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Best Ways to Listen to, Manage, Store and Stream Music
With Spotify making headlines as it finally comes to America, and iCloud available now on iOS 5, the question of the best service for storing and listening to music is becoming a pertinent one. Music by Google is still in Beta but it is available on an invitation basis, and of course there are also perennial favorites; Pandora, Slacker and Grooveshark.

The first thing to understand is the difference between a streaming service and a locker service. iCloud, Music Beta and Amazon Cloud Player are all locker services – you upload your own files to their servers and you can access them (including streaming if the service allows) whenever you want, as well as add purchased music to your library. Spotify, Pandora, and Grooveshark are all streaming, meaning you can listen to any music from their library, but you do not own the songs.

Spotify: Pretty Much Does it All
Spotify is one of our favorite music players – it comes the closest to doing everything we want, and it does it well. With 15 million songs and compositions (they have an impressive jazz and classical music library too), Spotify has, by a significant margin, the largest library of any other streaming player. You also have the choice of paying for the service, or not. The free service is a good option if you don’t mind listening to a few ads, most of them for music, and limiting your streaming to 10 hours a month. You can also choose to pay $9.99 a month for the Premium service, which removes those limitations, as well as allowing you access to the library (online or offline) over your mobile devices for streaming anywhere. We really like that they stream at a rich 320kbps, which is quite an improvement over 192-256kbps.
Google Music: Still in Beta but Looks Promising
Google Music is the least developed of all the music services we’re discussing here. Like Amazon Cloud Drive , Google Music went ahead and launched without having deals in place with the all the major record labels. Unlike Amazon, Google doesn’t have an already legal and functioning music store. Really then, all Google Music can offer at the moment is a place in the cloud to store your music collection. This, it does well. While in Beta, Google is offering users space to store 20,000 songs (yes, they’re measuring space in ‘songs’ rather than GB) for free, which is about ten times more than Amazon. This is awesome for Android smartphone users because you can then download the free app and have your entire music collection, including any playlists you’ve made, streaming from your phone.
Amazon Cloud Drive: Store Music, Documents, Photos and Videos
Amazon’s Cloud Drive is attempting to be a one-stop storage solution for Android users. Not only can you upload your MP3’s, but most other common file types as well, including pictures, files and videos. There is however, a pricing structure that doesn’t exist yet for Google Music; the first 5GB is free but after that you have to pay annually: $20 for 20GB, $50 for 50GB, $100 for 100GB, $200 for 200GB, $500 for 500GB, and $1000 for 1000GB. However your Amazon.com MP3 purchases (the Amazon MP3 store has about 16 million songs available to buy) don’t count towards your storage total. For music the Cloud Drive includes a music streaming service called Amazon Cloud Player. This is an online interface that controls your music in the usual ways: create playlists, organizes your music by album, artist, etc. It will also work on your Android phone, for remote streaming, but not on iOS devices.
iCloud: Great for iOS Device Users Who Want Access to All Their Files
iCloud istaking over all of MobileMe’s service’s functions – contacts, email, calendar, syncing, backing-up, iWork, etc. The first 5GB of storage is free and after that you can purchase more annually: $20 for 10GB, $40 for 20GB, and $100 for 50GB. Like Amazon and Google, this is not a music streaming service but a locker - you upload your music to the cloud and can add to it by purchasing music through iTunes; you cannot stream the music from iTunes. There is no web interface, like Spotify you’ll need an iOS device or a computer running iTunes, which means if you have a non-Apple tablet or phone you’re left out in the cold a bit. Like Amazon, any music you buy through iTunes (with approximately 20 million songs) doesn’t count towards your storage space.

The other way that iCloud sits apart from both Google and Amazon is in how it deals with music you didn’t purchase from iTunes. Google and Amazon don’t care where you got your music – Apple does. They call it iTunes Match and if you want to store non-iTunes purchased music on their servers you have to pay Apple $24.99 a year (this would be on top of whatever you’re paying for the iCloud storage), regardless of how many non-iTunes songs there are. The good thing about this is that with the annual fee there are no storage limits. Music purchased from iTunes before 2009 may be a problem as well because of DRM restrictions. We were unable to upload older songs without paying a $.30 cents per song fee to upgrade to a DRM-free format.

Slacker and Pandora: Internet Radio for Discovering New Music
Pandora gets all the attention, but we think Slacker is the marginally better of the two. Both are radio stations, in the sense that you have limited control over what you listen to, and both are really good for discovering music. Both support just about every mobile device you can think of: Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone 7 (Pandora does not support WP 7 yet), and even WebOS. If you don’t like a song you can opt to “skip” it. The free subscription to both limits you to 6 skips per hour (Pandora also has a 12 skips per day limit), though Pandora only lets you listen to 40 hours of music per month, whereas Slacker has no such limits. Pandora also has a one hour time-out limit.

Slacker Premium Radio gives you Spotify-like access for $9.99/month. This removes the ads, you get unlimited skips, unlimited song requests, on-demand access to their library and mobile caching. The mobile Caching is awesome. It gives you the ability to sync and download up to 25 stations to your phone so you can listen without needing to be connected to the internet.

For a Pandora One paid subscription you pay $36/year. For this, you get more skips (you don't have the daily skip limit, but the hourly one still applies), no advertisements, a five hour time-out limit, and higher quality audio when playing through your desktop.

Grooveshark: Streaming, User-Uploaded Music
Grooveshark is a different sort of beast altogether. All of its music is user sourced, so the collection is large and eclectic, though quality can sometimes be dicey. There are web, desktop and mobile clients available (free users get only the web client). They have a discovery service similar to Pandora and Slacker, it uses songs that are already in your playlist to find new music for you.

You can get Grooveshark Plus for $6.00/month ($60/year) and $9/month ($90/year) for Grooveshark Anywhere. The Plus/Anywhere services provides additional functions, most notable is the removal of banner ads along the right side of the Grooveshark applet. The Anywhere service offers access to the Grooveshark mobile application on Palm, Nokia, Android (the app was pulled from the Android market so you’ll have to side load it) and BlackBerry devices.

In Conclusion
Right now there is no service that allows everyone to easily both stream music you haven’t bought, and keeps your own music organized and accessible. We like Spotify a lot but we think you’ll probably want a combination of a service like Spotify for streaming and discovering new music, and a locker for storing your own music library.

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Don't forget MOG and

Don't forget MOG and Rhapsody. Both have vast libraries and MOG allows 320kbps downloads to multiple devices so you can access some great sounding tunes while outside of wi-fi.

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Pandora limit?

I stream about 40 hours per WEEK through the Pandora app on my Droid and I don't have the paid subscription. I haven't run into any limit yet on the steaming but the skip limit does apply.

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