The smartphone is now the hub for all your entertainment. It can be the single source for content for all video and audio indulgences. In fact, it has been single handedly responsible for the killing both the audio cassette and compact disc as well as everything that worked on these two.
However, powered by the Internet, the smartphone is much more powerful as a music source even though there are people who are unimpressed by the audio quality. Yes, the audio quality of files usually saved on smartphones is not as good as what you would find on a CD as there is a lot of compression that goes into these files resulting in considerable loss.
This is where true music lovers have for long been preferring to opt for an Apple phone and buy music from iTunes which uses filed with FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) offering a much superior listening experience. Now, Apple has launched its own music streaming service offering the same audio quality over the air. The service is cheap enough and good enough for everyone else in this nascent market to be worried, really worried.
The top 5 music streaming services
Spotify, which is arguably the most popular music streaming service in the world, is not available in India. Over the past few years, India has seen some successful streaming apps like Gaana, Saavn and Hungama. Here is a review of the best services in the market now.
Apple Music is fresh off the shelf and though, limited to Apple devices, is in my books the best music streaming service at the moment. I say this primarily because this is the only music app you need on your device. No other app can say this as none of them have been able to combine your downloaded music with a streaming service.
The best feature of the app is certainly the music quality, which is not affected by the kind of network you are on. It does not even bother playing if the network is bad and it is recommended that you use this mostly on a Wi-Fi to enjoy uninterrupted streaming.
My favourite feature is the For You section where the app, based on some options ticked during onboarding and the songs you have in your device, suggests playlists for you. In my case, I can say the app got the suggestions spot on. The New section is ideal for those who like to discover and listen to new stuff and is suggested by Apple’s editors. This section also gives good weightage to regional content and I could see a mix of Bollywood and south Indian songs and albums in the mix.
There is also a Beats 1 radio that gives you access to scores of 24/7 radio stations based on genre. There is the option to skip songs that you don’t like and despite being a radio station the audio quality does not seem to suffer. However, there is just one Indian radio station at the moment. But the good thing is that you can request a song on these stations and even connect to top artistes.
Apple Music is surely going to find a lot of uptake as the company is offering the service for free and even after those three months it is just Rs 120 per user and Rs 190 per month for five devices in India. Also, for those who buy music on iTunes you just need to search and play from the 3 million songs now, provided you have a steady connection. This is undoubtedly the most comprehensive of all the music apps at the moment and seems to have plugged all the gaps in your music requirements at the moment.
Saavn stands out for its exhaustive Indian music list and strong social quotient. The app is also clean and easy to navigate on any operating system with a web-based offering too for those who want to listen on the PC. The app has good playlists that can cater to any sort of music taste and listening demand. You can favourite songs and create your own playlists, which your friends using the app can also listen to.
The audio quality depends on the kind of network you are on. The app also lets you follow artistes and this means you get to know when a new title has been added in the name of an artiste. The maximum audio quality available is 128kbps — you can select lower quality if needed — and you can download songs to the device on a Pro account. The monthly Pro Account is Rs 110 for a single device and Rs 220 for upto five.
Gaana too offers all the features you would find in other apps. However, it also offers streaming access to Radio Mirchi channels. The app has some unique compilations which are not available on other apps, like the best Gulshan Bawra, Kishori Amonkar or even Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. And this access to India music that would otherwise be hard to find is the USP of the app for me.
There are also featured artistes playlists for those who can hear Bappi Lahiri or Kumar Sanu on a roll. However, the default audio quality seems to be a bit lower than the competition. Also available on the web, the app has a Gaana+ version for Rs 124 per month offering unlimited downloads and HD quality streaming.
This app too has its fair share of playlists and radio stations, but for me the standout feature is the discover option where you can selected mood, era and tempo to create a playlist. The feature throws up some very interesting song suggestions and will really interest those who love to discover new songs.
The app also gives access to latest music videos. On the song pages there is the option of finding similar numbers. Plus, there is an offline mode with download option for songs. Hungama has added a level of gamification in the app by offering reward points for certain actions. Subscription models start for as low as Rs 5 a day through operator billing. Monthly packages are Rs 110 per month.
This app from Airtel has been a favourite of mine as it offered the best audio quality before Apple Music came along. Why the app streams at 128kbps by default, there is the option to go up to 320kbps. However, users are advised to pick the Auto option where the app decides which is the best option based on the network. The playlist options are a bit general when compared to the apps. A Rs 129 subscription will give Airtel users data charges free downloads for the first 500 songs.
And some more
Save data: All streaming apps use up data when you are on the mobile network. So it is better to use them on Wi-Fi. If you have to use on mobile networks ensure you have a good data plan that lets you download upwards of 2GB per month. Also, you can choose lower audio quality to save on data.
Pro tip: Use an old smartphone or tablet to create a music streaming hub at home linked to your Wi-Fi. Stream audio wirelessly to a Bluetooth speaker that can replace your old music system. For better quality use a wired link between the device and speaker with a headphone amplifier in between to dramatically improve audio quality.