The best on-demand and music discovery radio apps for iOS

May 3, 2012
Music

There are many great online radio and music discovery services, and more and more of the providers have iOS apps. As we reported yesterday, Spotify, one of our favorites just released an iPad native version making the app universal. That got us thinking that this was a great time for a fresh round-up of the best new and classic options for your listening pleasure.

The best new kids on the App Store

Spotify

Spotify provides a catalog of millions of songs that that can be played on demand, along with full albums, and personal playlists compiled by you or other Spotify users. The new iPad interface is absolutely gorgeous using the screen real estate to maximum advantage; the cover-flow album art is particularly sweet. Creating new playlists on the go is easy and intuitive and the app incorporates the social network connectivity that makes it so much fun. The only things absent from the web version are the apps that Spotify offers. Without them, the service’s one drawback is that it doesn’t learn your tastes. It relies, instead, on apps from services like Last.fm to add that element for desktop users. The only other issue with the mobile app is that it requires a premium subscription, which costs $9.99 per month, to use it; free accounts are not supported beyond a seven-day trail period. Other premium perks are playlist downloads for offline listening, and while the service is available to customers in a few countries only (unlike Pandora), premium subscribers can tune-in to Spotify from abroad.

MOG

MOG is a lot like Spotify. It’s another app that limits itself to paying customers only, again for $9.99 per month. The service and the app have some of the best sounding music streaming at 320kbps. It has most of Spotify’s features, and is a favortie with audiophiles. The song catalog is impressive, too. For iOS users the offline caching is useful for saving bandwidth. The personal radio stations even allow a decent amount of fine-tuning. The only problem is that the iPhone app has issues. Over 3G, songs had a tendency to drop in and out. Also it kept logging me out, and adding songs to a queue is confounding. These problems are not in the iPad version, which is eye-pleasing and seemingly trouble-free.

Rhapsody

Like the others so far, Rhapsody requires a subscription to access the mobile app, but they do offer a free 30-day trial, which gives you a good chance to see if this is a service for which you want to pay. Unlike the other options, however, Rhapsody has no iPad native app and upscaling is ugly. Rhapsody boasts most about its ability to store music offline, but regrettably that feature is limited to playlists, not specific songs. The sound quality is not quite up to MOG’s, but compares well to Spotify. The iPhone UI is very appealing with an album cover flow, and one nice option here is that for an additional $5 per month, up to three users can log-in to a single account, on multiple cross-platform devices.

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AudioGalaxy Mobile

The former P2P file-sharing site has reinvented itself as both a cloud-based music server for your own collection of tunes, as well as offering features that open up a potentially endless song supply from other users’ collections. The result is an amazing hybrid. The service requires you to download a little piece of software to your computer. Once you’ve done so, AudioGalaxy quickly scans your whole hard drive – not just iTunes – and catches all your tracks in a wide variety of formats. When you add new music, AudioGalaxy finds it instantly. It also imports all your playlists and I was pleasantly shocked to discover it found many I had thought I lost or deleted from backup files on my hard drive. The sound quality is second only to MOG, and playback is commercial free.

For $35.99 a year, the app offer Mixes (they are free in the web app) which are custom stations made not only from your collection, but from all the music everyone else has stored with them. The paid level also allows offline caching and you can subscribe via in-app purchase. AudioGalaxy is one of my new favorties as setup on Mac and iOS devices is dead simple. Also, It allows me to discover new music while reacquainting me with stuff from my existing, but often ignored, collection of 20,000+ tracks.

The iOS classics

Slacker Radio

One of the most well established online radio options, Slacker offers the best variety of services from all the others. Slacker is at once a music discovery service in the vein of Pandora (see below) and an on-demand service like Spotify, while also bringing in some of traditional radio’s best features. Slacker’s basic service is free and allows access to the universal iOS app. Their apps can also be found on other mobile devices and can be streamed through third-party audio gear made by the likes of Sonos and Sony, even via their own car receivers. You can create custom stations based on an artist or song. Slacker has some of the most advanced fine tuning options I’ve seen allowing you to select the songs’ popularity from hit to fringe, new or older songs, how often it should play your favorites and how much artist discovery you want. Like Pandora, the more you like or ban songs, the better Slacker gets to know your tastes.

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They also provide pre-programmed stations, including ever-changing featured stations in myriad popular genres. These are put together by professional DJs and give you the option to actually hear the DJ announce the tracks. Slacker is ad-based, but offers two different subscription levels. To remove ads, get unlimited song skips, and have offline caching it costs $3.99 per month. To access all that plus on-demand songs, on-demand albums, playlist creation and for single-artist radio stations, Slacker offers a premium service priced like Spotify at $9.99 per month. The app itself is very sleek, particularly on iPad, and I’ve yet to encounter a bug, despite this being my default service for over two years. What binds me to Slacker is news. They have dedicated ABC and ESPN news/sports stations and you can elect to have either, both, or neither break in to your station with updates. AirPlay support is an excellent perk.

Pandora Radio

Pandora was king of music discovery when I first came onto the iOS scene in May 2009, and it’s still the number one music app on the charts. Pandora is straight music discovery and online radio; it has no on-demand services. It also has one of the smallest music collections on this list. So why mention it? Well, their Music Genome Project, where professional musicians analyze each and every track for multiple variables means it still delivers the best actual discovery experience. Online and in-app, the UI is simple and uncluttered. You just enter a song or artist and Pandora creates a station. You can add more artists or songs as seed tracks and like or ban songs to help Pandora learn your tastes. The service is free, with ads and limited song skips, or you can upgrade to Pandora One for about $3 a month to remove the ads, get six skips per hour and a higher quality bitrate, although it still falls shy of MOG and AudioGalaxy. There are fine-tuning options for stations, and the universal app works perfectly and looks good on iPhone and iPad. Pandora also offers playback through an assortment of social audio devices and is integrated into many new cars and smart TVs.

Happy listening!

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Lisa Caplan

Lisa Caplan writes app lists and guides as well as reviewing iOS apps and games on various tech sites, most recently on her fledgling iPhone and iPad giveaway blog, AppTudes. She is thrilled to be joining the stellar reviewing team at Appolicious. Located in a balmy Montreal suburb, Lisa has an advanced degree in Creative Writing, and has had an Apple computer by her side since 1979! She is a talentless art nut, bibliophile and accessory junkie. Lisa looks forward to sharing her gaming addiction and love for all tech that promotes culture, communication, social awareness and education at every level.

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