After seeing and ignoring references to Slacker Radio for a long time, I recently came across a pretty positive review and decided to take a look. While I am a long-time and loyal Pandora user, I’m a big believer in multiple consumer choices. I’m glad I decided to take the Slacker Radio plunge. I don’t know if it will supplant Pandora as my favorite online music source, but it might. What was once a Pandora landslide is now too close to call.
Here’s what I like about Slacker Radio. First and foremost, I like the way you create and customize a station. You start with a single song or artist. Like any sane person, I started my classic rock station with the Allman Brothers. Then I added the Grateful Dead. I really like the list of allegedly similar artists (I say allegedly because you can’t get much father from the Dead than the Eagles (see image below)) that appears on the right hand side, where you can quickly select additional artists to seed your station.
I also like the lack of ads and the ability to skip as many songs as you want, which features are available with the paid “Plus” subscription ($4.00 a month, paid annually). With that plan, you’re supposed to be able to access detailed artist information and song lyrics, but I couldn’t get the lyrics feature to work in Firefox. It worked in Internet Explorer.
The thing that keeps me running back to Pandora is the music genome thing- where the application selects songs based on the tempo, tonality, arrangement, etc. of the songs you indicate you like. There are a lot of songs I would like out there by bands I don’t know. Pandora does a great job of exposing me to songs I really like by bands I know little or nothing about. I don’t know if the Slacker Radio algorithm will do as well, but so far I have been pleased by the selection. For example, the third song that played on my classic rock station was Sea of Joy by Blind Faith- a song I love.
I also like the ability to “fine tune” your station. By selecting the appropriate level, you can tell the app how much you’re interested in songs from other artists, how many deep cuts you want to hear and, most importantly, if you want old songs, new songs or a combination. Since 95% of my favorite classic rock songs were recorded prior to 1978, I chose older. Some of my favorite bands have kept on truckin’ beyond my loyalty.
On the downside, Slacker Radio’s web design is not particularly intuitive, in a Photobucket sort of way. I also noticed a lot of hangs when navigating between options in Firefox. In fact, I found the navigation to be profoundly difficult, mostly due to page freezes, accompanied by the never-ending little spinning circle (you’ll know it when you see it). Again, I didn’t have these problems in Internet Explorer, but I’m not going to change browsers for one music app.
The iPhone app is excellent. I was able to listen to my stations over wi-fi and 3G with little lag. In fact, I connected my iPhone to the auxiliary input on the audio system in my truck and listened to my station on the way home from work.
If they (or I) get this Firefox thing figured out, and if the algorithm works, Slacker Radio has a chance to supplant my beloved Pandora as my music app of choice.