Music fans are a heterogeneous lot. There are nearly as many ways to listen to music as there are songs to choose from. Slacker Radio offers something for nearly all of them. We’ve covered the Slacker Radio app (universal) once before, but I asked lifelong music fan, and fellow One Track Mind contributor Brad Reno to join me in taking Slacker for a spin to find out how Slacker stacks up against our formidable record (and cassette, CD, 7” single, and MP3) collections and all of the nerdy minutiae in our heads.
Slacker’s music library is vast, but aficionados of any ilk are still going to find holes. Brad felt frustrated that Slacker’s selection of deep cuts from the 1980s were frequently unavailable. I ran a similar check on the early ‘90s and found the song selection broad but not deep. For example, the Mary Timony-lead trio Helium released two stellar full-lengths and an EP in the mid-‘90s, but Slacker only has one of them.
Brad discovered that if a listener tries to play an unavailable track, Slacker will substitute what it deems a similar track. He explains that his “attempt to listen to “The Original Sin” by Cowboys International instead got me “Never Say Never” by Romeo Void, which was an odd but pleasant surprise. Listeners with niche tastes should test the app’s limits using the free version before they decide to subscribe. Notably, the lack of catalog depth didn’t make either of us stop listening.
I enjoyed the Top 50 Indie Songs of 2011 Slacker Spotlight Station, hosted by Marco Collins. Slacker created the list from its Indie and Indie Electronic stations, (the two stations I spent most of my time with) and based the selections on user play counts and favourites.
Brad found Slacker’s song selection to be predictable, but not annoying. He says, “there weren’t any huge surprises (but), there weren’t any horrifying ones, either – in contrast with Pandora, which stubbornly insists that “REM Radio” should include massive amounts of John Mayer and Train. Yuck.”
Slacker integrates seamlessly with Apple TV. It was just as easy to listen to Slacker through my television as it was through headphones. It’s also compatible with devices made by SONY, Sonos, Logitech and Acoustic Research, which adds value for subscribers who own one of these accessories.
Free users have to contend with ads and can’t skip backward through tracks, but they can still create stations, skip six songs an hour, and test caching content for a limited time. Listeners who want to subscribe have two choices: Radio Plus and Premium. Both options remove ads, offer unlimited skips and allow users to cache mobile stations. Only Premium users can play entire albums on demand and create personal playlists.
Though much has changed since Elvis Costello swore his allegiance to the “sound salvation” of programmed over-the-air music in his late ‘70s classic “Radio Radio,” there are still plenty of listeners who want to find that late night station whose songs will bring tears to their eyes. The medium may have changed, but the desire to hear the message hasn’t.
Slacker Radio’s breadth of options gives listeners a new way to chase that elusive feeling. Most users won’t know if they prefer Spotify, Slacker, or Pandora without some firsthand knowledge of the apps.
With Slacker, listeners experience what the app is like without subscribing, which is not true of the others. Slacker has the only optional news and sports breaks too, from ABC and ESPN. Casual listeners will be fine with the free version, but if Slacker is going to be one’s primary music source, they will want to subscribe for uninterrupted all-day listening.