August 15, 2006

Switching from Rhapsody

I did a big thing over the last two weeks. I've switched from Real's Rhapsody to Yahoo Music Jukebox. This is probably most significant in the sense that I worked for Real for over a year and managed both Rhapsody development team and another stealth team.

I switched for two key reasons. The first reason was also the driving force in my decision to leave Real. Rhapsody hasn't seen a significant updated in over a year. We rebuilt the Rhapsody team in the first half of 2005 so it could deliver an amazing Rhapsody update in early 2006. I hired many amazing and talented people to pull that off. Many of those people are now gone; departed because Real can't ever focus on one thing long enough to do it well. And I think that is what is plaguing the next version of Rhapsody. While I know how cool the next version of Rhapsody should be, I'm tired of waiting for it to happen. Same holds true for Rhapsody.com. Real must gain focus and agile development techniques. There have been a plethora of amazing improvements in desktop and web based music apps in the last twelve months, but Real is not participating in that race. And you haven't even seen the amazing stuff coming from Zune, Zing, Apple, and Yahoo over the coming holiday season. The people still on the Rhapsody team are great, I just hope their management lets them focus and deliver more frequent, more focused, and less chaotic releases.

The second reason is lossless audio. I recently moved into a much bigger "laboratory", and I was struck just how bad my speakers sound. The larger and more secluded space allowed me to increase the volume of my speakers when listening to music, and it was only then that I realized my speakers suck. And the source material feeding them often sucks. I grabbed a pair of speakers from my living room home theatre system and listened to my current 192Kb/sec AAC files (iTunes), and they sounded much better. Ok, so I have to buy new monitors and a subwoofer for the lab, no big deal. Then I put a CD on and was blown away. With great speakers, I can really hear what compression is dropping.

So I've decided to re-encode my music library one last time, in two lossless formats. I can't tell at the end of the world if Apple or open source is going to dominate, and hard drives are cheap, so I'm actually going to encode every CD I own in both Apple Lossless format and FLAC. Re-encoding in iTunes is a simple preference switch plus the tedious "refeed every CD" process. FLAC was a bigger problem. Rhapsody doesn't support FLAC. I remember prioritizing that as a P2 for the next Rhapsody, and I now I know why people wanted it so badly ;-)

Yahoo supports FLAC, I have a 1 year subscription to Yahoo! Music I've already paid for (competitive research while at Real, I forgot not to renew it, so now I'm paying for it), so I've switched. The new version is pretty nice. The recommendation engine kicks Rhapsody's butt (we knew that). The rest of Yahoo! Music Jukebox is not as mature as Rhapsody, but it does exactly what I need. Let me listen to subscription music (which iTunes can't do), recommend great music to listen to via Radio or per play (which iTunes doesn't do well), rip into FLAC (iTunes can't do it), and transfer music to some great DAP (digital audio players) I know are coming later this year! Consider me switched. I use iTunes and Yahoo! Music Jukebox as my 1-2 music combo.

Of course, when Rhapsody "next" comes out, I'll be ready to install. If it does half of what we planned for it originally, it will rock...

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