Online Music Services: Pandora vs Deezer

Over the last few years, streaming music has grown in popularity as more and more people get high-speed Internet connections at home.  The convenience of opening up a web browser and hitting “Play” is hard to argue against.  No more sorting through CDs, or a massive MP3 collection.  And as time goes on, the sound quality has improved to the point where there’s little discernable difference to the average user.

The next step beyond just having online radio stations of preset playlists was to let users select exactly what they wanted to listen to, or be able to intelligently suggest similar music based off a small amount of user input.

At the moment, there are many online radio services from folks like Yahoo, Napster, Last.fm etc.  But this article is about two services that compete on a more direct level:  Pandora and Deezer.

Pandora

http://www.pandora.com/

Pandora grew out of the Music Genome Project, an effort to classify music using over 400 attributes to describe songs, and then use a complex algorithm to analyze and sort them.  The result is a system that can take one song, or artist and suggest other similar songs.  In general it’s very accurate and is a great way to discover new artists and music.

The service has thousands upon thousands of songs and artists in its library.  There are only a few bands I haven’t been able to find in the service, but that’s mostly because they’re semi-regional and not big enough to show up on the radar.  In general, I’ve been very happy with the suggestions the site gives me, and have found new artists I really like (Great Big Sea… go listen to them… now).

The big down-side is that you have very little control over what you’re actually listening to.  You can have the site build you a playlist based off of The Goo Goo Dolls, and you’ll get a few of their songs mixed in, but you don’t get to choose which or how many.  You also can’t go back and replay a song you really liked, you have to wait for it to come up in the rotation again.  Also, you can’t move around within a track.  It gives great recommendations, but you have to take what they give you.

This is because of copyright and royalty issues supposedly, so I can understand the limits to an extent.  The lack of control is made up for by the great suggestion system.

Pros:

  • Huge selection
  • Great suggestions
  • Good sound quality
  • Simple interface
  • Buy music directly from iTunes/Amazon through the site

Cons:

  • Virtually no control over playlists
  • Can not replay select songs
  • Virtually no options.  It would be nice to have more control over how songs are selected for me

 

Deezer

http://www.deezer.com/

Deezer is the new kid on the block so to speak, formerly blogmusik, this French site has evidently struck deals with music labels to overcome some of the limitations faced by Pandora.  With Deezer, you can play specific songs, build your own playlists song-by-song, or go with their own suggestion system “SmartRadio”

Where Pandora is super-simplified, focused on getting you listening to music as quickly as possible, Deezer aims to give you a lot more control, with a lot more options.  While this is overwhelming at first, it only takes a few minutes to figure out all of the basic features.

Deezer’s strength comes in its ability to search for artists, albums or individual songs and then playing exactly the tracks you want.  You can also play pre-built radio stations, or use their SmartRadio recommendation service.  Also, you can add your own MP3s to the service, further expanding your choices.

Deezer strikes me more as iTunes for your web browser, with access to a ridiculously large music catalog.

Since Deezer is a relatively new service, their catalog seems to not quite be as extensive as Pandora, and their suggestion system isn’t anywhere near as good yet (but I imagine it will improve with time).  There are also a few features that don’t work quite yet, such as creating a playlist. 

Pros:

  • Select individual songs, artists etc.  Play exactly what you want to play
  • A lot of choice
  • Good sound quality
  • Good selection

Cons:

  • UI can be overly complex
  • SmartRadio suggestions are very hit-and-miss
  • Selection seems more limited than Pandora
  • Some features don’t work yet
  • Half the pages on the site are still in French