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Rob Pegoraro On PressPlay and Rhapsody

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The dialogue continues:

    Last week, PressPlay launched the 2.0 version of its service. It’s still not going to wean the masses from Gnutella, Kazaa or the other file-sharing systems. But it does show that somebody in the record industry is trying to listen to consumers.

    Given the industry’s habit of obstinate resistance to technological change, that counts as a revolutionary development.

    PressPlay’s new $9.95-a-month plan allows unlimited downloading and streaming in Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio, but you can’t move those downloads off the computer, nor can you play them if you close your account. A $17.95 plan ($14.95 a month over a one-year term) adds 10 “portable downloads” a month, which you can move, burn to a CD or transfer to some digital-music players. You can also buy portable downloads {grv}a la carte — five for $5.95, 10 for $9.95 or 20 for $18.95.

    PressPlay’s selection, however, remains weak: It only stocks music from its two corporate parents, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, plus a set of independent labels.

    ….A different music service I tried last week, Listen.com’s Rhapsody, gets closer to the mark, even though it offers no downloading outside of its classical-music plan. Instead, a $9.95 monthly subscription buys unlimited streaming from an inventory that includes material from all five major record labels, plus many more indie labels than PressPlay. Listen.com is also upfront about explaining when an artist isn’t available.

    What makes Rhapsody’s streaming-only approach work is the way its Windows Media streams start almost immediately and sound as good as downloaded files. (The site uses a high-quality 128-kbps encoding, while PressPlay tops out at 96 kbps.) I heard maybe one dropout per hour at work and over DSL at home — to me, that made Rhapsody’s streams the functional equivalent of PressPlay’s downloads.

    (Over a modem, however, Rhapsody sounds just as crummy as PressPlay.)

    You can use a Rhapsody account from as many Windows PCs as you like. Like PressPlay, Listen.com suggests a Mac version is likely but isn’t promising anything.

    A Rhapsody subscription also includes access to a set of online radio stations — including custom channels built around up to 10 artists of your choice — with one supremely valuable feature: a skip button to avoid unwanted songs….

About Eric Olsen