By Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.
When you press play in any music service, you want to hear music right away.
Even if the files you’re playing are stored up in the cloud, web and mobile apps must maintain the illusion that the files live on one’s own device. If the lag time is too long, our brains tell us that something is broken. We don’t like that. If it happens often enough, the discerning listener will throw up his or her hands and go back to storing music locally on a hard drive, just like grandpa used to do.
With Spotify reportedly planning a web-based version, website measurement Apica conducted some speed and reliability tests on the most popular web-based music services (including both internet radio and on-demand services), by pinging them to try to listen to music every 30 seconds, beginning in May.
The company released its findings on Thursday. The short story? Slacker Radio responded the fastest, but often suffered “unavailability” (definition below). The real winners appeared to be Pandora on the internet radio side, and MOG on the on-demand side, so if you’re looking for the fastest, most responsive web-based music services, you have your answer. The following chart shows how each service performed:
What about the losers? On the internet radio side, Songza and Last.fm tied with the slowest responses, at an interminable nine seconds a piece. As for “availability,” only Slacker Radio deviated significantly from the pack, with a meager 83 percent availability rating.
And on the on-demand side, availability didn’t vary much, but both Rdio and Grooveshark fell significantly behind MOG in response time.
Response time is fairly clear (how long does the music take to play?), but what does “availability” mean, exactly? According to what Apica spokeswoman Alicia Buonanno told Evolver.fm, Apica’s availability rating generally means “uptime — how often the site remains up for users.” Any of these services was deemed unavailable if its pinging server encountered “error, failure, or if the site doesn’t load,” and the above ratings indicate an average recorded since May. So according to Apica, Slacker Radio is lightning-fast — the fastest on the web, in fact — but only if it’s working at all, and a stunning 16 percent of the time, it failed to play anything, at least as defined by Apica (Songza also did pretty poorly there).
It will be interesting to see how Spotify does with its reported web version. Some reviewers have credited the fast response time of its desktop version for its apparent takeover of the on-demand streaming space, so it will be interesting to see how it fares on the web side, and how that in turn affects users’ perception of the product.
Ultimately, none of these browser-based services came anywhere close to the speed with which one hears sound after dropping a needle on a record, so there’s plenty of room for improvement across the board.