Spotify is here

A couple of years ago, I began to hear the buzz: Spotify, a streaming, interconnected service for computers and mobile devices, was fast becoming the rage in European capitals. Simple, sleek, and versatile, its "everything-we-have-is-your-music-library" approach seemed too good to be true.

Sadly, the service was not available in North America due to the complicated rights clearance issues that vary from country to country, and so I resolved to be blissfully ignorant about something that I could not have. Until now. Spotify finally announced its rollout here in the US in mid-July of 2011, and I haunted various online links until I received one of the coveted invitations for the free version.

On first glance, Spotify doesn't seem remarkably different from many other music players. The software installs and swiftly looks for any existing iTunes® libraries or other music files so that they can be added into your "Local Files" folder. The browser that appears will be reassuringly familiar to iTunes users. But then the fun begins: type a song or an artist into the search box and watch the results pour in. Though iTunes may currently have a broader library of available tunes for sale, Spotify offers their entire 13 million song catalog for free. Music streams almost instantly — less than a second on average to start on my decidedly pokey DSL. And Spotify works with both Windows® and Mac. Add five dollars a month and you lose the audio ads that appear in the free version. Up that cost to 10 dollars a month and you'll have full, streaming synchronization to iOS and Android™ devices, with higher quality streams.

The real power of Spotify's social integration comes when you go to make a playlist. Add songs one by one to the left-hand panel. When you're satisfied that you've assembled a strong mix you can a) add it to your queue and enjoy, b) right-click the list and get a link you can immediately share with friends online, or c) share your list publicly with all your Facebook friends or Twitter followers. You can even publish your favorite playlists to an aggregator like sharemyplaylists.com.

Plus, Spotify has partnered with Sonos, making it easy to fill your house with all the music you can imagine. With a premium Spotify account, it will become another hot button on your controller. In fact, you may already own a Sonos controller. A free app for your iOS or Android™ device will have you happily routing Spotify and other streaming content right where you need it.

The first night I downloaded Spotify, I spent 3 hours searching a variety of bands and tunes that have been no-shows on iTunes for years. About 85% of them live on the new service, including a few things I know to be long out-of-print. On the other hand, I found their classical selection to be woefully thin — even "greatest hits" pieces were either missing or underrepresented, and niche composers only spottily available.

Still, it's an auspicious start for this long-awaited launch. Spotify's catalog will get nothing but better, and market penetration will surely grow quickly. Add the fact that there's already support from powerful members of the home audio world and you have a recipe for a solid addition to your listening options.

Gift Card The Great Gear Giveaway

Sign up for our email newsletter and then enter to win a $500 Rewards Card.