or Dislike a song on Rdio.

Cost of the two services is a wash, music libraries seem about the same. Both do play lists, both will read your existing desktop music collection to jumpstart your streaming collection (neither uploads songs, they just pluck titles out of their overall collection and add them to your personal collection).

What I really want is a service that will allow me to Like or Dislike songs and create recommendations based loosely on what I listen to, tempered by my explicit Likes and Dislikes. Which sounds suspiciously like Pandora, doesn’t it? But I also want to say, like I just did, “I want to listen to The Best of Herman’s Hermits” [wow were songs short back then!] and have just HH play, not songs similar in tonality or however Pandora does it.

Having the service on mobile devices is nice but not something I’d use very often. In the car I listen to podcasts, not music, and when I’m walking around I tend not to listen to anything. 99% of my music listeningis done in front of a computer or on the home stereo, so Music Unlimited on the PS3 or Rdio on the Roku are both really nice options.

Anyway…would welcome input. I know there are a lot of other services out there: is there something better/cheaper than these two?