Got Streams if You Want ‘Em
If your reason for searching music on the Web is to check out some new sounds and artists, and listen to the music you like while you’re at your PC, Listen.com’s Rhapsody has you covered.
The subscription service has a good, wide-ranging selection of material from more than 50 labels, including three of the five “majors” (EMI, Warner Music and BMG), plus independents like Virgin, GNP Crescendo, and Naxos. If you’re looking for files you can download and transfer to CD or to a portable MP3 player, look elsewhere: Rhapsody offers online streaming only.
As a search and discovery service, Rhapsody is a winner. You access the database through the Rhapsody browser, an application you download and install on your Windows PC (Mac and Linux users need not apply). The browser is set up to provide ready access to a variety of search and browse functions. It incorporates a Windows Media player that integrates audio playback seamlessly with both the search environment and a database of music and artist info supplied by Muze.
You can search by artist name, track title, album title and composer. Results include both content available through Rhapsody (linked and highlighted in blue), and information about other tracks and material not available for streaming. When you are listening to a selection, either via on-demand or radio-style streaming, the player shows links to the performer’s main information page, and to the specific album page, so you have quick access to further exploration.
Rhapsody’s search and browse interface is elegant, logical and provides useful results quickly. It also integrates the track data with additional background information, and the music itself, in an intuitive way that takes the experience of searching for music online to a new level.
As for audio performance, what you get here is near-CD quality, the best streaming performance available within Microsoft’s Windows Media (WMA) environment. It’s perfectly adequate for casual listening, especially when it’s tied to playback on your home computer – but for serious listening I’d rather have the CD.
Now what the service needs is about ten times as much content (currently around 100,000 tracks), the right to burn CD’s or transfer files to portable players, and higher quality audio performance (maybe use Liquid Audio infrastructure instead of WMA?), and we might have a service worth subscribing to.