Rhapsody Review

rhapsody Rhapsody Review

Buying music isn’t the only option these days and you can “rent” it from a subscription service for a pretty decent monthly fee. Rhapsody is one such service that also offers to sell you the tracks as MP3 if you want to keep them. Read on for a review.

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Requirements, software and concept

By now it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a music service isn’t global. Rhapsody is only available in the US- due to licensing I assume. Proxies work fine for signing up and the software will work fine as long as your account is confirmed. This means that people outside the US can use it with some tinkering and you can also use it when outside the country if you’re actually from the US.

Rhapsody is available both as a subscription service and a MP3 store service. Subscription music means that you have to continue your subscription in order for the music to work and also connect the portable player to the computer/the computer to the Internet to update the license every now and then, but aside form that you get the full tracks available on your device. Any song in their library, as many as you want, for a monthly fee. You “rent” the music, you don’t own it. There is a Rhapsody download manager software which is far more complex than that of eMusic or Amazon and let’s you browse music as well as download and sync to devices, play etc. For MP3 files however you don’t actually need the software as Rhapsody will let you download the music as a ZIP-file. This is very useful since it will give you a single file to download even if you’ve bought an album or several files. Amazon will only let you download single files the “normal” way. The ZIP method lets you download from any web browser, but it also means you can’t have a WiFi enabled device take advantage of direct downloads without it having ZIP functionality or Rhapsody download compatibility. It’s not unlikely that public computers running old OSes might have issues with ZIP, but it shouldn’t be a bother for many. Be aware that Rhapsody only let’s you download a track you bought once, so if you lose it or delete it that’s your loss. Dumb system, if you ask me.

As for the Rhapsody To Go service (more on this later) which let’s you use the subscription music on a portable player, you do have to have a Rhapsody compatible player. Unfortunately Rhapsody support isn’t as wide-spread as for example Audible support, but at least many of the SanDisk Sansa players can use the subscription service. Of course there are also home systems that can use Rhapsody as well as the Rhapsody software.

Pricing

Subscription

Rhapsody has perhaps the single dumbest naming scheme for their services ever. There is Rhapsody Unlimited, and Rhapsody To Go. The Unlimited plan is, contrary to its name, the limited plan and will only let you play music only on the PC or through the web browser. The To Go plan however, is unlimited and includes syncing to a portable device. One would think “Rhapsody Local” or something like that would be a better plan for a limited plan than Rhapsody Unlimited, as the latter is certainly going to confuse many. It doesn’t help that when you sign up for a trial it doesn’t ask you what account you want; there are separate links for To Go trials and Unlimited trials, so if you’re new to Rhapsody and don’t know there’s a difference you might very well see the “unlimited” sign up, register an account and find you can’t use it on your player after all. If you have signed up for the Unlimited trial you also cannot sign up or convert to the To Go trial, which essentially mean
s that if you click the wrong link when you sign up you might lose the 14 day trial of the service you actually want to test. Pricing for the limited Unlimited plan is $12.99 and for the unlimited To Go plan $14.99.

As for the MP3 store, Rhapsody more or less uses the same prices as iTunes. Some tracks are $0.99, others $1.29. I haven’t seen any $0.69 tracks like on iTunes though and Rhapsody conveniently avoids prices as a topic in the “about” page and the help section. Albums also have about the same prices as on iTunes, being normally around $9.99-$10.99 but with some costing more or less than that.

Finding music

Rhapsody is special in that it has both a browser based music store and one through the software. The look of each isn’t exactly the same, but the layout more or less is. On the main page you get the usual featured tracks and albums in the middle as well as new music (in the software version) or your latest activity (in the browser). You have the genres and other filters to browse by in the left sidebar and charts of the most popular artists, albums and tracks in the right. You also have various banners and access to your account if you’re using the browser store. There’s also a link to free music on the main browser page, kind of like Amazon has, but that link isn’t always there (it’s technically a random banner). Going through to a genre will provide you with basic info on what the genre is about and various featured music from that genre. From there you can browse on to subgenres and so on. Going into an artist page gives you artist picture and info (if available), top albums, top tracks and so on. The browser store also shows a calendar for concerts (if available), photo gallery and artist radio station.

Going into an album shows you the album art and a list of tracks which you can then play, add to playlist or buy as an MP3. Annoyingly, in the browser you get a pop-up with a player in it if you click to play a song. This is of course because as a subscription service you can play the full song and make playlists etc, so you need to have the player in a separate window from the browser, but it’s a bit of a hassle if you quickly want to play a single track. In the software this is of course not a problem since it will play in the software itself.

There is also a third way of browsing, which is online as an MP3 store. The basic layout is the same but it will show you real prices on everything and have different recommendations. You can also not add to playlist from the MP3 store even if you can buy as MP3 from the subscription store. If you don’t have a subscription account you can also get 25 free full plays every month, which means the normal previews will be the full song. This is probably a way to sneak in a small trial of subscription services into the MP3 store, but whatever the reasoning behind it it’s still nice.

The browsing works fine in all three places but the software version is a tad annoying. You have a top- and sidebar that blocks most of the screen and the scrolling inside the store is also rather annoying. Browsing through the software is also slower than the Internet connection and browsing online is noticeably faster and a more pleasant experience. There are however a few weird little “bugs” in each version. For example, the online version will show an artist in the navigation bar as home>artist, while the software will show it as music guide (“home”)>genre>subgenre>artist. The first method makes it a bit hard to see what genre you’re in if you find an artist you like and want more music of the same kind.

There also seems to be something weird going on with the search; first it wasn’t able to find “black eyed peas” through the search tool in the software, only manually. Later on, a search for “linkin park” in the browser store showed me three playlists called “linking park” but nothing else. Clicking on those miss-spelled playlists I was able to find a mention of Linkin Park and click it, bringing me to the actual artist. This also happened several times, including with “ferry corsten”. In all instances the name was spelled 100% correct, and the auto-complete list that popped up underneath the search bar also had the artists directly when I went back to check, but still no way of finding them by searching the name. A very weird and annoying bug.

It’s also a bit confusing to have three different versions of basically the same store, and they could easily have dropped the one in the software in favour for the one in the browser. I do get the MP3 store as that targets other people than those with subscriptions, but the software version of the store doesn’t.

Rhapsody do have an extra feature up its sleeves that is very nice: playlist central. This is basically a way to browse user-generated playlist and adding them to your own subscription. Since you don’t pay extra for music you can freely access all songs of playlists made by others and thereby having a whole new way of finding music. You can also find playlists that contain specific albums or artists, which makes it an even better tool for finding similar artists- recommendations by actual humans- users like yourself- not a computer algorithm.

Selection

To test selection I use 20 artists that represents different kinds of music and popularity. These 20 aren’t enough to provide a full picture of the selection, and errors like double entries etc do happen, but it’s better than anything and does show to some degree what the store has to offer. As more services is reviewed the list will be expanded, so I’ll let the chart speak for itself.

spotify selection Rhapsody Review

File Formats

Rhapsody seems to think their customers are morons as the help section doesn’t specify the specifications of the codecs used, instead it specifies what an MP3 is at all. I looked through the help pages and found lots of info on how to search, browse, what an MP3 is, how to purchase etc- nothing on what you’re actually paying for. According to the Internet however the subscription service uses 192kbps .RAX files for subscription downloads and 160kbps for streaming (or 64kbps for low bandwidth streaming). Not the best quality out there, in other words, but it should do. As for the MP3 files, the ones I downloaded were 256kbps CBR. That’s inferior to both the 256kbps CBR AAC used by iTunes and the V0 VBR MP3 used by Amazon and eMusic. Bottom line, Rhapsody seems to aim at the “I don’t care crowd” by not only having the worst quality of the services so far but also hiding or not listing the specifications of the files.

Conclusion

Rhapsody is a nice service that gives you the option to either get a subscription service or buy the songs as MP3s. The selection is decent and the browsing is good, but the software is more complicated than it should be- I’d much rather see software for syncing and playback only and keep the browsing to the web browser which works better in this case. A very buggy search feature, dumb subscription plan names, lack of file format tech specs and a generally “dumbed down” system are the major downsides of Rhapsody, and it’s nothing most people can’t live with. I’m not sure if I’d use Rhapsody for buying music due to the lower (if not by much) quality and the somewhat high prices, but the subscription service is a nice deal- if you have a compatible player, that is. Overall a good service, but parts of it needs overhauling.




20 Comments

Attreides on November 21, 2009 10:21 AM

Does the licensing upgrade of players actually work for rockbox as it should be? I had Napster2Go, and my tracks allways stopped working when they weren’t supposed to be, sometimes on the same day I have placed them on the player (when there was no renewal, other songs worked).

Alan on November 21, 2009 12:03 PM

I pay for Rhapsody for my nephew and he uses it regularly and enjoys it. It’s great if you have a wide ranging or fickle taste in music.Not having some of the hottest songs as part of the ‘rental’ can be a bother sometimes but for me, I can keep myself busy looking for and playing many old favorites.I’m amazed how hard it is to find out if players are Rhapsody To Go compatible. My nephew uses the previous version of the Sansa Clip and it sounds great. For other players I search online to see if people say they can use Rhapsody with them. I wish more reviews of MP3 players would confirm if it seemed to work with Rhapsody To Go as Rhapsody’s published list of compatible players is very short.You ‘rent’ your cable TV and lose it when you stop paying so for people like me, the Rhapsody model of ‘renting’ music works great for me as well.

Relyt on November 21, 2009 5:53 PM

I still have a Rhapsody 25 account from before the updates a couple years back. I get only pay downloads from the store (no streaming/rental) and 25 free plays a month.

Luca on November 22, 2009 2:23 PM

Hello everyone!I’m from Europe and using a proxy I was able to sign-up for the free trial of Rhapsody.Since using a proxy slows down websurfing a lot, I disabled it, and as soon as I did, Rhapsody noticed I was not in the USA and refused streaming music.The review says that “the software will work fine as long as your account is confirmed”, is this true?I’m actually using linux, so I’m just listening to music on firefox (no Rhapsody software installed) can this be the problem?

Bob on November 22, 2009 3:29 PM

Best Buy doesn’t own Rhapsody, incidentally. In fact, the partnership between Rhapsody and Best Buy, The Best Buy Digital Music Store, is ending. Best Buy now owns Napster, acquired as a subsidiary in 2008, actually. Rhapsody is kind of the “odd man out” from Best Buy’s viewpoint, I would assume. Rhapsody is a joint venture with RealNetworks and Viacom / MTV.Rhapsody allows three devices per account, a wonderful thing if you have children. I recommend Rhapsody as a respite from the expense of individual downloads, a wonderful way to explore new (and old) music.

Andreas Ødegård on November 22, 2009 5:10 PM

@Luca: the SOFTWARE works fine without a proxy as long as your account is verified- didnt say the browser version did. I used a firefox based proxy, which of course means the Rhapsody software was proxy free, and it still worked. Didnt try the browser without a proxy

Luca on November 22, 2009 5:55 PM

Thanks Andreas, that’s what I thought but thanks for clarifying.

Richard A on November 22, 2009 11:24 PM

I’ve had a Rhapsody to Go subscription now for over three years, and, overall, I am pleased with the service. It works really well with my Sansa Fuze (the Rhapsody Channels are a great feature on the Fuze) and it also is compatible with the Samsung P3. As the review notes, the software is buggy. It can be painfully slow when syncing with my MP3 players, and, for some reason, songs are randomly added to my library.While I wish they would improve the software, the price is very reasonable, especially when you consider that you have access to millions of tracks. I just wish the software worked more seamlessly.

slaughter on November 23, 2009 1:35 AM

You forgot to mention that Rhapsody displays lyrics for some songs. As far as subscription music goes, you have a choice of downloading RAX or 160kbps wma in the software settings. I challenge you to a foobar ABX test of 160kbps files and 256kbps CBR AAC and V0 VBR. They’re all the same….

Noah on November 23, 2009 4:17 PM

Are you going to review Lala?

Eric on November 23, 2009 4:52 PM

Andreas,I have been reading your music store/services reviews and I have to say you are not doing a good job. For starters, you certainly aren’t a “journalist”; you have a a problem with simple fact checking. As pointed out already, Best Buy doesn’t own Rhapsody and there is absolutely no reason for you to have stated that except that you made an assumption and are being ignorant and lazy. It is also very well known that Best Buy in fact bought Napster. For someone working in the digital media field, I’m not impressed with your knowledge of the industry. You should try a little harder.

Ben on November 23, 2009 8:41 PM

@EricI’m sure that people who are actually trying to decide which service to choose, couldn’t care less about this specific detail.:)

becca on November 24, 2009 11:06 AM

I’ve been a rhapsody to go user for almost 2 years now and i LOVE it! I specifically bought the samsung s3 b/c i already had the rhapsody account and i knew they were compatible. i simply refuse to buy into the glitzy packaging of the ipod brand. i’m sure it’s a great product and they do a great job marketing their pretty little toys but i’m not buying it. i like rhapsody b/c it allows me to listen to all the music i like without having to iconform.

ashiiya on November 26, 2009 11:08 PM

@Ben: I agree. Of course, if this fact was an essential part of choosing a service, I’d understand, but whether or not that’s true doesn’t make a difference. Nothing to complain about. It’s all about whether the service itself is good for you or not.

crescentdave on November 30, 2009 3:44 PM

In Zune, I chose electronic/dance. It opens to a page with 10 sub-genres. There is no further breakdown. I can order them according to “Most Played” or “Year.” The “year” category sorts by decades only. It doesn’t even order the years within the decade. The 00′s for example, will have 2003 albums next to 2008 albums.In Rhapsody, I chose electronic/dance. A page opens with 9 sub-genres. Picking a sub-genre yields a breakout of further sub-genres. There are a total of 34 sub-genres within that spread of 9 basic electronic/dance subgenres. Each page contains an Album spotlight, the sub-genre spotlight and description, top artists, a sampler in order to get a feel for the sub-genre, top playlists, top artists and top albums. Chose the top artists and select one. It takes you to the artist’s page, a description of them, top tracks, an artist channel, similar artists, top playlists, top albums and a list of their albums and compilations they appear in- sorted by date.

WesFX on December 8, 2009 6:09 PM

I have a Rhapsody subscription. It’s missing a few old albums from the Electronic genre, but otherwise a great selection.

Sharon on January 23, 2010 2:59 PM

Hi-We’ve had Rhapsody for a few years now and it is a good service, however there are a couple of things about it that I find quite irritating.One thing is the music skipping as it plays. There are repeated breaks and skips. I don’t know why, and it’s never been fixed. Sometimes it’s fine and there are no breaks or skips, and other times, there are plenty. If you are like me and trying to play an intrument along to a song for practice, this will begin to annoy you very much. It ruins your practice and it also ruins your mood. You should be relaxed when trying to play and learn, not building up irritation because you can’t listen to more than 30 seconds of a song without it skipping, usually at a crucial moment, always throwing off your time.Also, when I search for songs and have them in the mixer, sometimes I’ll have 200 songs in there that I have painstakingly collected. It’s highly annoying to come back into the account and realize that everything has been wiped clean, for no apparant reason. Yes, you can drag them over to the library and they will most likely stay there, since the library was never wiped out, but still, this is irritating and it happens to my son on his computer, too.If you listen to a wide range of music that would cost hundeds or thousands of dollars to own, like my husband does, then it is worth it to have the Rhapsody account and get so much exposure to music. It was thanks to Rhapsody that I discovered Iron and Wine so I thank them for that. If the skipping would stop, it would be perfect and I would have no complaints because the other things are pretty minor gripes that I could live with. But music that skips is just irritating.

asd on March 14, 2010 9:23 PM

The Rhapsody software is very, very buggy if you are trying to download to a mobile player. Be prepared to spend hours trying to get your device to sync. The software can’t seem to add new playlists to your device. You have to format your device and download your entire library.

asfw on November 13, 2010 2:06 PM

asd above is spot on. I have no idea why rhapsody has so much trouble syncing a device. I’ve had to switch to making rhapsody download all songs, then using windows media player to put them on the player.

Also, the player has a lot of trouble simply downloading large number of songs. I tried selecting 400 of the songs in my library for download. That was 2 days ago, and rhapsody locks up after every couple dozen.

It’s been like this for as long as I can remember. Since I had to move from yahoo music to this :(

sorryZunefailed on August 27, 2011 8:14 PM

I’ve been a Rhapsody subscriber for 4 years.  It’s OK for me, because I generally download 10-20 tracks a week.  Most I listen to for a while an discard, so it’s a cost-effective way to try out new music on an extended basis without paying a fortune in phone bills for streaming music to my phone.

BUT … the software is full of bugs.  It constantly freezes in mid-transfer, and generally will only download 80-90% of any given playlist.   Customer support is useless, and the problem has persisted for years.  We’re given elaborate instructions to reinstall Windows Media Player, delete DRM files, update Windows components,  but nothing works.  Then they say to reformat your device and reload everything.  That works for a week or two, but then the downloads start freezing up again and you’re back to square one.

I subscribe, as I’ve said, because it’s a cost-effective way to get most of the music I want to listen to downloaded to MP3 without paying for each track. Potential subscribers should take notice and prepare themselves to accept the service for what it is.  Cheap, unstable, and frustrating.   That works for me, but may not for eveyone.

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