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Slacker Radio

June 9, 2009 By Geoffrey Morrison

More Free Music

A few months ago I did a blog on Pandora, the free online radio station.

I was immediately deluged with emails about Slacker Radio, a similar service. So I gave it a try. As an inveterate music junky, the more places I can find new music, the better.

Mini-review after the jump.

Like Pandora, Slacker is a free Internet radio station. You pick an artist, and Slacker will play that artist, along with others that are similar in style. Slacker claims many more songs available than Pandora, and that's its first leg up over Pandora.

As much as I was enthused with Pandora when I first used it, I quickly ran up against a brick wall of repetition. Way, WAY too often I would start hearing the same songs over and over. I listen to music all day long, and I figure it wasn't more than a day before I started hearing the same songs. Worse, you have a limited number of skips per hour (this is true of Slacker as well).

So I found myself maxing out my skips because I had heard so many songs already that day or the day before. I added more channels, but that only bought me a short amount of time, as I'd hear those songs over and over again.

Slacker is better in this regard, but not perfect. I still end up hearing the same songs, but it takes a little longer. According to Slacker, they have over 2 million songs, while Pandora has only 600,000.

The one feature that Slacker has that really puts it above Pandora is "Ban Artist."

With Pandora you can ban a song you didn't want to hear. That's great, but being able to ban an artist opens up all sorts of interesting things.

Take, for example, my Bob Dylan channel. Now I have nearly every Dylan album (except for the unpleasentness of the 80s). So I don't need to hear him. I can open iTunes for that and listen to him uncompressed. As soon as I created the Bob Dylan channel, I banned Bob Dylan from the channel. Why? Well now I only hear artists like Bob Dylan.

This introduces you to a whole world of new artists, without hearing a lot of songs you already know.

There are also "Professionally" programmed stations with many different formats, from Alternative to Standards/Big Band. Yet another way to find new music. I tried out a few of these channels, and they're pretty good.

Slacker Radio Interface

Sound quality is about the same as Pandora. This is to say, it's fine, but I wouldn't pay for it. No significant compression problems, but it's certainly not uncompressed. Cymbals are a little wishy-washy.

Both services generate revenue via ads. Slacker has radio-style ads, so every 15 minutes or so you'll get a short, 60-second spot on something. Now I don't mind this, after all, I'm getting free music. The problem is, it's the same ad. All day long. So if it's an annoying ad, you're stuck hearing it over and over and over and over and over. If you upgrade to Slacker Radio Plus ($47.88 a year/$3.99 a month) you get unlimited skips and no ads.

There's another step up, Slacker Radio Premium, where you can save songs and play them back whenever you want. Kind of like your own online iPod. This is $89.99 a year.

I suppose I'm a slightly different demographic than the normal Slacker (or Pandora) listener. I have a huge and growing music collection that I am never more than arm's reach from. I use Slacker to introduce me to new artists so I can go buy their CDs. In this capacity, Slacker is fantastic... for the short term. As something to listen to all day every day, it's still just too repetitive.

As far as Slacker v. Pandora goes, I'm going to have to give it to Slacker. There are definitely more songs, and the ability to ban an artist is awesome.

CONTACT: Slacker.com

My blog on Pandora.



EDIT: I was contacted shortly after I wrote this article about a somewhat hidden feature, called Artist Discovery.

If you create a station and if you customize it, there is a new option available in the Fine Tune part of the Customize menu. It's odd to me this option isn't available on any station you create, but so it goes.

Artist Discovery does pretty much what it says, searching out new artists that aren't part of the station you created, but that Slacker feels you may like as well. Perfect for music junkies like me. I doubt it will be a cure for the inevitable repetition of music, but it will certainly prolong the enjoyment of each channel.

After a short time listening, it has already added new artists I'm not familiar with to channels I had previously known most of what was playing. A good start!

Artist Discovery slider


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