Yesterday, through what seems to be random happenstance, everyone on Twitter started talking about Spotify. One email to the press department and a very short wait later and we had ourselves an invitation to the closed trial. The idea behind Spotify is that you download a very slender app, search for some music and start listening.
It really is that simple. We found that a search for music returns results in a flash and there's virtually no wait once you click a song before it plays. The selection is great too, with label support from EMI, Universal, Sony BMG and Warner. We were able to find pretty much everything we wanted to listen to -- there was even some happy hardcore.
We've also fallen in love with the ability to share playlists with friends. It's as easy as creating a new list, then right-clicking (or whatever voodoo is involved in right-clicking on a Mac) and choosing 'Collaborative playlist'. From there, you can send a link to friends who can listen to the music, and add their own tracks. Genius.
The quality is also very good. Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis to stream music at around 160kbps. Not CD quality, but certainly as good as many DAB radio stations. In order to save bandwidth, a streamed song is downloaded to your computer in a cache. That means you won't transfer the data again if you want to listen to a song over and over.
There's no such thing as a free lunch, so you might be wondering how Spotify is funded. Well, there are three options available for users. The first is free, and works by playing short, but unskippable, adverts in between songs. The company aims to keep the number of ads as low as possible, but paying artists is crucial for the service, so some interruption is inevitable.
If advertising is unbearable to you, there are two subscription options. The first is a per-day rate of £0.99, which is useful if you're having a party and just want 24 hours of ad-free music. The second package is paid monthly and costs £10. There's also the option to pony up for 12 months in advance for £100, a £20 discount.
Now, having excited you about the service, we're going to deliver a devastating blow. Currently, the free version is accessible by invitation only. It is possible to get around that problem by paying for a premium account, if you're so inclined.
Once you have an account, you can access it from as many computers as you like, but only one at a time. The service currently operates in the UK and much of Western Europe. Spotify runs on both Windows XP/Vista and Mac OS X (10.4 is required). There's no Linux-specific version yet, but the company suggests it will run under Wine.
Spotify is quite simply, in our opinion, the best thing to happen to music since MP3s. All we need now is a mobile phone app for it, and we're golden.