Nerdvana: Spotify, a Music Revolution on the Level of Napster and iTunes

My musical aptitudes are somewhere in the vicinity of Helen Keller's, so you may want to take this with a grain of salt. But I really mean it: Spotify lives up to the hype.

Spotify, if you haven't heard, is a sort of iTunes/Pandora/Rhapsody hybrid that has been the subject of fevered anticipation as it awaits legal clearance to go live in the United States. It's a free desktop application (an iPhone version is currently in Apple approval limbo) that gives you instant, streaming access to 3.5 million and counting songs. By paying a daily or monthly fee, you get access to premium content and see no ads.

I've been testing the free version for a week, and Spotify is nothing less than a revelation. Its catalog is smaller than iTunes's, but is certainly comprehensive enough for my tastes. Almost everything I searched for, from the Dead Weather to Kanye West to Don Henley (hey, I like "Boys of Summer"), was easy to find and played instantly.

Those are the two big Spotify game-changers. It's like having access to (what feels like) the entire iTunes store, but with the 30-second preview limit turned off. And the interface is cleaner and faster. It's always bugged me how long it takes to search the iTunes store, and how song previews are sometimes slow to load. With Spotify, there's no lag -- ever. (That could change once more users sign up and swamp the servers.) That's part of the app's magic, and it will be reproduced to spectacular effect once its iPhone app is approved: songs in your playlists will actually be downloaded wirelessly to a secret cupboard in your device, so they're available even when you don't have an Internet connection, like on an airplane. That redefines what we think of as "streaming."

Some have called Spotify an iTunes killer. I won't go that far. (The downsides: some functionality is missing, like the ability to un-check songs you don't like; and Spotify doesn't recommend new music, like Pandora or iTunes's "Genius" feature.) But the program has already changed the way I listen to music. If you can't wait to try it out yourself, and don't mind monkeying around with proxy servers, you can download Spotify now via these instructions.

Nerdvana is an occasional rhapsodic look at tech stuff that blows us away.