The 5 best free online music services available in the UK

Who needs iTunes Radio in the UK? With Apple dragging its heels we take a look at the best free online radio alternatives available in the UK.

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  • Spotify Spotify
  • Rdio Rdio
  • Blinkbox Blinkbox Music
  • Google Play Google Play
  • Aupeo Aupeo
  • More stories
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Spotify

These days, Spotify is the first port of call for most people looking to play music for free on their Mac (or these days iPhone or iPad). Spotify has become a household name thanks to its large catalogue of music. It also has a free service that enables users to stream a wide range of tracks (over 20 million at the last count), although you do have to endure frequent adverts.

Unlike other players here, which are all web-based, Spotify has a dedicated Mac OS X app. As well as picking individual tracks, you can create a radio station from artists and songs, and Spotify will suggest similar tracks. For all the services we tested we created a radio station based on The Human League and Guns N' Roses. Here is the playlist it created

  • The Human League, Blondie, Adam & The Ants, The Bangles, Philip Bailey, New Order
  • Guns N’ Roses, Linkin Park, The Killers, Nirvana, Muse

Not bad, but not brilliant. While there's an element of personal preference we think other music services created more accurate radio stations.

Spotify - Free, 4.99/£9.99 per month

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Next »

Next Prev Spotify

These days, Spotify is the first port of call for most people looking to play music for free on their Mac (or these days iPhone or iPad). Spotify has become a household name thanks to its large catalogue of music. It also has a free service that enables users to stream a wide range of tracks (over 20 million at the last count), although you do have to endure frequent adverts.

Unlike other players here, which are all web-based, Spotify has a dedicated Mac OS X app. As well as picking individual tracks, you can create a radio station from artists and songs, and Spotify will suggest similar tracks. For all the services we tested we created a radio station based on The Human League and Guns N' Roses. Here is the playlist it created

  • The Human League, Blondie, Adam & The Ants, The Bangles, Philip Bailey, New Order
  • Guns N’ Roses, Linkin Park, The Killers, Nirvana, Muse

Not bad, but not brilliant. While there's an element of personal preference we think other music services created more accurate radio stations.

Spotify - Free, 4.99/£9.99 per month

See also:

 

Rdio

Rdio is from the makers of Skype, so we expected it to be a much bigger name than it is. You get a free six-month subscription, but after that you have to pay for the premium edition (maybe this is why Spotify) is the bigger service.

We like Rdio though, it's web-based interface is slick and easy to use (and an iOS app is available). Rdio offers a 15 million-track library, so in that respect it’s just like Spotify. You can also pay £4.99 for unlimited desktop streaming, and £9.99 for desktop and mobile streaming.

Like Spotify you can create radio stations from tracks and artists. An additional feature is a slider for how adventurous you want the Rdio results to be. There are five settings from Adventuress (pretty much random) to Artist Only, which only plays songs by the artist you selected. It has a wider range of genre stations than Spotify too, with sub sections for each genre, which music snobs will appreciate.

Our two test artists (The Human League and Guns N' Roses) returned the following playlist:

  • Human League, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Naked Eyes, A Flock Of Seagulls, and Haircut 100.
  • Guns N; Roses, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Sebastian Bach and Hollywood Rose.

Even on the basic setting Rdio felt more accurate to us than Spotify, and cranking the setting one step closer really seemed to hone in on similar artists and tracks.

Rdio - Free, 4.99/£9.99 per month subscription

See: How do I stream music for free

 

Blinkbox Music

Blinkbox is the online video and music service mostly owned by Tesco, so it’s an interesting alternative to other services here (see: Blinkbox review).

Like Rdio you get 15 million songs for free and can build a radio station using any track or artists that you like.

We had problems with Safari, the music took a while to start up (it uses Silverlight) and although the radio songs switched we found the interface stayed on the first track. It worked fine in Chrome though. On the whole it lacks the slick interface found in Rdio or Spotify, and we found the lack of social interaction a bit lonely (one of our favourite features in Spotify is seeing what our friends are playing).

It’s cheap though, at £1 per week it’s a much more friendly price than either Spotify or Rdio. And that gives you the same kind of service that Spotify charges £10 a month for: with iOS app support and Ad Free music. If you want music on a budget then this is worth checking out.

The accuracy of the radio stations were on the ball too; our two test artists (The Human League and Guns N' Roses) returned the following playlist:

  • Human league, Heaven 17, Blancmange, Yazoo, Pet Shop Bosy, Erasure.
  • Guns N; Roses, Slash, Ozzy Osbourne, L.A Guns, Black Sabbath.

Blinkbox - Free, £1 per week

[See how to delete U2 album]

 

Google Play

Google’s own entry to the music world comes in the form of Google Play. this interesting web service offers you free online storage space, in much the same vein as Apple’s iTunes Match. A free Mac OS X extension enables you to send all your iTunes music into a cloud space where you can listen to it all, for free, online through a web browser.

Paying Google £9.99 per month enables you to listen to any track from the Google Play music library (much like Spotify); without that you can only mix up tracks that you have uploaded from iTunes. So if you’re paying you can create radio stations from any artist, otherwise it’s more like a Genius Playlist from your own tracks.

Type in any artists or track and click Start Instant Mix to get similar songs. On the whole the results felt more accurate from Google than any other provider (probably Google’s search engine and analytics at work).

The interface is a bit of a hassle though, you have to drill down past the Google Play store and into the Music Store, and then your Music, and then into INstant Mixes.

While these things are all subjective we felt that the results of our Instant Mix returned the most accurate songs. Our two test artists (The Human League and Guns N' Roses) returned the following playlist:

  • Human League, Ultravox, Duran Duran, Soft Cell, Talk Talk, Adam and the Ants.
  • Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crue, The Darkness, Aerosmith, Queen and Bon Jovi.

Google Play - Free, £9.99 per month

 

Aupeo

Aupeo is an interesting alternative to the other services on offer here. It’s not an online streaming music service, but a traditional webcasting radio station but with more search options. It has 120 pre-developed genre stations that are quite focussed, alongside stalwarts as 80s Best Rock, Emo, Hair Metal, Big Beat, Chicago House and Trip Hop. You can also choose to start a station using any of the artists included. There are 90,000 tracks on Aupeo so it’s smaller than most other libraries here (but probably much larger than your personal iTunes library). Aupeo is free too, you don’t even need to sign up to start playing audio. A premium version ($2,99 per month) removes the adverts, and offers improved audio quality. Guns N’ Roses returned AC/DC, Kiss and Mötley Crue (so it’s pretty closely curated). But it cycled through the same artists more often than other services:

  • Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Def Leppard, Kiss, Kiss, AC/DC, Mötely Crue.
  • Human League, Yazoo, The Human League, John Foxx & Robin Guthrie, ABC.

Aupeo - Free, $2,99 per month

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