Beats, the company that brought you elegantly-designed headphones, has rolled out its music-streaming service. The company doesn’t just want to help you enjoy your music; it also wants to help you find more music that you’ll love. Its promotional video claims that the company wants to help you find the perfect music for every moment. At this point, I’m not sure if the service actually fulfills that rather lofty goal. I’ve used Beats for about a week and so far I find the service to be robust—but hardly revolutionary.
I’ve split my review into five sections: Aesthetics, Functionality, Music Prediction, Sound Quality, and Music Catalog.[divider] [/divider]
Beats is a beautiful app—there’s no doubt about that. The music player is undeniably gorgeous with a large, red outer circle displaying the song playtime and an inner grey circle displaying the volume. The icons for “like,” “dislike,” “share,” and “add” are bulky and kind of adorable to be honest. Tapped icons turn a soft shade of red.
The web player is simple in design, which I think works. It lacks the sense of being cluttered I get from the Spotify web player.
There’s definitely a little bit of a learning curve in navigating Beats and in the phone app, I end up using the search feature a ton.
When you set up an account, the app will ask you two questions: which genres you like and which musical artists you prefer. The idea is that after choosing preferred genres that you’re presented with artists that belong to those genres. However, Beats also features the ability to like one genre more than another, which makes sense. For example, I deleted the circles for Country and Rap/Hip-Hop because my life is generally better when I don’t encounter songs from those genres. I then held the Pop icon for three seconds, expanding it to three times its original size. After that, I double-tapped Rock, Indie, R&B, and Alternative; those circles doubled in size. You’d think, then, that I would be presented with artists from all the genres that I liked—but most of the options would be for Pop. This was not the case. For some algorithmic reason, I was only presented with artists from Alternative: Green Day, Linkin Park, Hoobastank, etc. I chose my favorites, but worried about the music prediction based only on these artists from a genre that wasn’t even my favorite. There’s a section in Beats that’s titled “Just For You.” The first day that page was filled with artists, albums, and playlists that I really didn’t feel like listening to.
As a result of glitchy beginnings, I had to go through and search for my favorite artists: Britney Spears, Beyonce, Madonna, Katy Perry… and you get the idea. After “hearting” enough songs from these artists, the “Just For You” page started to fill up with mega Pop hits—but it was definitely bumpy beginnings.
There’s also a page titled “The Sentence,” which allows users to fill in the blanks of a sentence. In general the blanks are a physical location, an emotion, a noun, and a music genre. So you may end up with a sentence like, “I’m in bed & feel like celebrating with my co-workers to Disco.” It’s basically fill-in-the-blank, but the options for the blanks are pre-selected. It’s a fun spin on a process that can feel boring, but, as of this review, I’ve yet to write a sentence that yields music choices I can tolerate.
But at least the phone app always works, which is not something I can say of the web player. The web music player is finicky and may or may not work depending on its mood, I guess. During the day, this is how I primarily play music, but on the days where Beats didn’t work, I just ended up using Spotify, which is my current music-streaming service of choice.
However, finding playlists, making playlists, and subscribing to playlists is very easy. The offline feature is also nice and simple. Songs that are added to the phone app’s libraries are organized by album, song, and artist, so re-finding songs you really like is a breeze. Apple TV integration is a nice touch.
I was a little apprehensive when I started using Beats, which suggests music based on how it “feels” rather than relying on an algorithm. I’ve been carefully curating radio stations on Pandora for the past few years and wasn’t really looking forward to repeating the process (which I’d already repeated on Spotify, Rdio, and iTunes Radio). I was expecting something almost along the lines of Songza, which also relies on mood, but that’s no really what I got.
You see, I have a tendency to trick music prediction on music-streaming services. For example, I hate Rihanna post-2006. So, while I still enjoy listening to “Pon de Replay” and “SOS,” I cannot listen to “Umbrella” without grinding my teeth. A music service that relies on an algorithm assumes that because I’ve searched and “liked” Rihanna’s debut album that I must like all music by her, which is absolutely not the case. Similarly, I don’t listen to Country music regularly. However, I am partial to Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart.” In my workout playlist in my iPhone, I have Celtic Frost right after Madonna. My music taste is both eclectic and mercurial.
However, after I started liking songs I liked on Beats, I started receiving really good suggestions for playlists, other songs, and artists. It was almost like I was talking to a music connoisseur with every “heart” and “un-heart” and that this connoisseur was actually listening to me and tailoring each suggestion to my overall taste in music. I’ve been pretty pleased with the playlist suggestions, which I think are the best of any music-streaming service.
Arguably, this is the most important feature of a music-streaming service. You can have a great catalog, awesome music prediction, and amazing design, but these all become irrelevant if the sound quality is poor.
Fortunately, Beats does not have this problem. At all. The songs I play on the Beats iPhone app sound better than the songs actually on my iPhone. And the music sounds great regardless of the quality of my headphones, which is something I find really remarkable. I’m not exactly an audiophile, but even I can recognize the crispness of every song.
Beats currently has about 20 million tracks in its catalog, which is probably how many it needed to even compete in the market. To be honest, I probably would’ve been disappointed if they had less and may not have considered using the service. 20 million is enough to find songs for any mood or activity. My primary ambition when using new music-streaming services is to discover new music.
My free trial was just extended, so I have about seven more days left to test out Beats before I commit to the monthly subscription price of $10. I’ve never actually spent money on a music service before, since I’m fine with ads and since Spotify has full functionality on Web browsers. However, as someone who has used almost every streaming-music service, I have to say this is the first time I’ve seriously contemplated shelling out my hard-earned cash for something I can get for free elsewhere. For some people, the price tag alone is enough to never use Beats. Even if you know you’ll never pay for it, though, I still recommend giving Beats a shot. It is definitely a robust service, but I’m not sure if it’s unique enough to stand out from competitors like Spotify or even Rdio.