Yahoo Unlimited! Music Service: Snap Review

I’ve spent about a day toying with Yahoo’s new “Unlimited” music service. So far, not so bad. I’ve had my mind set on trying one of these music “rental” services ever since a friend played several hours of entertaining background music for a social gathering through the current Napster service. Yahoo’s $6.99/month price tag pushed me over the edge.

There’s plenty of goodness to be had. They claim to have over 1 million songs. There are a lot, and almost any music you can imagine. Getting all this music cleared with the labels MUST be a pain. The interface is pretty good. The search capabilities over both your personal collection of music and the content on their service is pretty good, which you’d hope, since Yahoo begin its life as a search engine. I have a broad taste in music, with many strange wrinkles to it, so their rating and recommendation engine is of particular interest to me. You can rate songs, albums, and artists, and they’ll recommend more music based on the preferences of others with common interests. You can then have your own LAUNCHcast station that will make a “radio station” out of music you’ve rated that you like and similar music. This should be useful once I get a broader base of rated music. I haven’t tried the part where you actually download the music in burnable format, but the full library of music is available for up to 3 PCs per account, and can be transferred to a WMA DRM capable player. We’ve found our RCA Lyras to be nice and compact, good battery life, and important to me – expandable. Paying through the nose for fixed-capacity players is a losing proposition. With this service, we can try them out with an unlimited library.

There are some definite down sides to the service. For one, they’re playing the Google game of taking a “Beta” product to the broad market, and it shows. The software’s a bit buggy. Yesterday, it wouldn’t let me leave the album page for a particular album, no matter what else I clicked on. The search bar doesn’t always work. Sometimes it just sends you back to the home page and you have to search again to get actual results. The back button often goes back further than you’d expect on a single click. The recommendations data isn’t very populated yet, and often simplistic. In spite of having rated 43 artists, 5 genres, 34 albums, and 157 songs, the bulk of my radio station playlist ends up being 80’s music, recommended because I like U2 or The Police. This will certainly get better as their total user base grows. Another glaring issue is some of the music that’s missing. I’m hoping Moby DOES get stomped by Obie, because half of his music isn’t available. Beck has apparently decided to pick and choose what gets released – his current single, E-Pro, is only available for purchase, not available to listen via streaming. His album “Mutations” isn’t available for streaming or download, and “Odelay!” is only half there, missing the gem “Devil’s Haircut”. Most blatant is the absence of Nine Inch Nails’ “Pretty Hate Machine”. This album is classic, seminal, central to the history of recent music, and still one of the defining records of a genre, and it’s curiously absent. I won’t dwell as much on the missing obscure music, such as Circle of Dust’s amazing “Disengage”, or decade-old Christian alternative. My criticisms center around the music that you’d expect to be there, and isn’t.

Overall, I’m gonna keep it for a month or two. The $7 price tag is half the price of the Napster and Rhapsody services, cheap enough to get my business. I’ll see how my wife likes the integration with our MP3 players, and go from there. Updates will come.