mSpot Music Launches Radio Spotter, Combines Streaming Radio and Cloud Music (Hands-On)

Last month mSpot launched a major overhaul of their movie club, delivering day-of-release movies at great prices. Now they are at it again, once more returning to music to introduce the mSpot Radio Spotter.

For background, mSpot already has a ‘Cloud Music’ solution: you assign a music folder (or entire iTunes Library) to synchronize to your mSpot Cloud Storage (5GB for free, $3.99/month for 40GB), then you can listen to the songs either on your computer, or a handheld device such as an iPhone or Android smartphone.

The service touts two main features: take songs you are already listening to and suggest radio stations that will provide you with a ‘like minded’ experience, and also allow you to browse ‘suggested’ radio stations based on your library and listening habits.

From the press release:

“Radio is still the easiest and most popular music discovery tool – people love its spontaneity and variety. Yet, it can take years to discover the best radio stations. We’re giving people a mash up between Cloud music and streaming radio: It’s a great way for people to find new music and enjoy their own – all in one service,” stated Daren Tsui, CEO and co-founder of mSpot.

Right now the service is in launching in Beta, with only the Android client supported. If you are using the free 5GB storage version, you can only authorize a single device. So if you were using mSpot on an iPhone or iPod Touch you will need to de-authorize it to use the new features on Android. If you have a paid 40GB or higher account you can use up to 5 mobile devices.

I found the following comparisons very helpful:
How mSpot Music with Radio Spotter Differs from Existing Music Services:

• Unlike Pandora and Slacker; Play all of your own music alongside new music that is discovered on real radio stations: Your own music collection is the basis of all the new music you find and listen to.
• Unlike iTunes; Store your music collection in the cloud so that you can always access it, wherever you are. Your music is connected to the Internet, so you can match your preferences to hundreds of Internet radio stations to discover and play new music for free.
• Unlike subscription services like Rhapsody, MOG and Rdio; Listening is free. Match the music you already love with music playing on radio stations all over the Internet.
• Unlike Cloud storage services like Amazon or Google; Listening is not limited to your own music, or music for purchase; your music now connects you to hundreds of radio stations.

Hands On With mSpot Radio Spotter

The great folks at mSpot gave me a couple days of preview access to the beta version of the service. The first thing I had to do was upload music. I actually had already created an account months ago, but had it on my Alienware laptop so when I deleted all of my music from there it also left my mSpot Cloud. So I uploaded a bunch of stuff, starting with what I was in the mood to listen to … and later a more broad-based sampling from my iTunes library.

mSpot uploads in the background, so I used the Preference pane on my Mac to add folders to sync, and then the menu bar icon would softly pulse, indicating that it was working away uploading songs. On my Droid Pro I could see songs appear as they were uploaded, and instantly play them. For example, I uploaded the new Lady Gaga (from the Amazon $0.99 sale happening again today) and at first it showed just the title track, which I could play right away, and by the time that song was done the entire album was available.

Another great feature is how the music is cached to your system. As shown in the video, when you start playing you’ll see a progress bar in gray showing how much of the song is locally stored. I found this worked great for ensuring constant playback. How well does it work? This morning I had to grab a few groceries and was listening to some Pat Metheny and the song kept playing even as I hit a ‘no signal’ area in the grocery store. mSpot Music will cache the entire album, but the amount of storage is something you can set in your preferences – alone with a myriad of other options.

If you are listening to a song and want to find a similar station, it is as simple as tapping the radio icon. The song keeps playing while you are brought to the Radio Spotter page. The first listing is the ‘Personal Radio’, which claims to ‘play songs by this and similar artists’. Then there is a listing of radio stations that have matches with the artist you have selected.
Looking at the comparisons, the first thing to remember is that this is FREE for a 5GB account!

You upload a ton of music, and you can listen to your own music at your leisure while taking up much less space than actually storing it locally. You can then utilize the Radio Spotter to do music discovery in a manner similar to other services. The difference for me is that I can be listening to an album and suddenly want a variety of similar music, and at the touch of a button transition from my music to internet radio. Slacker & Pandora require searching and selection to get to the same spot.

Compared to Amazon Cloud Music I have found the sound quality better, and Amazon’s player has skipped on me occasionally. Google’s Cloud service has drawn tremendous (deserved) slack, and all I can say is that if I was depending on those upload speeds I would never have been able to test this service!

I love Rdio and MOG as I noted before, but again those services cost $10 a month for full mobile access and don’t play music you already own unless it is present in their catalog.

Finally, Slacker and Pandora offer similar radio-based services – and with much greater depth, but lack eth ability to play your own music. Also, the ability to be listening to a song and just tap the radio icon is not to be underestimated!

Once you have switched to the radio mode, at the bottom of the screen you get an interface that reminds me of Slacker – you can ‘love’ or ‘block’ a certain song, pause playback, or skip up to 6 songs.

Here is a list of some stuff I threw at the mSpot Radio Spotter … and my results:

Pat Metheny - ‘No Matches Found’ – one of the top selling jazz artists of the last 40 years … and absolutely nothing. I have to say I was both surprised and disappointed.

Lady Gaga - Loads of options! – this was my first look at the breadth of possibilities available – and everything worked great! The personal radio was a ‘hit’ in terms of content my family enjoyed, and the various radio stations made sense.

Jason Parker Quartet - ‘No Matches Found’ – OK, even with the ‘Nick Drake’ tie-in I wasn’t expecting anything … just had to try.

Ke$ha - ‘No Matches Found’ – Laura from mSpot told me that the $ in her name causes problems, but this reflects the beta nature of the service. For more on how she got the $, check out this Funny or Die video.

Miles Davis - Personal Radio & one other station – the personal radio was decent if a bit anemic, as it went from Miles song ESP to a 40′s era Jimmy Rushing. Hopefully these will fill out with time.

J.Geils Band - Personal Radio & three other stations – this was another big success. I had uploaded ‘Blow Your Face Out’, and the personal radio sprinkled in more J Geils with Free, Peter Frampton and more.

Overall I have very much enjoyed my initial experiences with mSpot Radio Spotter and the enhanced service and client. The Radio Spotter service is still in beta so I expect the options to increase and the depth of the library to greatly expand over time, as well as the accuracy of picking selections based on the current song.
But for a service that gives you 5GB of free storage, a polished integrated client, easy music uploads, and an extremely convenient bridge between your own music and streaming radio, mSpot is extremely compelling. I had previously only used it occasionally – but in the future I can see myself loading up the 5GB fully and making broad use of the mSpot player – and hopefully also the Radio Spotter once it ‘gets hip’ to my avant garde jazz tendencies!

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May 26, 2011