I have been using both Spotify and Rdio for quite some time now. Following the recent rumors that Spotify will launch in the U.S. this year, I felt like writing a detailed comparison between the two products based on my experience so far.

While broadly speaking the business model is the same, my impression is that the general approach of both companies is quite different (I am friends with the founders of both companies and a small investor in Rdio but I hope this does not affect the objectivity of my post).  Rdio seems to have built a music streaming service around a social networking core. Spotify’s core is music streaming, offering social features on top. You notice the difference at once when you log into the desktop application. Spotify’s home screen shows you new releases and a news feed that combines information from Spotify with activity in Facebook. On the left side you can immediately access your playlists and start listening. Log in to Rdio on the other hand, and almost everything you see is based on the activity of your social network in Rdio. You see the songs that have the most “heavy rotation” in your network, you have a feed of recent activities of your network and you see the artists that are most popular among your network. What Rdio tries to do is create your own music listening community very much like Runkeeper creates your sports community.

In general, Rdio has a much more social graph feel than Spotify. You can follow friends and other people Twitter-style, find friends with whom you are connected on existing networks (like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, etc.), get recommendations for people and influencers to follow and find out more about your own followers or the network of people you are following. It’s also possible to see which users have been listening to specific artists, albums or even songs. And you can write your own reviews on an album and artist level. You can also see how often a specific song has been played, and you can browse through other people’s libraries or playlists based on certain songs/artists/albums they have in their collection. Rdio’s charts also integrate some of these features and feel more complete than Spotify’s. All of this is really great for discovering new music provided that you actually have a network of friends in Rdio which is what so far is lacking because of the relatively small size of the community compared to Spotify.  Now this is the case in the countries in which Spotify is active. But in USA Rdio has an advantage over Spotify which has not launched there yet.

Spotify is much more like iTunes.  From the above list of features, Spotify only supports Facebook integration and users can only subscribe to individual playlists, but they cannot follow other users like as they can with Rdio. I read somewhere that Spotify is much more “track-oriented” than Rdio, and I agree. Your search results consist of a long list of individual tracks, also if you search for an artist. Rdio arranges search results into four categories: artists, albums, songs and playlists, and people. This is neat, but also more time-consuming if you know what you’re looking for and just want music to start playing right away. Spotify is much more no-frills, but more intuitive and way faster.

In terms of speed I found Rdio to be rather slow and unresponsive. It’s possible that this happens to me because I am in Europe, where Rdio is officially not yet available. But for whatever reason this interferes with the music listening experience. On average, it took about 5-10 seconds for a song to start streaming. This also happened when navigating through the desktop app, which uses Adobe Air and is web-based. Spotify’s proprietary P2P software is a huge difference. Everything is basically instant, there is no noticeable delay between the time you click on a song and it actually starts playing (when streaming). Also scrolling through a song feels like having it on your hard drive.

Check out this detailed comparison between the iOS apps of Rdio and Spotify. I prefer Spotify, but as with most things this boils down to a matter of taste. If you have Shazam on your iPhone or Android, you can now also play found songs directly by hitting the “play with Spotify” button.

What’s really cool and useful is that Spotify now allows you to manage your iPod directly (but not the iPod touch), bypassing iTunes entirely. And even users of the free app (see the embedded spreadsheet below) can now use the mobile apps, but only with tracks they actually own (no streaming).

Importing your existing tracks is a huge advantage of Spotify: you can add your own tracks to the player, even if they are not in the Spotify catalogue. As mentioned above, you can then sync them easily to your mobile device (over the cloud) and listen to them anywhere, also being offline. Spotify supports many different music formats and can also complete missing track information automatically, due to a partnership with Gracenote. Rdio can only match your iTunes collection, and if they don’t have the rights for a song you can’t listen to it with Rdio.

Spotify wants to replace all your existing music players. And for me, it does. I can have all my music in one place, everything is synced over the cloud with any device I might use, and it’s super easy. In addition, the audio quality of Spotify is great, especially if you have subscribed to the Premium service (up to 320kbps). There have been some complaints about Rdio’s audio quality, but I didn’t experience any problems in this regard. Another advantage of Spotify’s longer existence and large following are the many web goodies, which are resources/apps built around Spotify, like playlist sharing sites, remote control apps, music discovery, etc.

Conclusion: so far Spotify is clearly the better product. It has all the features you need, is super easy to use and very fast (no delay in streaming songs) and it can really replace your existing music players. You can import all your music files, even those that are not in the Spotify catalogue, and sync them to your mobile devices.

Maybe Rdio is simply overloaded with too many features that are nice to have, but not essential. Of course they will be more relevant as Rdio’s popularity increases and more of your peers start using the service. But for the time being you have everything you need in Spotify, and it’s super simple to understand and use. Considering the comparably late launch of Rdio, they nevertheless have achieved a lot. But Spotify is still better, at least for me. Another example of why simplicity wins.

Two thing’s I’d like to see in the future for both Rdio and Spotify are an equalizer (doesn’t have to be the full-blown thing, but it should include some presets) and of course a native iPad app.

Lastly I would like to say that Janus Friis is an amazing designer, the man behind Skype and a mighty rival for Daniel Ek, so while Spotify is the winner at this stage this could be a long tennis match with a different result in the next set to be played in USA.

Thanks Merten Wulfert for his help on this post.

Here’s a comparative spreadsheet which complements my post:

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My good friend Blake Krikorian just launched his most recent project – R2. It’s an Android app that allows you to control virtually anything that is connected via Crestron (the market leader in automation systems for buildings) in your home or office. How does it work? First of all you need to have a Crestron system installed, for example you could use it to control your lighting, shades, climate, audio, security, and so on. There are tens of thousands of devices and services that can be controlled with Crestron. Once you have downloaded and set up the R2 app, it will then allow you to manage any connected device/function from one place. R2 just needs an Android device and a WiFi or 3G connection. So if you’re sitting in your garden and feel like listening to some music, you just take out your Android phone or tablet and with a few taps turn on your home sound system. You can even control multiple buildings with this app.

R2 is a really useful and fun app. It’s comforting to know that you can control your house from basically anywhere. You could check if the alarm is turned on, switch on and off the lighting system, pre-heat the oven when you’re in a rush, or crank up the music during the day to get even with the annoying neighbor who always throws loud parties during the weekends 🙂

What’s also very smart is that R2 is compatible with Crestron’s existing iOS apps (Mobile Pro and Mobile Pro G), so it runs projects that were originally created for iOS devices, eliminating the need to rewrite the entire app. Crestron-authorized developers can also keep using their existing development tools, which saves them lots of time and will enable them to quickly develop new features that can take advantage of Android’s strengths.

Can’t wait to test this system in my house!

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