Sunday, July 31, 2011

Almost Spot On

I'm currently listening to The Essential Kansas, the 70's boy band (I jest) from Topeka. For some reason, I've never bought a Kansas album, and I don't plan to in the near future. Yet I'm listening completely legally, and not paying a dime.

That's because Spotify has finally made it from Europe to the U.S. I read about it in a New York Times article (I just access the free stuff there, too) the other day and decided to try it out. As far as I can tell, the deal is:

  • With a free-as-in-beer account, you can stream any song in Spotify's vast library (and it's vast, if somewhat uneven).
  • For now, you can listen to an unlimited amount of music, only interrupted by two minutes of commercials any hour.
  • After six months, your free account is limited to ten hours of music per month. I read that in the NYT article, good luck in finding it in Spotify's account description.
  • Of course, there are other plans that let you stream unlimited amounts of music, without ads, for a price.
  • You have to use Spotify's music player.

That last part was almost a deal breaker. (Can you break a free deal?) There is no generally available Linux client. There is an alpha version of a Linux player, but it doesn't seem to have been worked on for a year or so, and it can only be used with the paid accounts, because we haven't found a reliable way to display ads yet.

However, the Windows client runs under Wine, and Spotify gives detailed instructions on how to get it started. You can't play your local MP3 files through Spotify (not sure I'd want to), but the stuff that comes over the web sounds good — according to the NYT article, it's in 160-kbps Ogg Vorbis format.

All right, how is it? Funny you should ask.

The sound quality is good enough for my speakers-in-the-monitor setup. Beyond that I couldn't say. Audio purists will probably find some fault, but the real purists are listening to vinyl anyway. The playlist is extensive, but not complete. OK, I didn't expect the Beatles here, but the Eagles are mostly missing. You do get what seems to be complete coverage of the Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Marley, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Mommas and the Papas, the aforementioned Kansas, Roger Miller, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, a limited amount of Dylan, and even Hugh Laurie reading Three Men in a Boat. They have what seems to be the complete Jimmie Rodgers the Elder, but I can't find anybody's version of Jimmie Rodgers the Younger's classic ballad It's Over. This would frustrate me if I was actually paying for this stuff, but since it's all free I really can't complain. It seems as though they're working on it.

Oh yes, one more thing: if you want to sign up for the free account, you need an invite. Apparently paid-for account holders can give you an invite, or you can go to and ask for one. It took about thirty seconds for me to get an email after I asked, but YMMV.

All in all, it seems to be a pretty good service, at least for now. If you put a map of the continental U.S. on a dartboard so that Kansas is the bull's eye, Spotify's dart hits at about Oklahoma City. Add the Eagles, more Dylan, and the Beatles (Ha!), and they can hit Holyrood.