Wall of Sound Soundbooth goes public beta
September 20, 2000 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Wall of Sound Soundbooth goes public beta
I've never seen an Internet radio site that gives you so much control over what you're listening to. Stations are streamed, but on a track by track basis, so you can pause and skip tracks. You can create your own stations to mix genres, specific albums, specific artists or even specific tracks. Am I naive? How does it compare to other Internet radio?
posted by dan_of_brainlog (18 comments total)
It is a beta, so you may experience problems. I've heard of problems with Macs and Netscape.

I also think their pre-set stations are the best I've seen. I'm particularly impressed with their Classical category; I've tried other Internet radio sites' "Classical" music and got nothing but pop classical.

I should also mention that while I work for Go.com, my opinions are my own and don't represent them and such. I'd be shouting this from rooftops even if I didn't work there, I think.
posted by dan_of_brainlog at 11:49 AM on September 20, 2000

This barely sounds legal. :-)

posted by Mars Saxman at 11:55 AM on September 20, 2000

Ah, but you see, you can only listen to radio stations that you can prove you already own.
posted by dhartung at 12:34 PM on September 20, 2000

Echo is similar, but it sounds like you don't have quite as much control. The biggest problem with Echo is they're using RealPlayer to drive their player. This, of course, sucks. Looks like WOS has a proprietary player. I've got a little downloading to do when I get home.

posted by frykitty at 12:47 PM on September 20, 2000

Imagine Radio used to do some of that (letting you create your own station with your own mix of artists, skip tracks you didn't like, etc.), but then they had to make it less usable to make it more legal. They got bought out by MTV, changed their name, and suddenly all of the old users' stations were gone, and we were told we couldn't program by choosing our own artists anymore, only by choosing a (pre-existing) genre. For DMCA reasons, they said.

Needless to say, this ruined any value it had for me (not to mention it crashed my Mac over and over), and I haven't been back since.

I expect this will go the same route, sadly.

(I ended up using Live 365 to build my own station, but the joy of Imagine Radio was that you would hear things that were new to you, but you would like them. And you never knew what was coming up next.)
posted by litlnemo at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2000

Soundbooth is crippled in some ways, probably for similar reasons. You can't create a station with just one track, for example; you have to include a genre, and its frequency must be set to medium or higher.

Unrelated: I'm reminded that there is some garbage in some of the pre-set stations. I still think the organization of their Classical category is great, but there are occasional tracks from "Classical music from the movies!" CDs, and even a couple of discs that begin each piece with "sounds from nature". Oh well. I can always skip them when they show up.

Yeah, I use Soundbooth to listen to find stuff I've never heard before. I can't stand commercial radio, so I have no clue when new artists release good music. (I could also be reading reviews on WOS, I guess, but I'm not that into it. :)

posted by dan_of_brainlog at 1:04 PM on September 20, 2000

Most of the lost functionality of Imagine Radio is now back at Radio Sonicnet, the MTV venture. You can build a station by rating artists and/or genres on a zero to five system, where zero is never played, and five is played the most frequently. It was a pain to recreate my old station, but I think they have more artists now than ever before. Good stuff.

posted by Aaaugh! at 1:24 PM on September 20, 2000

OK, having actually attempted to play music off this site, I hereby retract all coolness points I was about to grant. (Yes, this leaves them with a net deficit.)

Things that they did wrong:
1) Javascript. Any web designer who thinks they need a bunch of browser-controlling scripting code just to open an audio stream has an overblown sense of their own importance. Be humble, you twits, and don't try to pretend your javascript is going to do the same job as my copy of AMP Radio. Just give me the damn URL.

2) Platform specific implementation. Anyone who thinks their streaming audio only works if you're running Windows needs to be thwapped. Either they're using mp3 over http, in which case this "windows only" crap is laziness, or they're not, in which case they're SDMI flunkies.

3) Obfuscation. Usually when people pull windows only nastiness with javascript, I can poke around in the source, figure out what they were trying to do, and do it myself. Not so here.

Yes, I'm pissed off. Ignore me, it'll pass. But I'll continue to get my audio streams elsewhere...

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:26 PM on September 20, 2000

LAUNCHCast does pretty much everything Soundbooth, but it also allows you to rate music and has a ton of collaborative filtering features that helps you program your station. It's very cool.

When the LAUNCHCast beta was released late last year, it was a pretty huge step up in web.radio functionality and everyone else has been trying to play catch-up ever since. Echo, for instance, either ripped off or licensed a lot of LAUNCHCast's functionality and combined it with the "surfing for dollars" theme that seems so popular (and lucrative) these days.

One of the problems with LAUNCHCast, though, is the quality of the music. I don't listen to it much because there's not a lot of variety and the selection is poor. Judging from your comments, Dan, Soundbooth might be a lot better in that respect.
posted by jkottke at 1:33 PM on September 20, 2000

The selection is amazing and the sound quality and variety of stuff I'm getting is great, but the ad every 5 songs or so is kind of annoying. Why don't they offer the option to remove ads for a one time charge or have a "couple bucks a month" option?

I'm a big fan of the "if you'd like to remove the advertising ugliness here, you can pay to do that" option.
posted by mathowie at 2:09 PM on September 20, 2000

I agree that LAUNCHCast suffers in terms of its music library, by sacrificing good music for something that's incredibly easy to set up--you choose music by genre, but saying that I like Electronica doesn't mean that I like all Electronica. (I said that I liked rock and it keeps playing Styx and Slayer. Please.) I also doubt the wisdom of allowing ratings of artists, albums, and songs numerically, allowing listeners to rate between 0 and 100. Collaborative filtering is a great idea, but doesn't always work. Take a look at the top songs played on LAUNCHcast stations, and it pretty much mirrors a Top 40 radio playlist in the US. You'd think the way make your own station better is to search for your favorite artists and use the "fans who like X also like Y" section to quickly rate bands but my station still plays really weird random songs sometimes.

Also, Echo.com seems to have gotten wind of all those cheaters in the pay-to-listen system and is changing around its prizes system starting the 28th. Yuck. the best prize, the Amazon.com Gift Certificate, changes to 12,000 points from 4,000. I was alerted through email today by Echo but there seems to be nothing on the site to its changing rewards policy.

I've spent time listening to Echo and one of the things I particularly liked was that you could share your station with your friends, who could then influence what was being played, which sounds more like real collaborative filtering to me than a computer telling me what I should like. There was also a way of changing how much new, unknown-to-you music was played. Unfortunately, they didn't have very many artists you could rate and their recommendation system always seemed a little off to me, forcing me to ask, "Why in the world did you think I'd like this?" That, and the Echo Player frequently froze or was unable to start because the servers were overburdened.

Radio.Sonicnet does a fairly good job of truly creating a personalized station but if you're like me and want total control of your station, you can spend hours fine-tuning the frequency of which artists are played, especially if you're not happy with some of the artists in their pre-sorted genres. The trouble is, when Imagine Radio first became Radio.Sonicnet, there were only very broadly defined genres with a few artists. Rate a genre as a "2" and all the artists there were rated as "2." Then you had to hunt and peck to filter what you didn't like out. After they kept adding artists to their musical library, new artists were automatically set at 0, or "never play." So if you wanted to add a certain band to your station you had to hunt for it or use the search mechanism. And everytime you change an artist's rating you go through the dance of opening a pop-up window, changing the rating, setting the rating and closing the pop-up. Not much in the way of new music discovery here unless you use their predefined genres but if you put enough time into it, the station you make can be very good even if it does get stuck on certain artists.

RadioMoi offers a service similar to Radio.Sonicnet called "I'm The DJ." It uses streaming MP3 audio technology and a WinPlay3 or similar MP3 player but IIRC, it doesn't work with Winamp, which is stupid. RadioMoi offers track by track personalization if you want it, but its music library is uneven.

I haven't been able to try the Wall of Sound Soundbooth, but I like what I'm hearing. But aren't there regulations against the type of personalization I'm reading about? You can read the DCMA here in PDF form, but I think that Live365 does a good job of explaining the rules for Internet broadcasters.

Personally, I'm all about letting someone else choose the music for me, which is why I listen mostly to college radio. (Disclaimer: I work at one of the stations on the previously linked-to site.)
posted by prettyliar at 3:06 PM on September 20, 2000

I will second all of Mars' comments. I *hate* people who have a Better Fuckin' Idea. I *really* do.

Most notably Digital Club Network, who see to feel the need to do their *entire* user interface in flash.

Not only is it impossible to read, but I've never once gotten it to *work*, either. It's intensely frustrating for two major reasons:

1) It's a damned cool idea.

2) I'm the house video geek for one of their venues.

But I don't know whom to bitch to. webmaster@? Hah. I scoff in your general direction.
posted by baylink at 4:37 PM on September 20, 2000

Mac and netscape. I tried, their site said that it doesn't work for the mac yet. So... what-fuckin-ever. I'll just keep on listening to Erich's mp3s.
posted by tiaka at 9:18 PM on September 20, 2000

I really enjoyed Imagine Radio in its day, even on the 28.8k connection. I remember being impressed by its collection of artists and they seemed to have entire albums on the rotation rather than just radio singles. It also let me rate up on certain artists i was intrigued in and let me hear a bit more, but randomly , in a radio sort of way.
posted by aki at 4:51 AM on September 21, 2000

From all the MP3-based sites i've seen, i like Epitonic.com about the best. The site allows some great features similar to Wall of Sound, like playlist creation and email-client-like folder storage.

What separates this one from the rest is their selection of brand new, up-and-coming artists. Whereas most of the artists i see on Wall of Sound, epitonic.com has stuff i've not seen in years.

They even had a cd and some MP3's by a local Richmond, VA band who split some time ago. Quite an impressive relational deal too - they look at what you're viewing and listening to, and make well-educated decisions. It's a lot like the whole CDNow attempted to pull off in their advisory section, but these advisories are awesome.

In addition, the reviews are well-formulated and thought out. i give it two thumbs up.
posted by tatochip at 6:25 AM on September 21, 2000

The only one of these I've used is Spinner.com. Not bad, from my point of view, but I'm happier playing my own CDs. I think they may be limited to the preset radio stations, whose playlists are adjusted by listener ratings (which I didn't bother with). So not quite as personalized.

One thing I did find about these services is that most of them limit their audio stream to fit into a 20K connection. The only thing you gain with higher bandwidth is in latency and packet loss.
posted by dhartung at 9:26 AM on September 21, 2000

Too-late comment:

The problem with Wall of Sound, as I see it, is using a Windows-only approach AND using ActiveX to implement it. I can't stand ActiveX, and had to turn it back on to try it out.

What does it cost to get an authenticated certificate for an ActiveX object? Twenty bucks? Does it matter?

Index of related RISKS digest issues:

posted by dgfitch at 12:08 PM on September 21, 2000

Aki glances off the point I'd originally posted to make:

The point of radio is the same as the point of newspapers: someone else is doing the picking. If *I* wanted to pick the music myself, I'd do what I'm doing now: listening to a playlist in XMMS.
posted by baylink at 8:09 AM on September 22, 2000

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