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There are several different services that offer varying degrees of ability to personalize the music they send to you.

This article details the main choices open to you.

 
 
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Choosing Between Internet Radio Services

Pandora vs Last.fm vs Slacker vs 'the rest'
 

Pandora is becoming close to ubiquitous and can be listened to on many different devices, including the wonderful iPhone.

Other similar services also exist.

Part three of a three part series on intelligent interactive internet radio services; see also :

1.  An Introduction to intelligent interactive internet radio service
2.  Creating your own personalized music streams
3.  Specific services reviewed

 

 

So which of the various different internet 'radio' services, all of which offer similar types of personalization of the music they send to you, should you select?  How do you choose between Pandora, Last.fm, Slacker, and the various other personalized music streaming services?

Actually, these are partially a trick question.  With most of the services having good free options, there's not necessarily a need to choose only one.  And with no clear 'deal maker/breaker' feature that any of the services have or don't have compared to their competitors, your choice may end up being subjective and personal, perhaps based on the range of music available in your chosen genre.

One other issue is the type of players that you want to listen to the music on, and which services are supported on the players you have.

A Range of Choices, All Fairly Similar

There would seem to be three major choices of personalized internet music streaming services, plus a number of smaller or 'up and coming' alternatives.

In addition to the three main choices - which we chose based on our own US location - there are also regional services that operate primarily in other parts of the world that may present better local choices.

Our three recommended services are :

The chances are that all you'll ever need is available from one or all of these 'big three', and they all offer a range of devices that their music can be played on, in addition to a basic program that runs on your computer.

Two differing approaches

Pandora bases the music it sends you on finding music that is stylistically similar to music you have already told it you like.

The other services send you music that other people who like the music you like also like.

These are two different approaches.  Which is better?  Opinions differ on this and there's no clear consensus, and I'm certainly not going to take a position.  Suffice it to say that akin to the concept of 'All roads lead to Rome' it is probable that the two different approaches will end up with similar results.  If you're very picky about your music, or if you have esoteric rather than mainstream tastes, you'll probably notice more of a difference and in that case we'd recommend you try both Pandora and perhaps Last.fm, but if you're more mainstream, chances are you'll be satisfied with either approach.

Freeing your music from your computer

We feel that the ability to enjoy the music free of the ties of your computer is an important plus to consider.

Other services to have a look at, if you don't find yourself compellingly drawn to any/all of the 'big three' would include (in no particular order) Blip.fm, Grooveshark, Jango, Radionomy and Orb.

Things to Consider When Evaluating Music Services

Perhaps the most obvious issue - cost - is happily one of the least important, because all three services give good music streaming for free, and if you want their 'best' and fullest featured option, you're likely only paying $3 or $4 a month.

Some of the other issues are harder to exactly understand, such as the sound quality of the music streamed.  Only Pandora details the quality of its music streams, but it is fair to guess that Pandora provides the best quality music streaming (with its 192 kbps $3/month service).  Depending on where and how you're listening to the music, this slight quality improvement over the other two services may or may not be noticeable or relevant.

The best idea is to try each service and see which you like the most.  We'd probably suggest you try Pandora to start with - it has a very easy interface and provides a great service, and is the least aggressively 'commercial' of the three services.  It is also one of the more ubiquitous services, being available on a good range of players.

If you like Pandora, perhaps there's no need to even stray away from it to try the other two.

Comparison Table of the Three Major Services

 

Pandora

Last.FM

Slacker

Basic concept

Creates music streams based on your musical likes and dislikes

Creates music streams based on music you've listened to before and have on your hard drives

Predefined stations with groupings of music, allows some customization and skipping.

Some devices allow you to preload music for future offline playing.

Multiple personal stations

Up to 100

A number of predefined types of station plus extras you can add

Lots but semi-customized and semi-standard

How many skips/hr

6 per station

No apparent limit

6 per station

How many skips/day

12 on free service
Unlimited with $3/month service

No apparent limit

Unlimited with $4/month service

Replay songs

No

No

No

How many hours

40/month for free service
Unlimited with 99c and $3/month services

No apparent limit

No apparent limit

Programming restrictions

No more than 4 songs per artist per 3hr period

Cannot limit programming to only named artists and songs

Not disclosed

Not disclosed, but the stations are not as completely flexible as with Pandora

Can play specific songs as often as you like with $4/month service

Size of music library

as of Oct 09 'well over half a million' tracks, and adding over 15,000 more tracks each month

Not disclosed

Not disclosed, seems to be primarily popular type music, very little classical

Share stations with friends

Yes

Yes

Yes

Voice Advertising

No

No

Yes on free
No on $4/month service

Bandwidth

128 kbps for free service
192 kbps for $3/month service
Possibly slower on mobile phones

Not disclosed

Not disclosed

Logitech

Yes

Yes

Yes

Sonos

Yes

Yes

No

iPhone

Yes

Yes

Yes

Other phones

Various from Android, Blackberry, Palm Pre and Windows Mobile

Android

Blackberry

Other devices

various

 

various including their own branded player and Sony Video Walkman

Worldwide coverage

US only

Free in US, UK and Germany.  €3/month elsewhere.

Not disclosed

 

Summary

The 'under the hood' processes used by these services to create the personalized music streams for you are perhaps not as important as the reality of the music they send to you.

Any and all of them offer an entirely new method of music listening, and we recommend you try at least one of them.

Part three of a three part series on intelligent interactive internet radio services; see also :

1.  An Introduction to intelligent interactive internet radio service
2.  Creating your own personalized music streams
3.  Specific services reviewed

FTC Mandatory Disclosure : I was not given any of the products written about on this page by their manufacturers. I have not been paid money to write this article.

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 23 October 2009, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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