The Pros And Cons Of Streaming vs Downloading MP3s

I’ve been a long-time user of streaming music services – from Pandora, to the now defunct online music locker Lala.com, and now as a monthly subscriber to Rdio.com. Since I started streaming music online to my computer and iPhone, the iTunes Music Store is a place I rarely go shopping, other than for iOS apps and a few e-books. I paid for music downloads on Emusic.com, but not anymore because it doesn’t compare to the advantages of streaming music services like Rdio.com, MOG.com, and Spotify, each of which now have free subscription options that could possibly satisfy most of your music listening needs.

If you have a computer and a good Wi-Fi connection, streaming music services are arguably a better way to listen to music than downloading MP3s. Allow me to make my case.

Unlimited Storage

The biggest problem with storing digital music on your computer or external drive is the risk of the music library being corrupted, deleted, or mismanaged. While iTunes helps users manage their music library, you need to regularly back it up on CDs, DVDs, or to an external drive. Only music you buy from the iTunes Music Store gets backed up on your account where you can re-download it if need be. If you want to backup non-iTunes music files, Apple will charge you a fee for storing or accessing it on your account.

When your music library grows into the gigabytes (mine is 120gb, even though I stopped buying MP3s over a year ago) it gets harder to manage, and it takes more and more internal or external drive space.

With streaming music services, you ever growing music library is stored in the cloud, and you have no need to back it up. And though you build a collection of streaming music in your online account, the entire mammoth catalog of a music streaming service is stored and accessible to you as a subscriber.

Access

With streaming music sites, your music is accessible to you everywhere you can get Wi-Fi access, and 3G access if you subscribe to a premium service. It’s quite easy to set up almost any computer these days to stream music to wired and Bluetooth speakers, just as you would to an analog stereo.

You can also manage your online music library pretty much the same way you can in iTunes–e.g., create playlists, sort by artist and recently played songs.

Admittedly however, playing streaming music on mobile devices or in your car is not quite as reliable as having a few hard file favorite playlists stored and playing on a mobile device.

Social Network

With streaming music services, the other members you follow on the site become your bonafide DJs who introduce you to their favorite music and artists. You in turn become a DJ for other members as you play songs.

With Rdio, you can browse the music collections of your member friends, as well get constantly updating music recommendations of “Heavy Rotation” songs and albums of people in Your Network, or Everyone else in the Rdio space.

You can also discover and add new friends by seeing who else plays the artists that you like.

More Affordable

Now that streaming music sites like MOG, Rdio, and Spotify are offering free membership to stream a limited amount of music, it means a huge savings in purchasing song downloads.

But if you’re a heavy music listener, you will probably eventually want to get a premium-based service so you can have an unlimited access to streaming music whenever you want it. Even if you pay the lowest monthly fee of $5 per month, you will likely play ten times more tracks then you would purchasing single $9-$15 album downloads which you may only play a few times before you need to feed your appetite for new music.

Some Disadvantages

A few disadvantages to streaming music include the audio quality, which of course is not as high as MP3 files, though most listeners can barely distinguish the difference. Subscribing to a streaming music services means you never own the music you pay to listen to; however, you can pay for and download selected songs and albums from music cloud sites just as you would from the iTunes Music Store. And if you’re a music fan who likes to keep up with the newest releases of your favorite artists, streaming music services may sometimes lag behind music store sites for new releases.

Despite these limitations, streaming music services seem to be expanding, and the market should continue to grow for them. Let us know what you think about cloud-based music sites. Are you a member of one? Have you reduced the amount of MP3s you download and purchase? What are the advantages and disadvantages of streaming music sites that you have experienced?

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Comments (27)
  • Philip Harris

    the audio quality IS MP3, but just at a Lower bitrate to make data easier to stream over the internet because it takes lower bandwidth

  • Shaun

    I like to listen to a lot of new music and it was just getting too expensive to buy the CDs or download from iTunes, so I installed Spotify a few weeks ago. It’s brilliant. All the new albums seem to be on there at release or no later than a week after. I’ve been going through their catalogue and listening to albums from my youth in the 80’s. Albums I’d lost years ago and probably wouldn’t have shelled out to buy again. I’ve started with the free version but I love it so much I’m planning to upgrade to the paid version. I haven’t noticed any drop in sound quality compared to listening to my CDs ripped into iTunes. If you’ve got broadband and listen to a lot of different music I would recommend streaming.

    • Bakari Chavanu

      Couldn’t agree more, Shaun. Not a week that goes by that I don’t listen to at least one new album on Rdio. This would be impossible if I stilled purchased MP3s on iTunes. 

  • Bakari Chavanu

    Thanks, Pump. I’m surprised we haven’t written about Kiwi6 in MUO yet. I’ll look more into it. 

  • Pump Up the Volume

    For me, mp3s on the computer are the way to go, because there’s very little in the way of new music that I actually listen to — and those “new” songs are ca. 2004-2007 or so.

    Mostly I’m an oldies junkie; you’re not going to get any “new” releases from the old masters, like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, and FWIW music went entirely downhill for good during the era of Britney, Christina and the “boy bands.” I like Lady Gaga’s political stance, but her music sucks. A Daydream Belieber I’m not one of either. ;)

    As Bob Seger (of whom I am also a fan), famously said (Tom Cruise in skivvies notwithstanding), “call me a relic, call me what you will; say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill; today’s music ain’t got the same soul..I like that Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll.” :)

    • Bakari Chavanu

      Pump, I don’t think you’re old fashioned. I think you make some good points about staying with MP3s. I, however, find much of the music I want to listen to on the streaming services, and that in turn saves me forming have to purchase lots of MP3s that I probably won’t listen to after about 20 or 40 plays. With streaming, I can listen to new music anytime I want—and it’s pennies on the dollar. But for the type of music you listen to, that might not be the case. So yes, appreciate your point.

  • Phil Fot

    Not all “streaming” services actually stream your music. Pandora, for example, pushes the entire track to your device in one pop. Your network kadmin might let you use Pandora when you’re in a place where streaming is not permitted (some corporate LANs).

    The services that actually stream (like a shoutcast station) are typically the ones that suck away a network’s life and piss off the sa.

    • Bakari Chavanu

      Phil, thanks for pointing this out. It’s something to think about when considering the streaming service.

    • Phil Fot

      I’m glad I had some info you could use. Noting your comment below, I’m using a 4G phone and I never have to wait for song from Pandora. The network where I work now is fairly high-traffic and streaming is not appreciated. Before I started using my phone for music, the small downloads every few minutes passed by unremarked.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.