Music Services in Canada

One disadvantage to living in Canada is living in a digital ghetto due to the oppressive regime of oligopolies that have vertically integrated over the last few years. These are now controling content distribution and delivery, limiting new entrants. But there is another disaster – CRIA and SOCAN both charing exuberant fees for opening modern music services in Canada. Did you know that if you want to play music on your birthday party or christmas event you had to pay? Consult the fee schedule.

Recently in the US of A Spotify launched their amazing music delivery service and I decided to check out if anything is available here in the Great White North. Most music services are not available (just to many to list), but I was happy to discover that Last.FM would gladly accept my money and so did RDIO. Of two, only the latter is the innovative new service that can really curb piracy among us – cold northern people. The northern people who still don’t have a variety of services to conveniently and legally get audio and video content, the same way warm people of the USA can. Unless you a couch potato who considers watching TV through an overheating cable set-top box with ugly menu a convenient way to access videos or listening to the AM/FM radio with 2:3 ratio of commercials and music collection that is shorter than the list of discounted CDs in a Walmart bin.

So back to the subject of this post. I’ve signed up for both RDIO and Last.FM. For Last.FM I’ve payed $3 USD and for RDIO I’m still on trial, but will have to pay either $5 or $10 per month (depending on features I want to have). Now what I care the most is music selection and audio quality. In my iTunes I have 8000 songs that I’ve ripped from my own cds in AAC True VBR @ Quality setting 90-100 (via the excellent XLD app). RDIO allowed me to match my collection. Unfortunately it was able to find only 1024 songs in its own catalog (this just shows how much music is available). What’s more I don’t have any obscure stuff, mostly classic rock that I’ve got from Columbia House when it was still operating. However, in the first moments of using the RDIO service I’ve discovered a great new artist – Adele – which is incorrectly labeled R&B, which I usually associate with noise previously called RAP.

Last.FM service is much easier. Back in 2008 (when they were still free in Canada), I’ve pre-selected artists that I like and instantly you can listen to a recommended stream of songs from similar artists. You can’t listen to full albums with Last.FM! Thus, they function more like a normal radio, but without commercials and music that you more or less will like (mostly they guess my tastes correctly).

Now to the second item that is as important to me – Audio Quality. I did some listening tests comparing three things: last.fm, rdio and my own rips. Based on this I have the following conclusions.

  • Last.fm is pretty terrible in terms of detail loss, not only it is 128kbps, but it is poorly encoded 128kbps. I bet I can encode with LAME using proper presets and have better quality.
  • RDIO is no way 256kbps, just there is no chance, as some reviewers of the service assumed based on the FAQ which refers to purchased songs. There is also a loss of details, but not as bad as Last.FM. It seems to me, that what they are doing in their software is either some sort of equalization and/or one of the “audio restorer” algorithms. As soon as I touch music by Jean Michel Jarre RDIO sound quality completely falls apart. Just try Téo & Téa album song #8 – Chatterbox
  • My own encodes at ~200kbps VBR AAC or VBR MP3 sound MUCH better, in fact I can’t tell them apart from the original CD sources (from my past tests).

Conclusion: unfortunately, in Canada, in my opinion, you have to use Amazon Music Player (via Amazon Cloud Drive) service to upload your own music and listen to it on desktop – no mobile app for iOS. That’s what I will be doing as I’ve already got Cloud Drive account. However, the day RDIO improves their quality I will subscribe for full 10$ per month. For now I most likely will not renew my Last.fm subscription but will pay 5$ for RDIO as I feel it is a better value, since I really don’t listen to much music in my car. However, what I will be waiting for is the day when another service will come to Canada – MOG – today they are offering 320kbps streaming in the USA and also have a catalog of 11 million songs, where I was able to find even some Russian bands.

P.S. Also while trying to find music on RDIO to listen I discovered that a lot of artists and albums are “Not Available in Your Region” (greyed out) – which very sad. Can anyone from the USA confirm that they can play and listen Traveling Wilburys albums?