Back in October, Pure, the radio specialist, officially announced Pure Music; a streaming service that sees it going head-to-head with Spotify. Although you won't hear a Pure employee mention the S word, the similarities are obvious and it is impossible not to compare the two. Pure, however is keen to stress that its music streaming platform is built for an already existing ecosystem. That ecosystem is, of course, the numerous internet radio devices that bear the Pure name, as well as its online “Lounge” portal and its mobile app offerings too.
Building on the success of last year's FlowSongs platform, Pure Music has again teamed-up with 7Digital to offer access to its extensive catalogue, but this time around it doesn't require users to pay for individual downloads.
For £4.99 a month Pure Music offers unlimited streaming across multiple devices. There's a web-based player on the Lounge website, mobile apps (iOS available now, Android coming soon) and, of course, the service is available on all eight of the company's internet connected radios.
One differentiating factor from Spotify is the tagging service, introduced with FlowSongs. This means that when listening to the radio, if you hear a tune you like, you can tag it and then explore the artist and stream their music. It worked well FlowSongs too, which scored a very respectable 8/10 in our review. The tagging service works almost flawlessly, which isn't surprising as it's all Shazam-powered and, with Pure Music, makes for an easy playlist creating tool.
The streaming service works on 3G and Wi-Fi and there are no limits to the amount of devices that you can hook-up to your account. Pure will be monitoring IP addresses though, so you won't be able to share an account with your buddies.
The main event – the desktop player
Looks-wise, the web player looks a bit like Spotify's paler cousin; with a white and grey theme going on. All of the usual ingredients are there, like playlists, recommendations, the ability to share tracks via social networks, email and so on.
In terms of navigating around the client, you're looking at the same point and click based fun that you're probably already accustomed to with the wealth of music players out there now. If you see an artist name that you like click it, and you'll get top tracks, singles, albums and so on. There are recommendation tools on-board too, for similar artists and genres. There's artwork where available and where not, a silhouette of a band looking suspiciously like Oasis. No bios as of yet, but hey – there's always Wikipedia for that type of nonsense.
The front page has a few banners and tiles trying to lure you into certain sections: top tracks of the year, Christmas songs, movie soundtracks, highlighted albums and so forth, and there's also sections for best selling artists and personal recommendations. From within these sections you are still afforded the usual array of options, such as adding tunes to playlists, sharing them or, if available, buying them. Once a song is purchased, or even just added to a playlist – you'll be able to access these on your Pure devices and apps.
There's nothing new about Pure Music's UI and nothing too revolutionary about what's on offer. But it does the job and is a decent standalone browser-based music player which, essentially, works well as a slave to get the tunes you want on your Pure radios and via apps.
Of the 15 million songs available on the 7Digital-provided catalogue, Pure states that "the vast majority" are streamable and that licensing deals will extend the offerings over time. We didn't have many issues in not being able to find artists that we wanted; we did a test of around 50 artists from a wide genre and time-frame and the majority were all present and correct. However, we must stress here that we've been testing a preview version of the platform and the availability of songs to stream, download or both may differ when Pure Music goes live.
For now, the songs are purchased as DRM-free MP3s encoded at 320kbps that you can move to any computer or MP3 player, and 128kbps MP3 files for streaming. The platform is set to evolve though; we're told that a lossless format will arrive along with launches in more countries - for now it's UK-only.
On Pure radios and the apps
If you've got a Pure radio this is where the fun starts. Because, as well as the old FlowSongs tagging service, and the playback of songs that you've paid for - you can now access Pure Music so long as you cough up your monthly fee.
Yes, it's clunky as hell trying to find anyone using a Pure radio's control options (even on the touchscreen of the Pure Sensia) but if you've already created playlists using the desktop client then you're away.
The mobile apps (iPhone tested) work in much the same way, although it is much easier to find artists, albums and particular tracks obviously. AirPlay worked without an issue as well, although there's no caching, as per Spotify's app, so you'll always need a data connection to stream your music.
It's impossible not to compare Pure Music to Spotify. As much as the company wishes that we wouldn't, and, as such, it's impossible not to mark the digital radio specialist's effort down a touch on the few aspects where it falls a bit short.
Pure Music isn't solely a music streaming service, but that's certainly a large part of it, and as such, it would be nice to see the streams at a better quality than 128kpbs MP3s. Spotify, as a comparison, uses the Ogg Vorbis format for streaming at three quality ratings; q3 (96 kbps), q5 (160 kbps) and q9 (320 kbps) with the top level available for Premium users. As mentioned, there is talk that the quality of the platform's streams would improve over time and we hope this is the case.
The next aspect where the service falls a bit short of its Scandinavian rival is the usability of desktop client. Sure, Pure Music's web based platform is easy enough to use, but the fact that it's web browser-based does mean it comes with certain limitations. You can't carry on streaming a song, for example, and browse for more tunes without the song being cut mid-flow as the page refreshes - although there is a pop-out player to work around this. And if your browser crashes thanks to another rogue tab, it can bring down the whole show.
However, those slight faults shouldn't take away from what is a brilliant service, especially if you're already using Pure's internet radios. The ecosystem, and the fact that you can access and stream tracks on any of your Pure web-connected devices and apps, means that, for half the price you pay for your Spotify subscription, you're getting incredible value for money. Searching for artists and tracks using your Pure radio's interface and controls may be a painful affair, but the fact that you can chuck over playlists from your browser and access your tagged and purchased tracks instantly means that you never really have to do this anyway.
Pure Music definitely has a whiff of “work in progress” about it, but it's still a fantastic platform that will perhaps appeal to first-time streamers, especially those already on-board the Pure bandwagon, rather than tempting existing Spotify fanatics.
Pure Music is due to go live before 2011 is finished, we'd thoroughly recommend that you take it for a spin.