Rdio and Streaming Music Services

For as long as I can remember, I have been an audiophile. I believe my obsession with audio quality started a couple years into learning how to play the electric guitar; about 18 years ago. Up until last month, I was still purchasing CDs from a local small shop specializing in Metal, and of course ripping the discs and encoding them in iTunes at 320kbps.

I typically listen to music with headphones, however I also have a great pair of Tapco S8 studio monitors. While these speakers are not necessarily cheap, they also allow me to pick out a lot of details in anything I listen to. This means, lower quality encoded music,perhaps 256kbps and lower, is noticeably poorer in quality.

When I recently discovered that Rdio became available in Canada, I decided to give it a go–despite my curmudgeonliness about audio quality. The problem that is inherent to these kinds of services is that you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting in terms of audio quality. Perhaps most people would gladly sacrifice a bit of audio quality for the all-you-can-eat selection, or maybe it’s just that most people can’t tell the difference between 192kbps and 320kbps encoded audio (I would think the latter is the case in most scenarios).

Before signing up for Rdio, I went searching through their FAQs to see if they explain the technical details on how they encode music and what they actually deliver to you. At this point in time, Rdio does not publicise the bitrates that they deliver to users. I did some Google’ing to see if I could find some answers, and stumbled upon a forum post where an Rdio employee gave some answers.

Wilson Miner had this to say:

Rdio varies the streaming bitrate on the mobile clients depending on your connection. On the web and desktop, we stream up to 320kbps based on what is available to us.

This provides some level of comfort, in that I know there’s a good chance I’ll probably get upwards of 320kbps, since I primarily listen to music using their Mac client. I have yet to do any tests to compare some of my own encoded MP3s to what Rdio offers, however this is something I plan on doing.

Audio quality aside though, I’m absolutely loving the the service. After installing the Mac client, it offered to scan my iTunes library and compare and match what was in it to what is available on Rdio. The great thing about this is that it allows the service to provide better recommendations on what kind of music you will prefer listening to. The key feature from this service is clearly personalized recommendations.

Although I still have reservations about Rdio’s audio quality, it’s showing a lot of promise. At the moment, I have moved my 30+ GB music library off of my MacBook Pros SSD onto an external drive. I’m full time with Rdio and feel that I should keep using it for a few months to really put it through its paces. Now, if they can just re-design their website so that it doesn’t require Flash.