Before them all, there was Napster. Originally a peer-to-peer free file-sharing service, and one of the first of its kind, it’s fair to say it didn’t make too many friends in the music industry, upsetting everyone from Dr Dre to Metallica.
It bowed out of the public eye after a raft of copyright lawsuits and injunctions pushed it into bankruptcy more than a decade ago.
Now, it’s gone legit. Bought by US music-streaming service Rhapsody in 2011, all that connects Napster now with Napster then is its name and logo.
It only offers two paid-for subscription options – there’s no ad-based free option here – both offering access to the service’s 20-million strong catalogue.
Napster has worked hard to make music discovery a big part of its service.
While you can browse through genres or search directly for songs and albums you like, the Featured tab is always well worth a visit.
Here you’ll find snappy editorial content from Napster’s music experts supporting playlists based around new music or eras, as well as new album picks.
You’re also able to follow friends and other users on the service for further discovery.
Of course, if you’d prefer to keep your secret Taylor Swift addiction under wraps, you can opt for a private profile in the settings menu, which means you won’t be searchable.
Its artist radio allows you to customise the variety and popularity of tracks that make it into your station, or create a station based on an individual track or genre.
There’s a handful of video content, though it’s not as established as Deezer.
Napster’s interface is easy to use across platforms: it’s simple enough for the small screen of a mobile, while the iPad gets the visual treatment with a tablet-specific app.
Platforms + Apps
Android and iOS are taken care of in both mobile and tablet forms, there's a phone app for Windows Phone users and a web app for use on computers.
Sonos includes Napster in its multi-room streaming options, plus other kit such as Yamaha AV receivers and Xbox 360 have Napster functionality built in too.
Unfortunately, BlackBerry users will have to go elsewhere for now.
More after the break
What lets all this goodness down is the streaming bitrate, which tops out at 192kbps for tracks streamed via mobile apps and played offline, dropping to 128kbps for those on your laptop and 64kbps for those not available in high quality (though we didn’t come across any of these during testing).
Despite its on-paper fate looking grim, Napster still manages to sound competitive, even against the higher bitrates on test.
Detail levels didn’t sound hugely different compared with a 320kbps stream from Deezer, but it’s a softer, more rounded-off sound in comparison.
It steers clear of brightness in the treble, which makes it a fine companion for long listening sessions.
Napster looks great and is a good choice for those who like some context to their music.
Its sound, despite faring better than expected, still falls behind the market leaders, and when its pricing structure is the same, there’s not much excuse for it.
Get it sounding as good as it looks and it could be a real contender.
Catalogue: 20 million
Bitrate: up to 192kbps
File format: AAC+, MP3
Mobile platforms: Android, iOS, Windows Phone
Desktop app: No
Tablet optimised: Android, iOS