Sunday, January 15, 2012

Spotify vs. MOG

Spotify was pretty much the best thing to happen to me in 2011. It allowed me to listen to music I'd always heard about but never had the chance to check out, and opened up a huge music library to me at work so that I no longer had to drag dozens of CDs into the office (or spend time at home dragging and dropping hundreds of files onto a thumb drive).

Once I upgraded to an iPhone, I was able to make playlists on Spotify that I could listen to at the gym or in my car. For only $9.99 a month, I was essentially able to eliminate the need to purchase music independently at record stores or on iTunes or Amazon. While I do lament the loss of the "record-buying experience," we are undeniably living in an age when content, especially music, is freely acquired and shared. A service like Spotify can work with artists to make the process mutually profitable, and eliminate the need for major companies, in the form of labels, to tell the consumer what they should like.

As a general audiophile myself, however, I will always appreciate going to a record store and purchasing albums on CD and vinyl, but I realize this is not something most people will continue to do. The industry and artists will adapt, I have no doubt.

Once I became fully immersed in Spotify and started telling everyone around me how it had changed my life, I began seeing notices on Facebook about so-and-so listening to music on MOG, and tech writers began promoting it as the best music-streaming service available. I decided to sign up for a two-week free trial and make my own decision. Though many other bloggers have done this review, I am going to come at it from my point-of-view as someone who loves music and listens to it in multiple settings. I've made my decision based on several criteria, which I will detail below, and attempt to explain why I am sticking with Spotify as my music service of choice. I'll be comparing the premium accounts of both services.

Criterion #1: Music Library

Both MOG and Spotify have vast catalogues. MOG advertises that it has 14 million songs in its library, while Spotify simply says "millions and millions" on its website, though Slate says that Spotify held 15 million tracks as of July 2011, and they say they add 10,000 new songs every day. Either way, both libraries are incredibly vast and include almost everything you could want. I emphasize "almost" because, despite having enough music that it would take someone 80 years to listen to it all back-to-back, there were still artists and songs that are not available on either.

In fact, one of the main reasons I wanted to check out MOG is to see if there were artists available there that I could not find on Spotify. Sure enough, MOG does have certain major artists that Spotify does not, including Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd. That being said, I own every Bob Dylan record already, so those type of distinctions are of little concern to me. Neither service currently has Drag City artists (so, no Will Oldham or Joanna Newsom), and they both have a problem with De La Soul as well, apparently.

I've read that MOG has a better catalog of classical music than does Spotify. Undoubtedly, individual listeners will have differing opinions on this matter based on their tastes. For me, both have immense libraries that I could never get through in a lifetime, so this one is a tie.

Advantage: Push.

Criterion #2: Online Experience

Spotify is available in a desktop application and its main draw is speed and ease of organizing playlists. I have dozens of playlists in Spotify, some of them to store albums, others of mixes that I've created for fun. These mixes can be private or published for other Spotify users to subscribe to. This is a huge benefit, as even online publications such as Pitchfork can make public playlists of their Best Songs of 2011, for example. I can subscribe to this playlist, listen to it anywhere, and see who else has also subscribed. I'm amazed at some of the great music I've discovered by clicking through the playlists of others.

MOG's primary mode is within the browser, but it's pretty sub-par, so I'll focus my attention on their desktop application. (The problem with the browser mode is that I can't pause and play from my keyboard as I can with a desktop app, and I have to do that fairly often at work.) MOG's desktop app is preferable, as it doesn't slow down as the browser player does when you're working on other things. (Listening to MOG at work while playing Words With Friends is a no-go...not that I do that.)

The problem with MOG's experience is that you can only play from the "Play Queue" and searching for other music, you'll often click over and start playing something else when you didn't mean to. In MOG, I'm not even sure why playlists exist, because you can't play from them. I've tried many times, and you have to put all your music in a play queue before it will play. On Spotify, I can jump to any playlist and play directly from there. On MOG, if you double-click on the first song in a playlist, it will add only that song to your play queue, so the entire point of the playlist is nullified.

Advantage: Spotify

Criterion #3: Mobile App

Both Spotify and MOG allow streaming from a smart phone with a premium account. (Both premium accounts are $9.99, so it's a push there.) However, since you aren't always online from your phone when you're at the gym or in your car, you have to first select which songs you want to listen to ahead of time, and download them to your phone. With a premium account, MOG allows unlimited downloads and Spotify allows precisely 3,333 downloads -- that's essentially unlimited when you consider that you're on your phone selecting and de-selecting songs fairly often.

You have to have a wifi connection when you do the downloading, and it does take about 20-30 seconds per song. You'll want to make sure your phone stays active during this process, or else the app will freeze. It does drain the battery, but if you're doing it at home you can have it plugged in while you go. I've used both apps consistently in the past week, and once you have the music and it's playing, there's really no difference.

Advantage: Push

Criterion #4: Sound Quality

I listen to music primarily through headphones and on small Logitech speakers at home. I can only make the determination through what I read and what I hear, and this currently does not include a large home soundsystem. (I have large speakers which I use to listen to records and watch television, but I have no way to hook up a computer or phone to these, so it's an admittedly limited judgment.)

Most MOG tracks are in high quality 320 kbps CBR, which can actually be a little tricky if you have to listen through a browser at work. The bitrate is so large that the playback will stall if you're running other programs. That being said, it is of consistently high sound quality. Everything I've listened to on MOG sounds fantastic.

Spotify also provides 320 kbps quality, but only for premium accounts. Also, fewer of Spotify's available tracks have this quality than on MOG. When you're just listening in your daily life, you probably won't know the difference. Try playing "Niggas In Paris" back-to-back on headphones though, and you can tell.

Advantage: MOG

Criterion #5: Social Experience

As I mentioned earlier, the ability to share, mix and explore really puts Spotify over the edge for me. The experience actually reminds me of the fun I used to have making mix tapes for friends in the 90s. It's easier to do these days, allows me more music to work with, and I can actually see the results if someone subscribes to one of my playlists.

I prefer to turn off the "what I'm listening to" function by default, so my Facebook friends aren't forced to see every single track I'm listening to. However, sharing full playlists is easier and more manageable on Spotify.

Advantage: Spotify

There are some other intangibles, especially if you're not into paying for one of these services. Spotify does have a free option, where you can listen to 10 hours of music a week (for the first six months) with annoying commercials every few songs. MOG does not have a free option. For someone like me who spends plenty of money on music anyway, it's actually an economical decision to pay $10 a month. At $15 an album in the store, I only need to purchase eight fewer albums over the course of a year to make it cost-effective.

I'm going to stick with Spotify precisely for its ease and usability. If MOG fixes the issues I mentioned with its application and keeps its sound quality higher, it may be worth it in the future for me to switch. For now, however, Spotify wins and remains my music-streaming service of choice.

1 comment:

Frank Stallone III said...

THanks for the review -- I am in the middle of figuring out which I want to pay $10 a month for; I have been using Spotify free for the last few months, and honestly I've had Pandora One (and have mastered making well crafted stations) for years now. I am finally ready to settle down with playlists I can control. That being said I am a mini audiophile, and I appreciate quality. MOG def. has my attention with that, however I am very mobile. I have an iPhone, Boxee Box, and use it on my Apple computers. Mog and Spotify have Boxee Box apps; I am listening to Spotify on the Boxee Box right now. The quality is good but I have no idea if it is 160kbps/320kbps because they do not advertise their kpbs for Boxee Box (neither does MOG). My best system is in my living room and will be used with the Boxee Box so this is important. Looks like I might just have to get them both for their paid services and try them out. Wish me luck. =)