Internet Radio Station Review
Top
Bottom
Top

Feature Article
Internet Radio Station Review

May 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis

Recently I have been listening to Internet Radio Stations at work. I decided it was time to tell the pros and cons of some of the sites I am listening to.

Ground Rules

It may seem I have been rather selective in the stations reviewed, but there are some good reasons. First, I did most of my listening at work. This forced a couple of restrictions. We have a firewall at my place of employment, so I am not able to listen to music that does not get sent over the standard port 80 (HTTP) or port 8080 (default for Real Audio).

This leaves out the ability to listen to broadcasts though sites like Live365.com, since they assign ports on some kind of random basis. With over 65,000 ports available it is unlikely they will pass out 8080. Also, I can’t listen to most Shoutcast stations since no one cares about using port 8080. (I use port 8080 so I can listen to my own Shoutcast broadcast at work.)

I also decided to limit the stations reviewed to those that use the browser for the interface. Two reasons dictated this choice. 1) My company forbids running "non-approved" software. This eliminated proprietary stations like Spinner. 2) Stations that play strictly though Real Player or Media Player are not interactive enough in my opinion.

Here are the ones I have listened to (in alphabetical order):

DiscJockey.com
LAUNCHcast
MEDIAmazing
NetRadio.com
WWW.com

Each Station has is pros and cons.

In these reviews you will see the terms genre and station used a lot. For the most part they are interchangeable. Each Internet Radio Station uses the term station or genre to differentiate the music they play on different channels. For the sake of this article genres, channels, and stations are all a different style of music such as Awesome 80’s, Pop Rock, Folk, Country, etc.

Without further ado, here are the stations in reverse order to the way I ranked them.

#5 - DiscJockey.com

DiscJockey has at least 140 channels from what I could tell. You can change channels only though a drop down list box on the player. Although you could navigate their web site to groups of channels to help find one, it is the selection from the player that counts in my book.

Its player has the basic controls for play/pause/stop. This is a welcome relief from ones that don’t allow you to stop the music and restart it at a later time. I find this handy when I need to stop the music in the middle of work.

The play has a display for buffering, but it is too small to display the actual percentage buffered. This makes it difficult to trouble shoot when it is not working properly. Fortunately that is rare. I had excellent results with steady listening. Their music selection is decent for my tastes and found I could stick with a channel for quite a while. Overall performance was very good.

So why is did this station place last with such good performance? Well, I mentioned the lack of buffering information and the single drop down list for channel selection. Another problem is their volume control. At 70% I couldn’t here it unless my headphone were turned all the way up, and at 90% it would break my ear drums unless I turned my headphones way down. This was a major nuisance. You get both audio and banner ads. Of course I prefer not to hear ads. Add to that most of the channels don’t display the name of the artist and song playing and it make it hard to recommend this Internet Radio Station for the long haul.

#4 - WWW.com

WWW.com is the first Internet radio station to get full royalty access to the music they play though the music industry. (I won’t even get into that argument here.) They have over 200 genres containing over 325,000 songs.

Their "player" uses skins, which should be a big hit with all the skin freaks out there. It is a decent player and provides some good basic functions. You can program six preset stations. You can also select any station from a drop down list on the player. It displays buffering of songs as well as the artist, song title, and album. And, of course, it provides a link to buy the album of the currently playing song. However, missing from the basics is a stop or pause button.

I found this station to have poor performance. It would stop playing frequently. But I would not let that deter you from giving it a try. You know the Internet... your mileage may vary. It could be the bandwidth available to me at the time of listening. I found one annoying bug. I would not get any sound unless I moved its volume button when the player was initially started. I don’t know why, and this could be limited to my workstation. None the less I found it irritating.

Overall they play a reasonable mix, but I feel it could be better. It felt like I spent too much time switching channels, which I also found takes too long. At least it displays the song about to play while it buffers so I can decide to change channels again quickly.

One big plus is that its advertising is through banner ads only. In my listening I didn’t here any commercials. Maybe I was changing stations too much to get an audio ad. If true, it is pleasant when nothing gets in the way of listening to the music.

It’s lack of performance and the frequent switching of channels makes leaves this one behind the pack.

#3 - MEDIAmazing.com

MEDIAmazing is very different from the previous stations in this review. One of its biggest features is that it plays all songs in their entirety. Three of the stations reviewed here have you tune into a selection that is already playing.

Their player’s interface is the busiest of the lot. Flashing ads seem to be all over. This is not a big problem since you can minimize the player and just listen. Unfortunately you will be listing to audio ads as well.

MEDIAmazing provides all the basic information and then some. You have play/pause/stop controls. You also can skip songs, which works well since all songs are played from the beginning. You can also play just a preview "clip" of each song in their playlist. This would be handy if you didn’t have to wait for each clip to buffer.

Full buffering information in displayed to make trouble shooting a breeze. And from my listening you will need it. I had trouble maintaining steady listing. I am sure this is partially due to their buffering each song individually. In essence you have to start you connection over with each song. This is the downside to hearing all songs in their entirety.

An interesting item is the ability to rate the current song directly from the player. Although other players let you rate songs, it is not as simple as this. And the current rating for the song is always displayed, so you know immediately how others have rated the song. I assume they use this information to help mold their playlists.

Genre selection is also unique in MEDIAmazing. You select from which genres you like from a list of about 30. There is a scrollable list on the left of the player that you check the genres you are interesting in listening to the moment. Songs from those selected genres are then played in a mixed format. This differs from other players that have you select one genre to listen to at a time. This is not all that bad with the ability to skip songs. I think of it as a nice alternative. You could narrow your genre list to one genre to force a single style of music, but that would require more effort on your part.

Overall I like some of the things MEDIAmazing does. They desperately need more genres. I had poor performance, but you may have better luck. Finally their song selection could use work, but is better than WWW.com.

#2 - NetRadio.com

NetRadio has the simplest interface for listening. In fact it is too simple, and that is something I rarely say. Their player is missing any buffering information making it difficult to trouble shoot. I had trouble getting it started and the buffering information would go a long way to help determine why I was staring at a quiet player. Also missing from the player is a volume control. Minor issue, but and issue none the less.

Even with their simple interface they did one thing very well. They display the currently playing song and the previous song. And those are displayed in standard HTML text. This means two things, 1) You don’t have to stop what you are doing immediately to see the name and artist of the song playing, and 2) you can copy/paste the name of the artist and song out of the player for saving elsewhere. Very helpful.

Overall performance was above average. I could listen for long periods, like DiscJockey, without hiccups. The usual links are present for buying the appropriate CD for the song playing. Unfortunately they have both banner and audio ads. NetRadio has over 120 channels, but selection is from a single drop down list on the player. No presets like WWW.com.

Overall I like NetRadio. Its performance was among the best and it had very good song selection within its genres. If they could add presets for genres, buffering information without cluttering the display, and get rid of the audio ads I would lock in on this one.

#1 - LAUNCHcast.com

This was a difficult choice, but LAUNCHcast has the best combination of features. All songs are played in their entirety, a feature only shared with MEDIAmazing. They don’t have any audio commercials, so you can minimize their player and never have to here anything but music. And you can skip songs, even permanently.

But those are small points for LAUNCHcast. Their best feature is that you are listening to the music you like. This is much more than just genre selection. If you don’t like a song you can rate it a zero (X) and it will never be played for you again. You rate songs on a scale of X (0) to 100. The rating is supposed to determine future play time. Songs you like a lot will be played more often then songs you like less. This rating system also goes toward the artist performing the songs and even the album the song in on. If you don’t like Led Zeppelin (who are you?) just X them out and they will never be played again.

The downside to this feature is that it requires you to be very proactive while listening. This can be tiresome. Also, it is difficult to rate artists by themselves on LAUNCHcast’s web site. A convenient list of all artists they play would be a great addition. To rate just an artist means doing it while they are playing or going to the artist’s page from an album or song listing.

With LAUNCHcast you fill out a genre page on their web site; this helps determine which new songs will be played. They also let you list traditional radio stations that you like to help them determine what to play for you. Another thing is that you can select other listeners of LAUNCHcast to be your preferred "DJs." Basically, you pick up on other listener’s tastes in music. All this helps them decide what to play for you. Overall their system works well, but not without flaws. They still kept slipping in country songs from time to time even though I deselected that from their genre page.

My performance was above average. Songs played well with minimal drop out. The player did give up from time to time, so it is not perfect. I like their music mix, both with new songs and the amount they repeated songs I rated high.

The player is attractive and unobtrusive. Amazing because they provide minimal ad space on the player. And they don’t have any audio ads. Basic controls are present except a stop button. You can pause songs indefinitely (at least I could over night). But stopping play would require shutting down the window.

One other problem I have with LAUNCHcast is with song selection. They tend to play versions of a song form the latest album of the band. A lot of time this is a live album, and I usually prefer studio albums to live ones. A specific example is Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. LAUNCHcast played the version from Live At Wembley '86 instead of the one from A Night At The Opera. I would hate to rate this song zero, but I really would have just preferred to hear the studio version from Queen’s other album or even from the Wayne’s World soundtrack.

Like I said in the beginning, you need to be very proactive with LAUNCHcast. But it all seems to be worth it. After a few hours (30-40 diligently rating songs and artists) LAUNCHcast plays a great selection of music. Its flaws were minor, and ultimately it was its eventual songs selection that won me over.

Conclusion

Although LAUCHcast was not perfect, and required a lot of attention to train to my music likes, I think this is the way of the future. Privacy freaks may not like LAUNCHcast finding out so much about your listening tastes, but I hope they would limit this to just playing new music I might be interested in hearing. As technology improves it should be even easier to get an Internet Radio Station to play a near perfect selection of music you like.

The other stations here have their own benefits, but I ultimately feel getting a station to play your preferred music is the best feature. It will always be difficult to predict new songs to play for you, but I see this as the best overall solution.

Bottom