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Rhapsody Hits the Right Notes
Review of the RealRhapsody Music Service

We may not fully realize it now, but we've been living through an unprecedented revolution in music. As part of the "Download Generation," we've seen music transform from a music industry-controlled packaged commodity to a listener-controlled experience. A decade ago, the thought of being able to hear any song anytime was a ridiculous notion. Even the geekiest of us scoffed when the first digital music formats came out. I specifically remember my brother telling me about some thing called A2B that allowed you to put music on your PC as a file. I thought it was silly. I knew how large sound files were and couldn't think of any reason why I'd want music on my PC anyway. I think I investigated it halfheartedly and moved on.

Obviously I was wrong and probably should have quit my job and started a digital music service. If I had, I doubt I would have come up with anything as good as RealRhapsody.

Price to Pay
I've heard some people balk at the notion of spending $9.99 a month for a music service. However, these same people don't balk at the idea of paying anywhere from $12-$17 for a CD that they may listen to a few times and realize half of the songs are terrible. RealRhapsody ensures that will never happen again.

For $9.99/month, RealRhapsody allows you to listen to any song in its huge catalog (500,000 and counting) as many times as you want. If you decide you want to download the song, you can burn it to a CD for 79 cents. That makes the average album price about $8-$9 which is a ittle more than half of what it costs to buy them retail.

Look at it this way. Assume the average cost of a CD is $15 (which is what Amazon charges) and the average album has 12 songs. For Rhapsody a 12-song album is $9.50, but you have to add $10.00 for the monthly subscription. Here's how a likely scenario breaks down:

Albums Bought/mo.
Store CD
Rhapsody CD

Now, granted, you can find CDs cheaper at some places and some albums have more than 12 songs, making the Rhapsody CD incrementally more, but you can see that for the average music purchaser, a monthly fee should not be a hindrance. However, lower cost is only part of the RealRhapsody equation.

Radio GaGa
I work in an office and, like many people who work in offices, I need music to keep my spirits up and shut out the insanity around me. With Rhapsody I can listen to almost anything I want all day. I can create a huge playlist of random favorite songs or just listen to the entire collection of one of my favorite artists. If I get tired of picking my own music I can turn on one of the many existing radio stations or create my own. Even if I never bought another CD (not likely) through RealRhapsody, that's worth $9.99 a month.

Search, Find
Finding music is simple, just type in a search term and then select Artist, Track, Album, or Composer. You'll be presented with a list of matches or possible matches. If it's an exact artist match it will simply open the artist's home page. The artist's home page itself is a shining example of great interface design.

On the left side of the Artist's home page you see all the albums that Rhapsody has for the artist including compilations on which they've appeared. On the top center is a photo of the artist and a summary about them. Below that is a sample list of their most popular songs. Below that is a list of the genres to which the artist belongs. On the top right is a list of music videos for the artist and a radio station that plays the artist's genre of music. Below that is my favorite feature, the Similar Artists list. Once you start using the Similar Artists list you'll want to play with it all day, finding new music and reminding yourself of artists you've forgotten.

You can also use the Browse Genres feature off the Rhapsody Home page to find more music that might interest you. The home page itself features different artists and usually does a fine job of helping you discover new music.

The Just Added area lets you know the latest albums that have been added to the RealRhapsody library. It's a welcome peek "behind the scenes" and is a good indication of how the library grows every day.

Listen to the Band
Each song listed has three relevant icons next to it: Save to Library, Play Now, and a little flame symbol that means the song can be burned to CD. Most songs can be burned, but you will occasionally run into a song that can't. What about downloading the song to your hard drive? Well, you can't. Not directly anyway. You can only burn the song to CD. Sure, you can burn a CD and then rip the songs to whatever format you want, but it's a definite tradeoff compared to the other music download services.

Another weakness that will hopefully be rectified in the next version is the Playlist system. It's a bit awkward to manage playlists. It's easy to build one—just click on the "Play Now" icon and the song is added to the current playlist. But editing and organizing playlists is no treat. There's a lot of reopening and resaving and nothing is as simple as drag-and-drop.

Hunka Burnin' Love
If you decide to burn a CD you will be pleasantly surprised at the process. RealRhapsody recognizes most CD burners easily and the burning process is quite fast. I was able to burn a 15 song CD to my 48X CD burner in about 12 minutes. There's some time buffering and whatnot but the whole process is very straightforward and quick.

Going Mobile
If you want to play songs from RealRhapsody on a portable MP3 player you'll have to rip the CDs you create. Hopefully, Real will realize this functional awkwardness and make it possible to download directly to MP3 players at some point.

Rhapsody is a true marvel of the music download generation. It's not perfect, but the selection is large, the interface is fantastic, and the features are exceptional. Things to fix? Allow downloads and overhaul the Playlist feature. It's almost scary to think how addictive it will become.

Technogeekboy Tech Scores scores (1-5):
You'll have it on 24X7
Changes the game. Music is ours again.
People don't get it until they use it. Then look out.



System Requirements:
Windows PC, 350 MHz, 250 MB HD Space
*Available in the US Only.

$9.99 monthly fee. Songs can be streamed in their entirety and/or burned to CD for .79 cents each.



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