I’ve been a Pandora user for about as long as they’ve been around, and a paying subscriber to the Pandora One service for about as long as that has been around. Sadly, my time with them has come to an end. I’m moving on to iTunes Radio now for my music streaming needs. Here’s why.
For years I’ve been begging for a native Pandora client for OSX. I don’t like chewing up a browser tab to listen to music, and frequently Pandora would decide to use up a lot of memory requiring me to kill my browser, which may have had lots of important things going on that I needed. They did come out with their “Pandora One” player, which is an Adobe Air app, but it required installing yet more Adobe junk and even then it didn’t look very good or work well (for instance, the OSX-style command-arrow shortcuts for highlighting text didn’t work).
For a brief period I tried just using my phone for Pandora, as they have a native iOS client, but then I don’t hear any of my computer’s sounds (many of which are alerting me to things which require my attention) and I drain my battery just listening to music.
iTunes Radio, being integrated into iTunes itself means it’s effectively a native client on any iTunes supported platform. This might be a problem if you don’t like iTunes, but I use iTunes for my music, so it’s acceptable to me.
For a long time I’ve also been asking Pandora what I can do to get better sound quality. I’m a bit sensitive to high amounts of compression and even with a paid subscription to the Pandora One service which provides higher quality audio, I could still frequently hear compression artifacts, sometimes making the song un-listenable.
iTunes seems to be streaming 256kbps AAC, which is actually pretty good compression and is the same level of audio quality as the music they sell through the iTunes Store and the music that comes through via iTunes Match, so you’re not compromising audio quality.
Of course price is a factor. iTunes radio and Pandora are both free services, but they’re also ad supported. Since I can’t stomach ads, I pay, and I’m fine with that. Pandora is $36/year, iTunes Radio goes ad-free if you pay for iTunes Match service, which is $25/year. Sure, it’s not breaking the bank, and if Pandora was on-par with iTunes radio I wouldn’t complain about the extra $11/year, but it is a factor!
There are other things I like about iTunes Radio more than Pandora, but for all I know Pandora has had those features as well forever, so I won’t mention them. My requirements for a Pandora-like service are pretty light, mostly I just use it as background music, so I don’t really deep-dive into the features they offer, but for what I do use, I find iTunes Radio to be a better service. Time will tell if iTunes Radio’s recommendation engine will provide more variety with less maintenance than Pandora (I felt like Pandora required a lot of maintenance on my stations to prevent hearing the same dozen songs repeatedly) but the native client and audio quality is enough for me to jump ship.
Farewell, Pandora. I’ll miss you. I hope you come back swinging and win me back. I really do!