Review: Rara.com

Friday 25th January, 2013
If you've ever ripped a CD into iTunes you may have wondered how it instantly recognises the disc along with its contents, saving you the effort of typing in all the Artist/Title data in manually.

That technology is provided by Gracenote, a company owned by Sony which now maintains a database of over one billion pieces of data that it licenses to the likes of Apple, Bose, Spotify and even Google. But it's never had its own branded music product, although the closest so far is music service rara.com.
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Formed out of a partnership with Omnifone, that sees the two provide back end technology for London based rara.com, the music service now carries over 18,000,000 tracks and is available in most parts of the world including the US, Europe, Asia and Australia. As there is currently a free 7 day trial until the end of January, I thought I'd try it out.

Going from iTunes and Rhapsody, thru Last.FM and Napster and on to Spotify and Google Play Music, I've used my fair share of music services along with the benefits and negatives of each. Currently I use Spotify for my primary album listening but use Napster for its charts and Google Play Music to easily play my iTunes ripped CD back catalog without using an Apple device.
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I was hoping that rara.com could maybe combine the best elements of Napster and Spotify, allowing me quick access to the latest albums whilst helping me find new music - indeed, the press release even pointed me to a somewhat random playlist of "Mood Boosting" tracks that contained everything from Tchaikovsky to M People.
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A dip into the settings menu shows just a few options, but one nice feature in particular that other music apps could learn a lot from. Song storage allocation settings allow you to limit the amount of space used up on your phone for music downloads - leaving you guaranteed space for photos and other storage. Using other music apps I've found it far to easy to use up every byte of my phone space and then not to even be able to take a photo.

However, having actually failed to find an easy way in the Android app of copying the playlist for off-line use, I moved on to check out the sound quality. Whilst there appears to be no obvious claims about bitrate of their streamed music, quality through my Bose QC15 headphones and Samsung Galaxy S3 was better than expected, although the app lacks access to the Android EQ that Google Play Music and Spotify are able to use. We're not really on a par with Spotify's "Extreme Quality" download, but we are talking about a service that could cost me £6 instead of £30 over the next three months - a saving we could all do with when that credit card bill lands on the doormat after Christmas.
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The rara.com front screen allows access to a number of features from recommended playlists, thru "Moods" and new music focussed "rara radar", to "Charts" - which is an interesting one. Despite being a British outfit, rara.com appears to lack the UK charts which, far from a criticism, is actually quite useful. One of the things I always used to like about US based Rhapsody (not to be mistaken for the Rhapsody owned UK Napster service) was the ability to play American charts and discover new bands that simply never reach this side of the Atlantic - I've discovered bands like Collective Soul and Five for Fighting that way. There's certainly many of ways to happen upon new albums here, even if I might go off and purchase it in a higher quality for repeated playback on my decent hi-fi kit.
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I decided I'd see how complete the 18 million track back-catalogue is - some 1,000 times bigger than my own iTunes library. Impressive perhaps but Spotify, with it's estimated 20m tracks, wasn't enough for me which is why I've ended up having to use Google Play Music alongside it. A search for 90's band The KLF had me surprised with the amount of results, in fact that it had any at all. On retirement, The KLF reportedly burned one million pounds in cash, because they could, and then deleted their entire back catalogue so nobody could buy their music any more. The end result is that Spotify can't find KLF album The White Room...but rara.com can. I think perhaps other passengers wondered why I was grinning so much as I was All Aboard the Last Train to Trancentral via Waterloo on my way home from work, but I thoroughly enjoyed a trip into a top album from my childhood. Sadly, another search for The Prodigy's Experience album turned up a blank - yet another music service that isn't quite as good as my own.

So, overall, is rara.com as good as the competition? Well maybe it still has some catching up to do but, if you sign up before the end of the month, you'll get 7 days free followed by 3 months at 99p each or £1.99 for mobile access. At that price it's certainly worth a look and allows you to find some new music whilst you put your Spotify payments on hold as you try to pay off those Christmas bills.

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