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In the 1930s, music while driving a vehicle was limited to AM radio. By the 1950s, there was FM radio and then later on the compact cassette player in the 1960s and 1970s. It was only in 1985 that CD players were installed in cars and as the years progressed, multiple technologies began to emerge improving the in-car entertainment system for vehicles. Today not only can you stream music while in your car, you can have features like hands-free calling, GPS, and voice-controlled digital audio playback, and live radio. Of late, live radio – or streaming music – has become the preferred choice by many.
What is Live Radio?
Live radio is a service that allows access to music and radio stations across the globe. It’s even possible to customize your live radio and tap into on-demand content from. On-demand music streaming has been described as the technology that is changing the music industry. Instead of having to buy albums or CDs, one can select the songs they like from a provider’s list of songs.
There are both paid and free apps that offer music streaming. The main differences between paid and free streaming are the advertisements sprinkled in between tracks, access to the comments section, and the available song selection. Initially, the reaction from skeptics about streaming was that it would kill the music industry but every year that goes by, streaming music increases in popularity and is boosting the music industry.
According to American broadcast journalist, Hari Sreenivasan, when Apple joined the on-demand music category with iTunes, they successfully “unbundled the album” and the individual song ruled the industry. In addition, indie music artists were able to launch their careers and become successful much easier than in the past. Furthermore, listeners were empowered and began to remix tunes and create their own playlists.
When Nielsen released their 2015 Music Year-End report, over 317 billion songs were streamed; a 92.8% increase from the previous year. According to Rovi Corp, a leading US company engaged in digital technology solutions, today 6 out of 10 consumers worldwide stream content while driving or while on the road as a passenger. Streaming in cars, both audio and video, is easier now because of Wi-Fi access, seamless smartphone pairing, and self-drive cars.
Today's Best Internet Radio Services
As of 2014, there were 102 streaming services charging anywhere from nothing at all to $10 a month. In 2016, streaming became more popular than downloading music not only because of convenience but also because the quality of the audio has improved by leaps and bounds.
Five of the best Internet radio services today are Pandora, Apple Music/ iTunes Radio, Spotify, Slacker Radio, and Tune In. The reasons for the success of these apps are explained in detail below.
What These 5 Best Streaming Radio Apps Have In Common
Call them online song lockers with on-demand music. Except for TuneIn Radio which does not allow you to create your own customized song selection, all of the apps on this list allow you to pick the artists and genre to listen to.
As 5 of the best streaming music apps, you can be limited with commands. For instance, there is no rewind, fast forward, or repeat. You can skip through a song or pause a song. Also, depending on the subscription you choose, you have a daily maximum number of tracks. Some people love live radio because you can use it without having to pay a monthly fee and you can personalize your song list.
Operated by Pandora Media Inc, this is one of the best streaming radio services today and is powered by Music Genome Project. Music Genome Project is a system that can analyze music sounds in order to offer more of the kind of music you like to listen to. You will have to download the Pandora software or access it online through a web browser. It is your classic radio service that lets you choose the type of music you want to listen to. In terms of awareness, this app is known by 70% of those who use music streaming apps and claims to have over 75 million users.
The history of Pandora began in 2000 as Savage Beast Technologies. The concept of the 3 founders, Jon Kraft, Tim Westergren, and Will Glaser was to create an individualized radio station with good music. Their initial 2 million investment capital quickly ran out but they somehow managed to continue operating for two years without paying their employees. By 2013, Pandora had over 200 million users and became known as the best Internet radio in the country with 70% market share. Last year, more than 50 billion people approved of the songs played on Pandora.
Some of the top features of Pandora include:
- Allowing you to type in the genre, song, album or artist you like and then plays songs based on your choices.
- 14 years of experience in honing their product and ironing out the kinks
- High quality of its streaming service.
Pandora US offers a free subscription but the service is often interrupted with ads between songs, which can be distracting. For an ad-free option, you can subscribe to its 192Kbps Premium Plan, Pandora One, for $4.99 monthly or $36 per annum which also allows you to skip tunes: 6 per hour per station, 24 skips for all stations but unlimited skips a day. Pandora One lets you play music continuously for 5 hours after which it pauses for a brief period – just like the break common with live band music. You will also enjoy the background information provided on every artist. To use Pandora, you will need either an Android, iOS, Playstation, Xbox, computer, or Windows Phone.
On the downside, compared to other services, Pandora has fewer songs to choose from thus there is a tendency for frequent repeats of your favorite genre. This service also does not offer offline listening. In fine-tuning your radio station, you will be asked to provide feedback for its system to understand your preferences in music. Fortunately, you are allowed to “shelf” songs that come into your station.
Pandora is only available in the US, New Zealand, and Australia.
Apple Music/iTunes Radio
In 2003, Apple launched its hybrid iTunes Store and it became the hottest go-to place for the best streaming music. Then, in 2015, Apple introduced Apple Music during the Worldwide Developer’s Conference as the best bet to compete with other top streaming services. Apple Music offers both live radio and Internet radio. Some of the changes that came with Apple Music include being able to browse radio stations or create your own and new stations like Mixtape and On The Floor dance hits. Apple Music/iTunes also has One Click Purchase, AirPlay (offline listening), curated DJ stations called Beats 1. Beats 1 is a live, all-day, all-night radio station hosted by top 250 DJs in LA, New York, and London. The DJs pick the songs to play. Users cannot skip tracks because it’s live radio but they can save songs. Beats 1 also features chat segments with real-time discussions and interviews.
Apple Music features include:
- A large number of song tracks in its catalogue – approximately 27 million tracks
- Requests for a song to be banned from your playlist
- Being able to add songs to your Wish List if you want to buy listening rights at a later date
- Sharing your music using your email or Facebook accounts
Unfortunately, if you do not have an Apple device- iPad or iPhone, you cannot use Apple Music. There is a rumor that Apple Music will be made available to Android users but this has yet to be confirmed. In using this service, you cannot rewind or repeat songs but you can skip songs. You are allowed a maximum of 6 skips an hour. The free subscription comes with the usual ads which you can avoid if you subscribe to their $24.99/annum plan. An added feature on the paid plan includes on-demand streaming.
One of the best features of Apple Music is the user-friendliness. It‘s like a plug-and-play with no setup required for its pre-created radio stations. It can get complicated though once you decide to create your own station/list because the app has complexities that are not very easy to navigate through.
A common critique of Apple Music is that it mimics Pandora because of similar features but like everything that comes out of Apple, there is always that sense of being on the edge of something new as the company is known for being innovative. For now, Apple Music appears to be one of the popular “new kid on the block” but lacks the years of experience of Pandora and other long-standing live radio apps.
iTunes Radio is currently only available in the US and Australia and currently has around 20 million subscribers.
Often called the best Internet radio of 2016, Spotify is an on-demand app and current darling of the music-loving consumer. In 2014, it won Product of the Year Award and became the best music streaming service because of its ad-supported free subscription service, $10 monthly fee, and mobile-friendly service.
Among its notable features are its:
- Wide catalogue of great selections
- User-friendly interface
- Excellent connectivity
- Quality platform support system.
Spotify burst into the music scene in 2008 and has become a byword in music streaming ever since. Some say the branding is the reason behind its success while others say it is because it has exclusive rights to many top songs. The Spotify catalogue has more than 30 million tracks with a company motto of “music for everyone.”
This London-based Swedish company, Spotify Ltd., uses a freemium model offering two options: Spotify Free and its paid 320 Kbps Spotify Premium which costs $9.99 monthly. The paid subscription has no ads, offline listening, and improved audio quality. As of March 2016, Spotify has over 30 million Premium subscribers and has faced a fierce face-off with artists who complain about not getting their proper compensation for the downloads and streaming service. Two of these artists are Taylor Swift and Thom Yorke who pulled most of their songs from the app’s free plan.
One of the reasons for the huge success of Spotify is its social element wherein users can network with friends to share, collaborate, and listen to music together. Plus, the app offers a privacy feature which can keep certain songs secret to everyone but the subscriber.
Other features of Spotify include:
- Podcasts, video, and music streaming of digital rights management protected tracks
- Your Music which is where you can store all your favorite tracks
- Allows you to synch your playlist with your mobile phone
- Context-based playlists
- Spotify Running which is a special mode that helps you customize your playlists
- Spotify Originals which introduces exclusive tracks and radio shows
- Spotify Connect so you can use it on different platforms like Onkyo, Samsung, LG, Sony, Yamaha, PS3 and PS4
On the downside, Spotify updates are only available on iPhones and you are limited to the usual 6 skips an hour (only on the free version). The free plan’s audio quality is at a low 160 Kbps and you will need to be connected to the Internet to use the app.
Spotify is available in many countries including Western Europe, Oceania, Asia, the US, Canada and other South American nations. It is available on Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, TiVO, webOS, and iOS among others.
Available on in the United States and Canada, Slacker Radio is immensely popular because of its interface and function. It has been described as a “truly innovative music experience” with over 300 curated music stations, non-music content like sports and news, and on-demand streaming.
Slacker radio was launched in 2007 by Dennis Mudd (formerly of MusicMatch) and Celite Milbrandt but was founded in 2004. It has agreements with EMI, Warner, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, and Universal as well as many Indie labels. It now has around 26 million subscribers.
It has its own Portable Player which allows subscribers to listen to Internet radio and save songs on a playlist. The company has been consistent in upgrading its service and prides itself on being a “human-powered radio.” This means it does not rely on algorithms to help subscribers create their playlists but puts the power in the hands of the subscribers and music fans.
Slacker Radio has a choice of free or paid Premium plan. With the free service, you have to endure the ads and limited skips. For $3.99 monthly, you get the Radio Plus while for $9.99 you gain access to the Slacker Premium plan lets you create your playlist, removes the ads, on-demand streaming, and offers offline caching. Both paid plans have unlimited skips. You also have the option of turning down tunes you don’t want to listen to or favor the ones for repeats on your playlist.
Some of the top features of this best Internet radio include:
- Android Auto which lets you use it while driving or riding your car
- No fuss streaming and unlimited skips on the Premium plan
- 13 million tracks
- Audio blurbs to explain and give more information on tracks
- Special stations like Artist Takeover, Goes to 11, Ranked, and I am the DJ where popular
- personalities take charge and become DJs or hosts,
- Sliders for fine-tuning your playlists
On the downside, the number of commercials on the free version borders intense. In addition, the slider does not prevent the radio from overplaying certain songs however you are allowed to replay songs. More seriously, Slacker has had a few complaints with its connectivity and crashes however the company has released updates to fix the issues.
TuneIn Radio is a private company based in San Francisco and started as RadioTime in 2002. As of 2014, it claims to have more than 50 million active users and over 100,000 radio stations with 4 million on-demand podcasts and on-demand programs. You have access not just to local radio stations, but stations from around the world. With the app, you get a preview of what’s being played on every station or what’s on the day’s docket for each station which saves you a lot of wasted time browsing through its catalogue.
Some of the top features of TuneIn live radio include:
- Excellent cataloging of its tracks and podcasts
- Access to your favorite global radio stations
- 2 million podcasts, shows, and concerts
- Provides introduction to each content
Offers access to CNN, ESPN Radio, WTF, CBS Radio, TED, and several others
TuneIn can be used on Android, iOS, Samsung, Windows Phone, Blackberry, or through the app’s website. It has free and paid options. The free version has the usual ads while the TuneIn Pro which costs a one-time fee of $9.99 allows you to remove ads from the app (not from the radio shows) and record content if you can’t listen to it in real time.
With more than 40 million subscribers, TuneIn is great if you want access to international radio shows. Unfortunately, the quality is not consistent as is connectivity. Also, because of the large number of stations, precision in music selection is rather difficult so you can expect to be tempted to change stations every so often – just because there’s so many to choose from.
Of these 5 best streaming music, the top pick would ultimately depend on what your personal preferences are:
If you want exclusivity and bragging rights, go with Apple Music/iTunes because its subscribers are limited to users of the highly regarded, upscale Apple products.
If you want global access, TuneIn Radio is the best international streaming radio to use and you get more than music. You have access to sports and news updates from respective media channels.
If you want to be among the youth and young adults, Spotify is simply unbeatable. It’s lower-priced, has access to on-demand music of all types and offers social media sharing.
If you want special live shows, Slacker Radio is the best live radio where you get to listen to celebrities and popular figures chat up on their favorite music, news and what-have-you topics for the day.
If you just want to listen to your favorite songs and let an algorithm create your playlist, then use the Music Genome Project of Pandora.
Certainly, each of these best Internet radio options has stood the test of continuous use from multiple reviewers and experts. They consistently land in the top choices of music lovers whether they are young or young-at-heart.