A couple of weeks back Beats unveiled their Beats Music streaming service. What makes it special are two things; first, it’s all 320 Kbs MP3 streaming with no lower resolution than 320 kbs. Its second special feature is that instead of using algorithms to form playlists or personal “stations” as do other streaming services, Beats Music employs human “curators” to pick and match music.
I signed up for Beats Music’s free week of service to see how it all worked. Sonically BM is OK. 320 Kbs is the highest bit-rate MP3 available and it’s almost as good as an uncompressed signal. I’ve done many comparisons between 320 MP3 and 44.1/16 files and the differences are easily identifiable in an A/B test. The MP3 files typically lack some high frequency extension, are less 3-dimensional, and don’t have quite the same level of inner detail as the same file in uncompressed form. I’d call it listenable but not as involving. That’s the sound quality I heard on Beats Music.
In terms of content and ergonomic ease I’d give Beats Music a B. Upon opening up Beats Music for the first time you are offered a series of balloons with genre types printed on them. Depending on which balloons you click, and how many times you click (the balloons will grow in size) you determine the types of music you will be offered by Beats Music. After making your preference selections you’re greeted by a page of selected albums that Beats curators think you might like to hear. After a couple of days use the Beats interface starts to make more sense, but at first all I really wanted was a nice large SEARCH button so I could make my own album choices. Beats also has a large number of pre-made genre and mood combos that you can select. Many would be fine for background, casual listening.
MOG users received a notice on the day that Beats Music went live that MOG’s music service would be shutting down and all MOG users could migrate to Beats Music, or not, but MOG was no longer going to be an option.
As you might expect, users who liked MOG (and there are many), were not pleased and would prefer that MOG continue operation. Whether Beats’ “my way or the highway” migration policy will garner a nice quick major market share or even make more friends than enemies is still not clear. Given Beats’ history with Monster, where Beats clearly out-sharked a company that had a previous history of being one of the sharper companies in audio does not bode well for MOG customers wishes…
As to whether the human “curator” idea will make Beats a savvy, hipper, and more enjoyable streaming source than their competitors is still to be seen. I’m not going to start paying their monthly fee after my free period ends because I prefer to do my own curating with my own music library. All I need to do is select “shuffle” on my iTunes and I have the best curator EVER selecting my songs – ME. I’m not being egotistical – you, too, have the best curator sitting right inside you – merely selecting shuffle on your music library will liberate your library’s tunes to connect in new and novel ways.
I suppose if I spent a lot of time not at home, traveling from point A to point B, I would consider ponying up for the new Beats Music service, but if you spend most of your listening time at home like I do and have already developed your own music library, Beats new curated 320 Kbs service will have less appeal.