Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

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April 29, 2010 • Reviews

Rhapsody Just Got Me Back As a Customer… Rhapsody For iPhone Review

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I used to have a subscription to Rhapsody. At the time I was using a Creative Zen music player. (It was in the days when my motto was “Anything But Apple’s Products”. It seems like a lifetime ago.) The deal the company offered wasn’t bad. For $10 or $15 a month I could listen to all the music I wanted. Sure I was renting the music and all of it would (and did) disappear if and when I decided to cancel my subscription. Still, when I thought about wanting to try a wide range of music and transfer it from my computer (a Tablet PC) to my mp3 player it was the best option out there. The problem was… the service was a mess. The song selection was good but not great. The transfer process was great except when it didn’t work. And the DRM process ended up having me out and about with my music unavailable because the month of “permissions” has ended and I needed to reconnect to a computer to renew access. That was a HUGE problem when it happened at the beginning of a two week vacation and left me without any music. I canceled my subscription.

Well Rhapsody is back on the map and the service is now offering an iPhone app that allows you to access a huge library of music of over 9 million songs. For a monthly fee of $10 a month (after a 7 day trial) the service lets you grab as much music from your library on the go and play it on your iDevice.

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The subscription gives you access to the Rhapsody service via one iDevice and their desktop music player. Streaming music requires an active data connection (WiFi OR cellular) but a recent update to the iPhone app lets you take playlists of music offline. Lets take a look…

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When you first start the iPhone app you will be asked for your account information. This will only happen the first time. You can also sign up for the trial right from the app which is a nice feature.

When you start the app you might choose to begin on the “My Library” page. This page lets select Artists, Albums, Playlists or Rhapsody Radio. Obviously this page will be more useful once you have begun adding music to your account. That’s where the “Search” window comes in mighty handy.

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After that you probably want to start at the search window. You can search by Artist, Album or Track. It is important to note that while the color variation of the tab is relatively minor you need to check off which you are searching for in order to get the proper results.

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For the most part the search process is quick and accurate. I did, however, find a few times when I was on 3G and the search kept going… and going… and going. Closing down the app and reopening it fixed the issue.

One of the ways in which Rhapsody makes sense for me is in the area of “rebuilding” my back catalog of music. From high school through college I bought a ton of albums. Many I bought new but quite a few were British imports and other assorted lightly used LPs. It was a large collection that went into storage in my parent’s basement when I entered graduate school. Then they had a flood… LP collection over. Everything was ruined, and while I have amassed a significant collection since then I never got to replacing all of my albums, especially some of the classic rock LPs. With Rhapsody I’m getting reintroduced to many of them again. Among the reunions… Boston.

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The Rhapsody app lets me search their music by Album, by Top Track, through a “sampler” of their music that is selected by the service automatically, and more.

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Tapping at the top of the screen lets me see a brief biography of the band… oh the memories.

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I have found the service to do a pretty good job of amassing the key albums for most of the singers and bands I’ve looked for. I could immediately listen to their first, self-titled, album (good!), their second album, Don’t Look Back (better) or their third album, Third Stage, (thanks but no).

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If I want to quickly listen to their top hits I could choose their “Top Tracks”. This didn’t work for me, as their track “Amanda” showed up on it and the song is not a favorite. (understatement)

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I could do the “Artist Sampler” which provides a mix of tunes selected by Rhapsody but I ran into the “Amanda-factor” again.

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So I opted to go the album route. First I cued up their first album… a classic. The cover art brought back some great memories. (The music was one of the only good things in 1978… my 7th grade year… so I have especially fond memories…)

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And there they were… all the tracks from the first release from Boston.

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I haven’t listened to the album in years, but all the lyrics came back immediately. That the power of music I guess… it never really leaves you. All the same, I do wish the lyrics popped up when listening to tracks. They don’t.

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The great thing about the Rhapsody app is that you can add tracks to your cue and then save them as a playlist. For the most part my “Playlists” have been songs and albums from individual bands. For example I created a playlist of Enigma’s tracks and now have a single playlist with dozens and dozens of their songs. I did the same with Boston’s first two albums.

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You can name the playlist anything you like and, if you make a mistake or change your mind easily go back and change it.

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The new version even lets you download playlists for offline listening. It is a great feature and the one that makes the app, and Rhapsody, a truly useful option for music listening.

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The options for downloading playlists or managing/renaming them is simple and clear. The company obviously put a lot of thought into making the app as user-friendly as possible.

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In fact, the “settings” screen doesn’t come much less complicated than the one offers by Rhapsody.

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Over WiFi the download process is quite fast.

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After that you can go back and tweak it in a variety of ways. In all I’m finding Rhapsody to be a great way to ret back to some of my musical roots… and boy is there some awesome music from the 70s and 80s!

There is another arena in which Rhapsody excels… trying out music you might not otherwise get to know.

Both iTunes and Amazon MP3 let you “sample” songs. The problem is, sometimes (often) 30 seconds isn’t enough time to really decide if a track is for you or not. Rhapsody takes this “music sample” approach to the extreme and lets you download new albums with no additional monetary risk.

For example…

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When it comes to casual listening one of my favorite bands is Zero 7 (except their train wreck of a last album called Yeah Ghost!- garbage… total garbage.) I first heard Zero 7 on the soundtrack to Garden State and it has since changes my listening habits by introducing me to a wide range of Trip-hop and down tempo artists. I’m still new to the genre so there are many performers I don’t yet know. That’s where Rhapsody comes in handy.

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I can simply select the “Related Artists” option and see other artists I might also like.

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I can see similar artists…

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or the artists who influenced the band’s style and sound.

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I can also see “Related Projects”. In this case, Zero 7 has always had a revolving door of singers. One of them was a performer names Sia. A tap on her name and all her albums are available to cue, listen and, if I like them, download.

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If you jump over to the desktop player you can see even more information. For example, the band Massive Attack is listed as a related artist and Rhapsody makes 24 albums and a total of 370 tracks available for the $10 monthly subscription.

In all the app works great is a superb option if you want access to a lot of music. This is especially the case if you want to take an “album approach” (ie download entire albums instead of selected tracks) but don’t feel like spending a ton of money to build a library.

Conclusion-

I easily buy an album a month. For the same $10 I was grab as much music as I want. I can download entire albums, or catalogues of songs from artists I would not otherwise listen to and I can do so at no risk since the monthly fee is the same whether I download one album or one hundred. Sure, if and when I cancel my subscription I will love access to all of these track but in the meantime I’ll have had the opportunity to enjoy a larger and wider array of music for the price on just on album a month.

Some will have a philosophical issue with the model that has you “rent” music. That is why the Zune Pass is so appealing- it lets you “rent” your music but also own a number of the rented tracks each month. While I wish Rhapsody also offered the option to keep a number of tracks each month it is nice to see one aspect of the Zune Pass now available for the iPhone and iPod touch. You can also get a subscription to Pandora or Slacker Radio for less but the Rhapsody approach gives you radio stations AND much more control over what you listen to whenever you want. In fact, that’s really how I would look at Rhapsody- as a Slacker/Pandora competitor. It is significantly more expensive per month but it gives you so much more in the process.

Another downside is the fact that, currently you can only have one device on the account at a time. I understand that this is part of their licensing agreement to give access to the music but I would like to see at least two devices available on an account at a time since many of us now have an iPhone and a second iDevice.

What I Like-

Good music selection, stable, relatively fast iPhone app, ability to take music offline, can listen to preset radio, artists stations or music you select

What Needs Improvement-

Only one device at a time per account, no “keep 5-10 tracks a month” like the Zune Pass, app has locked on me once or twice, radio stations can be slow to load.

You can grab the app HERE or check our the Rhapsody site HERE.

One Response to " Rhapsody Just Got Me Back As a Customer… Rhapsody For iPhone Review "

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