The already plump streaming music space has just gotten a wee bit fatter with the introduction of the new Xbox Music. Microsoft recently took the wraps off a Web-based Xbox Music, which lets Xbox Music Pass subscribers stream their favorite music (ad-free!) to PC web browsers as well as tablets, phones, and, naturally, Xbox home video game consoles for $9.99 per month (or $99.90 per year). Xbox Music has a streamlined, easy-to-navigate interface and good sound quality, but it’s missing several features found in rival services.
Dropping a Coin in the Jukebox
The first thing that you’ll probably notice about Xbox Music is the panel-driven interface that has become the face of all of Microsoft’s consumer-end products (including Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Xbox Live). The second thing, one that you’ll definitely notice, is that Xbox Music demands that you pull out a credit card before listening. Xbox Music requires an Xbox Music Pass subscription ($9.95 per month or $99.90 per year); there’s no free version. That said, you can test-run the service for 30 days, but that still requires removing plastic from your wallet for the trial.
Xbox Music has the most streamlined interface of all the high-profile streaming music services. After logging into the site, you’re taken to a stark home screen that, unfortunately, doesn’t convey “music” at all—at first. There aren’t any featured artists, trending songs, music guides, or a list of genres/categories; instead, you’re prompted to search for your favorite music. That’s a major blow toward music discovery. Slacker Radio, on the other hand, has several points of entry designed to drive you deeper into its catalog. Fortunately, Xbox Music’s empty home screen spots become filled as you add music to your Collection—more on that in a bit.
My “The Dirtbombs” query returned several thumbnail images that, when clicked, let be check out the band’s bio page, individual albums, and related groups such as The Gories. Oddly, some related artist listings lack thumbnail images, which gives the interface an incomplete look. A column to the far right highlights many of the group’s defining songs like “Ever Lovin’ Man” and “I Can’t Stop Thinking About It.”
Playlists and Collections
Rivals such as Spotify and Slacker specialize in recreating the radio experience by focusing on recommendations and channel building, but Xbox Music’s web version does not (it should be noted that the Windows 8 Xbox Music tablet app does). It’s designed with playlists and collections in mind, which may require you to change how you consume audio.
Xbox Music doesn’t list genres/categories/channels so you must actively search for content until you build a Collection and Playlists, which I found mildly annoying. Once again, the Windows 8 Xbox Music app one ups the web version—it features over a dozen music categories. Why this is omitted from the Web build is a headscratcher. It also lacks Google Music’s digital locker features.
Dragging a song/album onto the “New Playlist” listing opens a small window that lets you name and save your new playlist; dragging a track/album to Collection creates what is essentially a shortcut to your favorite content. Alternately, you can build a Playlist and add to your Collection by clicking the arrow next to an album or song listing and choosing the appropriate destination.
Oddly, Xbox Music doesn’t let you delete a track or album from the main Collection screen; instead, you must click the song/album and then the trash icon. That seems like an extra, unnecessary step.
Content and Sound Quality
Xbox Music, like its rivals, doesn’t have any egregious holes in its 30-million-song-strong music library, so I had no problem finding Arcade Fire, Led Zeppelin, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Minnie Ripperton content. I discovered that a comedy album or two were M.I.A. (such as Joe Rogan’s “I’m Gonna Be Dead Someday…”), but I was pleased with the catalog. Slacker Radio still outclasses Xbox Music with its ESPN live radio, lifestyles offerings, The Weather Channel content, and themed channels (such as the “33 Greatest All-American Divas”).
The sound quality of Xbox Music, on the other hand, is quite good. I thoroughly enjoyed my “Paul’s Boutique” listening session due to Xbox Music’s loud, crisp audio. As I listened, however, I discovered that the service lacked song lyrics. That may not be a very big deal for some listeners, but I occasionally like to study the words that ride the music.
Xbox Music has the potential to be a strong contender in the space, with its audio quality, library, and easy-to-navigate interface, but some of the missing elements may deter hardcore music fans. That said, Microsoft has stated that Xbox Music will continually evolve over time, so here’s hoping that the Web product will adopt the missing tablet app features and challenge Slacker and Spotify on notice.
|OS Compatibility||Windows Vista, Windows XP, Linux, Mac OS, Windows 7, Windows 8|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc