Pandora and Spotify: different beasts

Last updated 10:42 16/07/2012

When I joyfully inform people of Pandora's return to New Zealand (I'm really just a blast at parties), they always seem to ask the same question: "Don't we already have Spotify though?"

I can understand confusing the two, or thinking they perform the same service. They kind of do - both are music streaming services, but they are really quite different. The best analogy I can think of is that of a radio with hundreds of thousands of stations, (Pandora) and an incredibly vast CD collection (Spotify). If you want a one-sentence answer: Spotify is better, but it isn't quite that simple. Pandora excels at discovery, while Spotify offers a more complete package.

Pandora is much more of a waypoint, a stopoff on your journey of music appreciation, than Spotify is. Consequently, it is much more simple. I logged into my ancient account I had set up when it was available in our country (the horror) and made a new "station" based on an ambient producer I liked. First it played me a song by him, complete with a description of his exact genre (Pandora has lofty principles/ambitions/methods). While I sat and read, it played me a swath of other music in the same vein, very well. Pandora only lets you skip a certain amount of songs, but I felt no need to. What Pandora lacks, however, is an accessible library of the tracks it collects - it served me with links to buy the music and I could create a station based on a new artist I followed up - but I couldn't just try out an album of his, from right in the app. On Spotify, this is trivial - I found the artist and dragged an album into my library.

For purposes of comparison, I tried using Spotify's "radio" service on the same artist. It pulled up a few similar-sounding things, sure, but it also pulled completely off-timbre songs; I wouldn't feel confident leaving it on to sleep to. Though I could easily pull anything from an artist's catalogue and listen to it immediately, I wasn't actually finding new bands I liked. It required me to return to the app repeatedly, breaking my concentration, to skip a song that didn't fit. I ended up returning to the lumbering 70 gigabyte beast that is my iTunes library, surely not the optimum fit in 2012.

Spotify is an all-round solution. I could conceivably ditch iTunes with it. Pandora has no such ambitions - but it DOES run in the browser, so it makes a perfect fit if you want music at work, unlike Spotify. The Pandora suggestion or radio function appears to be better than most of the alternatives, though Spotify can attempt to get the feel of an entire playlist, rather than just a single band. I heartily recommend both for differing contexts - well, at least their free versions.

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David Gould   #1   12:56 pm Jul 16 2012

I just subscribed to Spotify as I made the consecutive decision to not rebuild my CD collection from scratch (most died in the Chch EQ)and figured out this would be more beneficial.

Now that I know Pandora is back I am thankful for your article. I haven't made the wrong decision, just made a beginning.....

Regan   #2   01:03 pm Jul 16 2012

I love both. When I moved back (to Sydney but that's close enough) from the U.S a couple of years ago I made sure I was still able to use them via proxy (Hulu too). Pandora is great to hear new stuff as part of your personalised radio experience, however the ability to share or listen to others playlists in Spotify narrowly wins out I think.

Jolyon Smith   #3   01:49 pm Jul 16 2012

Absolutely spot on. People asking "which is best" will just have to get used to the answer "both of them".

Pandora is the best for discovering new music. Spotify is the best for being able to choose what to listen to (and share with others).

The crucial difference is that Spotify offers so much more than one highly specialised usage mode. Listening, sharing, searching etc.

Pandora really is just for listening.

Also Pandora has some very odd gaps in it's supposedly highly sophisticated knowledge base. Try searching for "Acid Jazz" to create a genre station, for example. Epic fail.

lucas   #4   02:48 pm Jul 16 2012

the irritating part about spotify, is that it assumes everyone is a pop music fan that wants to share their music with their freinds. if I told my freinds what I listen to, they would find it hilarious, and I have ads trying to convince me to listen to justin bieber's latest turd of a song when I am trying to listen to elvis presley.

Carol   #5   02:48 pm Jul 16 2012

"70 GB of music on iTunes". Can you please answer (honestly) how much of that music you have paid for, and how much you took for nothing? No excuses or lame justifications thanks, just a straightforward honest reply would be appreciated please.

Justin   #6   03:23 pm Jul 16 2012

"well, at least their free versions." I can't imagine why anyone WOULDN'T pay for Spotify, If you've got a decent wi-fi connection outside the house having that much music on your portable device of choice seems like a no brainer.

But this blog does seem keen to push the "free" stuff when ever it can *cough* grooveshark *cough*

Henry Cooke   #7   03:56 pm Jul 16 2012

@5 Carol Entrapment! If we define 'paid for' as 'paid on iTunes, Bandcamp, downloaded for free as the band intended or ripped from a CD that I own' around half, combined with a huge amount passed around between friends and ripped from my family's CDs, and a number of other means from over the years (same iTunes library as when I was 11.)I'm not going to attempt to justify it, I can't, but I was a teenager, and if I can buy the music, I generally will.

@6 Justin Paid Spotify does sound pretty good, it's more that I haven't actually used it, never want to recommend something I haven't tried!

Tony   #8   03:56 pm Jul 16 2012

@Justin, Spotify may be fine if you dont move around much but I prefer to play music off my SD card in my phone wherever I am, getting a wifi connection on a long flight can be a real bitch.

To my way of thinking, having it with me regardless of connections is a no brainer.

Simon   #9   07:19 pm Jul 16 2012

@ Carol #5

Can I ask what the relevance of that question is, in a straight forward, honest way of course? It would be appreciated.

I signed up for Spotify and was happily going to fork over the money to upgrade to the premium version but the brick wall I ran into was the mandatory tying of the Spotify account to a Facebook account. That was the deal breaker for me which is a shame.

Chris   #10   01:30 pm Jul 17 2012

I've never really understood how Spotify can be viable long-term. It seems on the face of it a really good way of getting a huge music collection saved on your computer for only to cost of data and then once you have everything you need you never visit again.

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