Streaming shoot-out: Deezer v Rara v Simfy
The ‘soft-launch’ of French streaming service Deezer in South Africa last week brings the tally of local streaming services to three. We compared Deezer with its rivals Simfy and Rara to see whose offering is most deserving of your money. By Craig Wilson.
Despite the relatively small number of fixed-line Internet connections and the still relatively high cost of mobile data, South Africa now has three music streaming services vying for consumers’ attention. And this is before the launch of Microsoft’s Xbox Music, expected soon.
Germany’s Simfy was first to market — in partnership with Primedia’s eXactmobile — and is the only service that’s done any marketing to speak of.
Rara, a UK-based service that was launched in October, isn’t as well stocked as its rivals in terms of content, but offers the cheapest ad-free Web-based product and the least cluttered interface. It also includes the best selection of music discovery tools of the three.
Newcomer Deezer boasts the most impressive and functional Web-based interface and stands its ground in terms of the scope of its catalogue, but may find it difficult to gain traction in a market as price-sensitive as South Africa.
Unlike its rivals, Simfy offers a Web-based interface and a desktop application for Mac and PC, making it the most flexible option of the three. It’s online and desktop interfaces share similar design and, although functional, both could be more refined, particularly when it comes to searching for and queuing content.
The desktop interface relies on Adobe Air, which is cumbersome and prone to frequent updates. It also occasionally means that any tracks stored offline have to be downloaded again after Air or the Simfy app have been updated, which is both infuriating and potentially costly.
Simfy users can share tracks or albums to Facebook or Twitter, or with other Simfy users (though the last of these can only be done using the Web-based interface).
Rara, meanwhile, doesn’t offer a desktop interface at all, meaning offline play is only possible using its mobile apps. Rara’s portal is uncluttered, allows for easy playlist creation and supports sharing via Facebook or direct links. There is no support for Twitter or sharing with other users of the service directly.
Although Rara’s interface is the easiest to use, Deezer’s is by far the most comprehensive in terms of features and flexibility. It’s also the best looking of the three and, like Simfy, provides the ability to share tracks with other users, in addition to Facebook and Twitter.
Deezer has opted for a browser plug-in to allow for offline play and for now only supports Chrome. Though some users may prefer Simfy’s standalone app, Deezer’s plug-in approach means there’s complete uniformity between online and offline play. However, it also means users are compelled to use the Chrome browser.
Applications and quality
All three services offer apps for mobile devices as well as the ability to store content for offline listening. Rara offers apps for Android and iOS devices. Simfy and Deezer work with Android, iOS and BlackBerry. Deezer is alone in offering a Windows Phone app.
Simfy offers its audio at 128kbit/s; Rara doesn’t disclose what bitrate it uses; and Deezer offers what it calls a “high quality” setting, but doesn’t specify what this means technically. In actual use, however, it’s impossible to tell the services apart, at least when using standard headphones and a desktop computer.
Simfy and Deezer both offer in excess of 20m tracks. Rara, meanwhile, offers half that number, but still manages to stand up surprisingly well against its better-stocked rivals in our searches for contemporary music.
All three services offer the latest pop, rock, and hip-hop releases from the major labels. For example, all three returned David Bowie’s latest single “Where Are We Now?”, which was released only last week.
Moreover, all three managed to return content for somewhat obscure searches, including the albums of Scottish band Meursault, Polish progressive rockers Riverside and Russian outfit Messer Chups.
At the same time, each service has occasional gaps in its library, no doubt on account of different deals with music labels. Rara and Deezer have Youth Lagoon’s album The Year of Hibernation, for example, while Simfy does not. Deezer and Simfy have content from Tumi and the Volume; Rara doesn’t.
Impressively, local artists like Desmond and the Tutus, Lira, Mandoza, Jack Parow, Die Antwoord, Mr Cat and the Jackal and even Kurt Darren show up on all three platforms, making it hard to pick a winner on the local content front.
Overall, Simfy wins when it comes to pricing. It offers only one option of R60/month, which includes ad-free access on all platforms. There are also slight discounts available for those willing to pay for three, six or twelve months at a time. Users can opt for a two-week trial before committing to a subscription.
Rara claims to cost R6,99/month but this is only for the first three months (thereafter it costs R33,99/month) and this is only for the company’s Web-based offering. Its full package, which includes mobile – and hence offline – access is R68,99/month, with an introductory price of R13,99 for the first three months. Rara offers a seven-day trial but this allows access to its online portal only and not to its mobile app.
Like Simfy, Deezer offers users a two-week free trial that provides full access to its Premium+ service, which includes its mobile and offline play. Thereafter, it costs R79/month. For R39/month, users can opt to use its browser-based service alone. Those looking to use Deezer as a music discovery service can access an ad-supported online product for free. The free service allows unlimited listening for the first month and two hours of listening per month thereafter.
Though Deezer offers the best-looking service across desktop and mobile devices, Simfy offers the best value for money, a desktop app that offers the ability to integrate an existing library of music, and as wide a selection of content as its rivals.
With its superb interface, ability to queue up tracks and create playlists on the fly, and even the option to mix tracks using a digital mixing desk, Deezer comes a close second. Were it not for its higher price and dependence on Chrome, Deezer would outrank its German rival.
Rara’s interface may be the simplest, but its pricing seems excessive given the limited functionality it offers when compared to its rivals and given its far smaller catalogue.
For the time being, Simfy wins as the best music streaming service in South Africa. But we’d still recommend a month-to-month subscription rather than a longer-term commitment, especially with the launch of Xbox Music imminent. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media