Tag Archives: music

The Rise of Holiday Light Shows

houseJust a few years ago, the world was in awe as the first creative light show was set to music … at someone’s home. There was music, lights, and a steady beat that meant we couldn’t turn our eyes away. One creative family decided to put a little more effort (and pizzazz) into their regular Christmas light showings, and the idea took off like wildfire. A few news stories, millions of YouTube views, a huge increase in traffic, and now its an ongoing trend. Companies are now creating products to help make the timing easier, and businesses and commercial properties are charging fees to see their own snazzy versions. Like this one on Saks Fifth Avenue that comes with three dimensions.

Years later, and the trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Now folks are able to synch the music with car stereos as they drive past. (While some opt to play a local radio station.) Patterns are becoming more complex and intricate – even integrating 3D projectors, such as the video above. Lights are coming crisper and clearer, and with the right tools, they can even play to a new song by mimicking the beat. All it takes is a little know-how and the right tools to make it work.

The Equipment

In order to create your own holiday light show at home, a few pieces of equipment are needed, such as light-controlling software, a computer, speakers, extension cords, and the light controllers themselves. Depending on the size and set up, this could easily total into hundreds of dollars, though DIY equipment is also available at a smaller sum.

For those who are less electrically inclined, however, entire kits can now be purchased with everything one needs, such as channel amp controllers, software, and the instructions to make it all work. One of the more popular companies, Light-O-Rama offers these packages in varying sizes so light shows of all intensities can get a solid start.

Whether you create the light show from the ground up, or enlist in the help of a kit to get you started, there’s no doubt the neighborhood will appreciate the efforts. From small-time home shows to elaborate routines plastered on the sides of stories-high buildings, these light shows offer a technology-based bit of holiday cheer. Check out your options today to get started on this growing winter trend.

Pre-ordering digital content: What’s the point?

preorder

If you are an iTunes Store customer, you have probably seen the sections in the store which allows you to pre-order music, books, or movies. I don’t have data to back this up, but I would assume pre-ordering in iTunes is very popular. If it wasn’t I would expect Apple to stop offering that option.

My question to those that pre-order from iTunes and other digital stores is: “Why?” It is not as if the store is going to run out of the file. The content will be available the day of release and five years after the release (unless it is pulled by the store or seller).

Incentives, freebies and deals

There used to be a time when I wouldn’t be writing this article. In the past, I remember iTunes offering special pricing for pre-orders or extra content for pre-orders. If that was still the case, I would understand why one would pre-order digital content – you pay the same, or maybe even less, and get a deal out of it.

However, these deals seem to have disappeared. I haven’t seen a pre-order deal in iTunes in a long time. In fact, I have found it to be cheaper to wait for the physical media release and buy that at a cheaper price than pre-ordering it. On occasion, a DVD movie with the digital version has been the same price as pre-ordering, or just buying, the digital version by itself.

Actual media pre-orders (ie. DVDs, video games, etc.) still have these special offers. Disney, for example, often offers some deal on pre-ordering an upcoming movie release. Game stores often offer some type of deal to pre-order a game for your console. Why can’t digital content do the same?

One acceptable reason to pre-order

The only reason I see for pre-ordering digital content is so that you don’t forget to buy something you really want. Maybe there is a movie coming out in four weeks and you want to buy it. By pre-ordering it in iTunes you can set your computer or device to automatically download pre-ordered content when available. The content gets released and you open the “Videos” app on your iPad and “Surprise!” your new movie is there that you forgot you even ordered it.

This reasoning could also backfire. You pre-order a digital item and then forget you ordered it. Let’s say a music album, for example. You see another digital music provider has a special release-day price to download the album. You buy it there and forget you already bought it from another provider. It automatically downloads for you and you have now bought it twice. Unfortunately, you can’t really return digital content.

Conclusion

Until I see a real reason to pre-order digital content, like the deals mentioned above, I will stick to waiting for release dates and finding release day deals. Speaking of release dates, that is one thing the pre-order list is good for – finding out the release date of that movie, book, or music you want!

Review: Traktor DJ, a professional music mixing app for iPhone and iPad

I would never claim to be a bona fide DJ. At best, I am a hobby DJ who’s been given the occasional opportunity to do his thing at some bars and parties. Even so, I am passionate about playing and mixing music, and over the years I’ve invested in various software packages and items of equipment.

I started, as every DJ should, with vinyl decks, and then progressed via CDs to Virtual DJ software. I then added a cheap mixing console which, it’s fair to say, served me well for a few bar gigs.

Then, a couple of years ago, I found myself with a bit of spare cash and invested in a Traktor Kontrol S4, Native Instruments’ flagship hardware controller. I had a lot of fun with it, but lately I’ve became painfully aware of the expensive piece of equipment’s confinement in the cupboard in our spare room, getting (at best) a quarterly airing at an impromptu house party. I made the vague decision to sell it, especially when Native Instruments dropped the price of the Kontrol S4, which resulted in a corresponding drop in the value of my “asset.”

Meanwhile, things have yet again moved on for the digital DJ, and there’s been no development more exciting than the release of Traktor DJ for the iPad and iPhone. Recently, I decided to finally give the iPhone version a go, and I’ll be up-front from the start: I was extremely impressed.

traktor-ipadmini

Usage

Traktor DJ for iPhoneTraktor DJ’s interface is clear and slick and the beat-matching engine is spot-on. What’s more, all the key features are present and correct, and all reimagined for touch control – which, as it turns out, is actually a really tactile and natural-feeling way to mix.

In terms of the basics, there are EQs, filters, hot cue points, loops, and a basic range of effects including delay, reverb, beatmash and gater.

Then, there are a couple of things unique to the iOS version of Traktor. One is “freeze mode,” which allows you to freeze a section of the track (usually a four beat loop), and manually trigger the beats by tapping the screen, effectively allowing you to remix “on the fly.”

There’s also a track recommendation engine that suggests your next track based on its key as well as its BPM. This kind of harmonic mixing isn’t even available in the Traktor Pro software at the time of writing, so to see it in an app that costs $19.99 on the iPad or just $4.99 on the iPhone is truly impressive.

Conclusion

Features aside, however, could Traktor DJ really replace my existing digital setup? Well, on the iPhone alone, probably not. There’s simply too much functionality to cram onto such a tiny screen. Even though the way that Native Instruments has designed the UI is very clever, with the ability to “slide” between decks, I still keep managing to accidentally stop a track when I’m intending to come out of a loop.

The difference in price between the iPhone and iPad versions (which are essentially identical in terms of functionality) seems to indicate that Native Instruments is aware that the iPhone version will be used more as a “toy.” But this brings us to the most important point: On the iPad, Traktor DJ is more than I could ever need for my occasional DJing. In fact, I am already coming close to hitting the “buy now” button on a new iPad Mini specifically for this purpose.

With the addition of Native Instruments’ new Kontrol Z1 mixer and soundcard, I can also have physical faders, headphone cueing and professional sound output – all in a setup that would fit in the glove compartment of the car.

While I’ve no doubt that plenty of DJ purists will object to the ease-of-use of Traktor DJ, for people like me who just want to mix some tunes and play the occasional bar set, it is absolutely perfect. My bulky old equipment just got one step closer to the eBay pile.

Music discovery app Shazam raises $40 million in preparation for IPO

Shazam

Shazam, in an effort to prepare itself before going public, recently hired a new CEO.  The company, which is well known for its music discovery app, has more good news to share before finally going public. The company has raised $40 million from America Movil, and enters into a business partnership with the company, which is seen as a move to bring its media products to the carrier’s subscribers, and in turn, boost its user base.

Shazam’s growth has been astounding, currently standing at 350 million users, which is twice the number of users it had just two years ago. Active monthly users have also increase, up from 22 million two years ago, to 70 million.

According to the executive chairman of Shazam, Andrew Fisher, the company is growing incredibly quickly prompting the need to purchase more capacity to support this growth as people spend more time using the service. He also said that the company is looking to innovate much faster as a result of this growth and the funding should give it the needed boost to move in this direction. Some of these innovations include the introduction of notable updates in its television product which should enable users discover ads and programs playing on screen. Other notable improvements include the application of emerging technologies such as audio and image recognition, which should make it much easier for people to engage with media and brands that they are interested in.

According to Fisher, the new funding will not change the company’s IPO timetable. While not disclosing more details as to when it will go public, he gives the assurance that the company will be ready once it goes through another phase of growth.

Shazam was founded in 2000. In 2011, it launched its Shazam for TV service which shows specific mobile-optimized content including social features. Shazam is currently in use in more than 200 countries.

The unfortunate downsides of streaming music services

playIf you haven’t heard, Google recently announced a streaming music service. For $9.99/month you can stream all the music you want to your compatible device.

This is not the first streaming music service, and it probably won’t be the last. In principle, an all you get stream music service sounds good, but in reality it has a few problems which keep me from signing up for one and sticking with purchasing music.

Problem 1: Mobile data limits

The biggest problem with streaming music services is data limits enforced by wireless carriers. Unless you are on a WiFi network all of the time, you are going to need to use a data plan, which for most people is limited to 2GB or less.

You might argue the 2GB is plenty of data, and it is if you are just surfing the Internet and checking emails and maybe downloading apps every now and then. However, that data goes faster than you think, and streaming only makes it go faster. Yes, audio uses a lot less data than video, but it is still using that data and I would venture to say you will use up that data before your month is up.

I can see many people who unknowingly sign up for a streaming service without even knowing they are eating up their data plan until they get a nice present tacked onto their next bill for data overage. Of course, the data providers would love it if you purchased an upgrade for your mobile data plan. Now you get to pay for more data and the monthly streaming fee.

Problem 2: WiFi isn’t perfect

Let’s say you are one of those people I mentioned above who have constant access to WiFi. You have WiFi at home, WiFi at work, and you frequent enough places that have WiFi access that you don’t really care about streaming in your car or other places.

Just because you have WiFi access doesn’t mean you can stream your music. Your employer might limit streaming or even block it. If you are on public WiFi at a cafe it could also be limited by the establishment or just extremely slow from a large amount of people using it. WiFi is great, but only if it is completely usable.

Problem 3: Owning the music and making an audio CD

Contrary to what some might think, the physical CD is not dead yet. I, for one, still make audio CDs of my music. If you have a streaming service you can’t import music into iTunes and burn a CD. You have to buy those tracks. Yes, you can do both but this can get costly if you are always doing it. Plus, call it old school, but many people prefer to own their music. I like being able to load my iPhone with what I want and be able to listen to it whenever and where ever I am without having to worry about using data or being on WiFi.

Conclusion

For many people a streaming music service is great. They have a limited data plan, have WiFi access, and or don’t care about owning music. For others, like myself, it is the wrong way to go.

Review: RHA MA-350 aluminum noise isolating in-ear earphones

I was recently offered a pair of RHA MA-350 in-ear headphones for review. I brought them with me on a business trip to China, so I had plenty of time on the long flight to try them out and see how they felt after extended wear.

Before I get started, I should mention a few things about myself: I enjoy listening to music, but I’m definitely not an audio expert. When I’m planning on purchasing headphones, my main concerns are comfort, general sound quality, and durability.

Product Details

Average Price: $39.95 USD (via Amazon)
Available Colors: Black with silver accents

Technical Details:

  • Drivers – 10mm mylar
  • Frequency range – 16-22,000Hz
  • Impedance – 16ohms
  • Rated/max power – 3010mW
  • Sensitivity – 103dB
  • Cable – 1.2m Fabric Braided
  • Connections – 3.5mm Gold Plated

Materials, construction, and durability

The first thing that grabbed my attention about these earphones was that they were made from solid aluminum. My previous name-brand $40 pair of in-ear headphones were made of plastic coated in a thin rubber sheath, so I was impressed right away with RHA’s use of a durable material.

Aside from being more durable than plastic (and having a satisfying “click!” when knocked together), the extra weight wasn’t really noticeable when listening to music. The aluminum construction increased my perceived value of the product, and when I showed the MA-350’s to others, it was the first thing they noticed.

These earphones also feature a braided fabric cord which helps reduce cord tangling. The downside is that the braided cord is thicker and a little less flexible than the normal plastic/rubbery stuff, but that did not affect my usage of the earphones. Again, I appreciated the use of higher quality material in these earphones.

The cord is a standard “Y” format, where both earpieces have equal lengths of cord which forks from the main connector. My previous pair of headphones featured a behind-the-ear style cord which I preferred, but mainly for the fact that the cords were easier to keep out of my way while working.

The only strange decision regarding the construction of these earphones was the way they differentiate between the right and left earphones. A tiny letter is extruded on the rubberized part of the earphones which is pretty hard to see without looking closely.

The MA-350 earphones included three sets of interchangeable earpieces: small, medium, and large.

Audio Quality

I’ve listened to music for many hours using the RHA MA-350 earphones, and I’ve found that the sound they produce is extremely clear, crisp, and accurate. I had previously grown accustomed to the bland, muffled sound of typical lower-end headphones, so the MA-350’s presented a stark contrast which, at first, sounded almost unnatural because of its clarity.

The MA-350’s excelled at producing clear treble tones, and offered tight-but-surprisingly-full bass for their size.

For most of my testing, I listened to music that presented a wide variety of audio conditions, such as Deadmau5, Regina Spektor, and the wonderfully eclectic Bastion soundtrack (side note: Bastion is a fantastic game). With these samples, the MA-350’s excelled at producing clear treble tones, and offered tight-but-surprisingly-full bass for their size.

One of the best features of these earphones is that they provide solid noise isolation. The earphones fit snugly in my ear using the default size earpiece, and I could keep my music at a much lower volume than with my previous pair of earphones because of the improved isolation. This might not be a big deal when sitting in a quiet office listening to music, but it’s a lifesaver when sitting on a long international flight.

Extended Wear

The MA-350’s came with a nice carrying pouch.

I wore these earphones in bursts of about 1-2 hours at a time during my flight, mainly listening to music and playing Bastion for iPad. Overall, they were very comfortable, although for long sessions I’d usually prefer to wear over-ear headphones (which RHA also makes).

The MA-350’s in-ear earpieces are very solid, and compared to my previous pair (which were nearly gelatinous), the RHA earphones caused a little more “ear fatigue” than I was used to.

Conclusion

Overall, I’ve been extremely impressed with the RHA MA-350 earphones. I carry them with me at all times in my laptop bag, and I keep them within reach whenever I’m working on my laptop. My expectations for in-ear headphones are typically lower because of the limitations of the form factor, but the MA-350’s definitely stand above earphones I’ve previously used for the same price.

In addition to the black earphones I sampled, you can also upgrade to the MA-450i series which include an inline volume control and microphone (and are also available in white). The MA-450i includes 7 different earpieces, offering much more customization than the MA-350’s.

You can buy RHA earphones directly from Amazon, and you can now purchase them from Apple either online or in their retail stores.

Apple Releases a New iPod Touch in the Wake of iPhone 5’s Hit Release

It has been one week since Apple unveiled the new iPhone 5. As if the mere release of the fifth generation iPhone was not enough, the giant gadgets designer also dropped a newly revamped version of the Apple iPod Touch. The iPod Touch can be defined as an iPhone without the phone, meaning that the device delivers the other functionalities of an iPhone apart from the calling functionality.

Bigger screen, thinner device

This new iPod Touch still perpetuates Apple’s trend of releasing gadget updates that are slimmer, more power efficient and smarter than their predecessors. The gadget features a 4-inch retina display with an aspect ratio of 16:9 to enhance on video and gaming experiences which are the core functionalities of an iPad.

Weighing in at 88 grams (from the former 101 grams) with a super-thin depth of 6.1mm, the device is now powered by a dual core A5 processor, an improvement from the former A4 which is aimed at improving general processing capabilities to better on the execution of heavy-weight applications.

To cover the iPod, Apple designers have dumped the tapered chrome backing for a flat aluminum panel, a move that rhymes with the casing change of the iPhone 5 and is believed to add to the versatility of the gadget. The sleek cover is punctured at the front top part to host a secondary camera that can support 720p video and facial recognition with its pixel power left classified during the release.

At the rear of this new gadget that now features an internal speaker detaching you from the constant need for earphones and 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi radio making it compatible with Apple’s AirPlay Mirroring feature, is a new 5-megapixel camera complete with LED flash that supports 1080p video capture and other iSight capabilities.

Released in a variety of colors that include blue, silver and black that are bound to create an illusion of diversity fromone gadget to another, the new iPod Touch will come with new earbuds dubbed “EarPods” to enhance the audio quality delivered to the user.

An impressive cut down on power consumption will definitely reduce the need to get plugged in and juice up the iPod. Statistics released put music playback time to a record 40 hours.

Pricing

It is speculated that the iPod will be selling at a retail price of $299 for the 32GB model and $100 more for an additional 32GB of storage to lay hands on the 64GB model.

Review: Sonos Play:3, the Wireless Hi-Fi Stereo System

The term high fidelity (or hi-fi) can be traced back to the dawn of music recording, and in general defined a system that could reproduce music with the sharpest and most fulfilling audio quality.  And as the generations moved from turntables to boomboxes to walkmans to portable music players, so too did the continual desire to purchase high-end, hi-fi systems to blast the tunes.  Although today one can still get bulky hi-fi stereo systems with 400W of power, a CD tray, an iPod dock, and a remote control, it just doesn’t seem to be as trendy and up-to-date as it did in 1996.  Fortunately, that’s where Sonos comes in.

Sonos is taking back the term “hi-fi” and giving it some flair.  It is a compact, modular, wireless stereo system that can be set up in any (or every) room in the house with just two components:  A speaker and a local area network with internet connectivity.  And because it is wireless, it can stream just about everything you can think of.

The Sonos Hi-Fi Stereo System

For this article, two Play:3 network speakers (the smaller of the two speaker offerings at $299 each) and a Sonos network bridge ($49) were used.  The Bridge is the extra add-on that makes the Sonos system go wireless, and if one is going to deck their rooms with speakers it is a must.

Besides speakers and network hubs, a Sonos stereo system can also be paired with an amplifier ($499), an iPod docking station ($119), or a connection hub ($349) that converts an existing home stereo system for music streaming (all of which are available on the Sonos website or Amazon).  As one can deduce by the prices, though, these components can add up quickly so be mindful that one does not need absolutely everything to get a Sonos stereo system set up in their home.

Included in each box with the speakers/Bridge is a power cable, a network cable, an install CD, and a manual.  Once all the packaging has been set aside, it is time to set the system up.

Physical Setup

If the Bridge wireless gateway was purchased, that should be set up first.

The Bridge (which is the box that makes the whole system wireless) plugs directly into your router/wireless modem via Ethernet and automatically connects to your local network.  Because it is a wired connection, no passwords or other setup configurations are necessary.

Once the Bridge is in place, one can set the Play Speakers in any room of the house (within wireless distance) and supply them power.  If the Bridge was not purchased, then simply add an Ethernet cable to the Play speakers and connect them to your router to get them integrated into your network.

Controller Software Setup

The Sonos Controller Software (Personal Computer Edition)

The software comes included in the box as an install CD, but it also can be found here if needed. The controller software is available for Windows (XPSP3 and up), Mac OS X (10.6 or 10.7), Android (which is evaluated in the next section) and iPhone/iPad.  For this installation, a networked Windows 7 machine was used.  The first step is to run through the Sonos Controller installer on the machine and grant it firewall access.

Once installed, the “Sonos Setup Assistant” kicks in so that all the speakers can be networked and connected to the controller software.

When connecting, the software will ask you to physically push a few buttons on the Bridge or Play speaker to get it to sync with your local network.  If communication goes well, the software will give you a confirmation and ask if you want to connect other Sonos devices.  This is the time to add the speakers as well.

What the heck is a Foyer?

When the Play speakers are connected, the Assistant software prompts for a location so that if more than one exists on the network, they can be differentiated by the room they are in.  The drop down menu is filled with various homely (and unique) options to segregate which speakers are where and should be used appropriately if one wants the full Sonos experience in their house (which will be explained later).

Finally, after all the Sonos components have been linked the main Controller program opens and asks for you to register and update your new stereo system.

As long as the speakers and Bridge have been configured to the network properly, they will update automatically.

The Sonos Controller Software (Mobile Platform Edition)

If your networked computer is not portable enough, than maybe the mobile software is the right option instead.  As mentioned before, it is available for Android, iPhone, and iPad from their respective app marketplaces (or again at the Sonos website).  Note that the phone/pad/mobile device must be connected to the same wireless local area network or else the Bridge and Play:3 speakers will not be controllable.  For this article, a standard Android phone was used to demonstrate the mobile controller interface.

Mobile setup, mobile Bridge connect, mobile Play speakers

Like the Windows PC setup, the Android app asks for you to manually push the button on the Bridge wi-fi controller to connect to your sound system.  If the Play speakers have been set up already with the Bridge, no further connections are necessary and the mobile app is ready to be in control.

The Controller Interface

After all the installing, connecting, and updating has been successfully maneuvered, your Sonos system should look like the picture above.  On the left should be every Play speaker that has been connected (grouped by their room), on the far right is all the options Sonos has for streaming and music listening (and it is a lot of options).  For now, let’s focus on the right side and all the streaming options Sonos has to offer.

Playing Radio

If one is interested in listening to a radio station, all Sonos needs is a ZIP code or a major city and it automatically finds a plethora of channels for one to select and play.  As one can see, once a radio station is selected, the highlighted Play speaker on the left will automatically start playing and the “Now Playing” section in the middle will be updated to show artist/song title and radio show information.

Playing from a Streaming Site

If one wants to enable some tunes from their own personal online streaming account (or create a new one), Sonos is more than ready for the task.  As seen in the picture above, Sonos allows for numerous popular streaming options and services that can be accessed and played on the system.  Just log in or register, pick a playlist or song, and Sonos does the rest.

Playing from your Music Library

Besides channeling other sources and streams, Sonos also allows one to channel personal music libraries as well.  To get music onto Sonos, one must first allow the folder to be shared on the network (For Windows 7, this is done by right clicking on the folder and selecting “Share With” and then a “Homegroup” option).  If this step is not done, much confusion can arise as the music will not be available for Sonos to access.

Once the sharing is enabled, return to Sonos and go to “Manage” -> “Music Library Settings” -> “Add” to browse for the folder in question.  [Note: Besides adding media, this settings menu also serves to update the media library, add/remove speakers, manage the streaming accounts that were added, and mess with music equalizers for each speaker.]

The system will then add all the music in the library and display them on the right side.  From there one can create playlists, add songs to the queue in the middle, and push music to any speaker on the left

Again, it is important to note that for this music to be accessed, the location of the files needs to be active and on the network (i.e. the device in question storing the music files must be on and networked).

Playing from the Mobile App

Mobile main options, mobile radio, mobile playing radio
Mobile streaming, mobile media, mobile playing music library

Like the other sections mentioned above, the mobile controller also allows for streaming, radio, and access to your local media library as well.  As long as the bridge is connected to the same network as the mobile app, the devices will talk to each other and push changes in music selections.

Having Fun with your Play Speakers

Now that a majority of the streaming or listening options have been surveyed, let’s return to the far left of the Controller interface and display the full potential of the Sonos wireless hi-fi system.  Up until now, the music options presented have been shown playing on just one speaker.

But in reality, one can play something different on each speaker, hence why it was important to label the Play speakers based on where they are going to be situated.  So essentially, every room with a Sonos speaker in it could be playing something different, meaning that there should be no contention between siblings/roommates/significant others as to what the audio system should be set to.

Mobile grouping is just as easy

Furthermore, not only can one use the speakers individually for music but as a group as well.  Just click the “Group” button, select the speakers to group, and listen for the sound of acoustic harmony.  Now the beauty of Sonos has been revealed: because it is wireless and easy to manipulate in the Controller interface, it is completely and utterly configurable to suit any room, event, personality, or venue.  Just pick a tune, pick a speaker configuration, and let the jams flow.

Conclusion

Sonos is definitely not your stereotypical hi-fi stereo system.  It is modular, fully networked, completely configurable, and open enough to access just about every genre, single, album, or artist that exists out there to stream. After a solid month of usage, even the two Play:3 speaker with a wireless Bridge system used for this article proved its usefulness in every situation it was presented: house parties with a dozen conversations filling the air, quiet nights on the couch with a book, and even those underwear air guitar jam sessions at 3:00 in the morning.

To be honest, the main limiting factor to the full Sonos experience is the prices on the components themselves; the system is worth the cost, but if those prices were reduced a bit or tiered it is certain that Sonos would be in every household in no time at all.  For now, though, the system should have no problem satisfying audio enthusiasts and home theater experts alike.

The age-old glory of hi-fi stereo has returned, and Sonos is leading the charge.

Google Music Beta Soon To Meet Google Music Store

I’ve been using Google Music (beta) for several months now, and if you haven’t already, request an invitation for yourself. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the simple interface, the surprisingly full set of features, and the nearly unlimited cloud space…but reports of the upcoming Google Music Store make this service all the sweeter.

Google announced the long-anticipated Google music download service at the All Things Digital Conference in Hong Kong around mid-October. The release is placing emphasis on the idea that the store won’t simply sell music, but will add a “twist” with social recommendations by exploiting Google’s rising star Google+, allowing users to share their favorite music with friends as a single-play track. The major concern now is timeliness and selection — Google is having a difficult time closing deals with Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group, a problem that has ailed other internet music services like eMusic.

A new store may be just the touch that Google Music needs to become a viable replacement for iTunes or Zune Marketplace. The browser-based application comes with the basic features you’d expect in a music manager (albums, playlists, artwork) along with some nice surprises, like a “Instant Mix” tool that lets you select a single song to generate a playlist of similar music. The Google Music blog, Magnifier, offers daily free songs from all genres to jazz up your collection. The Android app lets you stream from your library without needing any local storage, though downloading to your device is an option. The ability to instantly add music to your library from your phone may give Google the bump it needs to compete with the likes of Apple and Amazon.

Google Music (beta)

Google is making a serious effort to dethrone Apple as the king of integrated music services, and with Google+ as its social ace in the hole, it may have a shot. Google hasn’t officially announced a specific date, but insists the Google music store will be here “soon.”

But one question remains:  now that Google has developed a strategy for competing with established “paid” internet music stores, will it make moves against Pandora and Spotify to really put a stranglehold on the music distribution business?

Rdio Launches Free, No-Ads Streaming Option

It’s not everyday when you come across a media-streaming service that’s both free and has absolutely zero advertisements, but popular music-streaming service Rdio is bringing U.S. users just that (sorry, foreigners). They’re allowing you free access to their database of over 12 million songs without being bombarded with pesky ads and giving you the same great UI as paid users. There’s no need for a credit card or anything more than just your email address and a password.

However, there’s a slight catch (and you knew there’d be one). For the free users, Rdio is implementing a “customized meter” to limit how much music you listen to on a monthly basis. It’ll show you your usage at the top of the page, so that way you know exactly how many more songs off of that Adele album you can listen to before you hit the threshold.

Free users will also not be able to use Rdio on their mobile devices — you’ll have to pony up $9.99 a month to do that. However, you can freely use either the web or desktop application.

Happy listening!