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Android, Mobile App, Software, Technology

Google Music Beta Impressions (vs Subsonic)

Today I joined the Google Music beta.  I’m a big fan of most Google products, and get beta invites to most of Google’s new offerings.  Generally most of them are pretty slick, and offer easy to use features that are technically difficult for the average joe to set up (like Google Voice’s personal virtual phone PBX) or are commercially expensive (like the Android Google Navigation app instead of a dedicated GPS or the browser-based Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office).  Unfortunately, Google Music doesn’t have anything new to offer feature wise and isn’t really any less expensive than alternatives.  I’ve been using Subsonic music streamer myself, and find it to have much better features, easier to use and it covers many more phone and operating system platforms.

So what makes Google Music inferior to Subsonic?  Quite a few things, actually.  Here’s a feature breakdown:

  • Google Music has a maximum of 2, 000 songs. [EDIT: my account has a limit of 2, 000 – apparently for some others it’s 20, 000; the size of music files is apparently irrelevant, just the total number matters]
    Subsonic is unlimited.
  • Google Music only allows one registered device to play music at a time, and there is a maximum of 8 devices that can be registered.
    Subsonic allows unlimited devices to stream music simultaneously.
  • Google Music only has an app for Android.
    Subsonic has apps for Android, iPhone and Blackberry.
  • Google Music’s web interface only plays music using Google’s custom flash music player, and playlists can only be controlled from the web interface.
    Subsonic lets you choose between the web page custom flash music player, an external player like Windows Media Player, or even play directly from the music streaming server’s speakers.  It also lets you manage playlists through external players.
  • Google Music only supports audio streaming.
    Subsonic supports both audio and video streaming.
  • Google Music is single-user oriented; you can only access music from a sole Google account.
    Subsonic is meant to be used by any number of people to share music and playlists simultaneously, and lets users see what other users are playing and chat with each other.
  • Google Music’s management software only runs on Windows and Mac – which is surprising, given that Android is a Linux-based system!
    Subsonic’s management software  is completely platform agnostic; you can run it on any operating system that has Java installed.
  • Google Music controls which “free song” streams you can access, and doesn’t offer an internet TV or radio stations.
    Subsonic lets you add any other streams or internet TV or radio stations to your music manager.
  • Google Music displays the song title. album, artist, genre and cover art.
    Subsonic lets you choose which attributes to display for each user, and also offers track #, bit rate, duration, year, file format and file size.
  • Google Music doesn’t have last.fm integration.
    Subsonic has last.fm integration for each user.

It can’t be all bad, though!  So what features make Google Music more attractive than Subsonic?  Well, there aren’t actually all that many:

  • Google Music is 100% free for both browser and device based music streaming.
    Subsonic is 100% free for browser based streaming, but requires a donation (of any amount) for more than 30 days of mobile device based music streaming.
  • Google Music won’t use up your internet service’s bandwidth when streaming music.
    Subsonic uses up your internet service’s bandwidth to stream your music to a mobile device or computer outside of your home network.  However, most standard ISP broadband packages should offer enough bandwidth for the average user’s needs.
  • Google Music stores your music on Google’s servers, so you don’t need to worry about backing up or data loss.
    Subsonic runs off of your home computer or server, and you have to manage your own backups.
  • Google Music doesn’t require that you know your IP address to set up the streaming service.
    Subsonic requires you to know your music streaming server’s IP address, and you’ll have to change the IP address in your phone if your ISP changes your IP address (say, if you have a regular home service internet package and you reboot your modem).  However, if you donate then Subsonic will provide you with a domain name like “mymusic.subsonic.org” to use instead of an IP address and the Subsonic server will update this for you automatically.

All in all, Subsonic is a clear winner in my book.  A complete noob might have a little bit of trouble setting it up, but no more so than any other new program.  Plus Subsonic’s help documentation is quite good, unlike Google Music’s.  I’d only recommend Google Music over Subsonic to (1) someone who has a very limited bandwidth internet plan, (2) doesn’t have their own computer but has 2, 000 or less songs that they can’t store on their phone because they have a 4GB or less sized SD card, or (3) someone who just wants to stream a few of their favourite songs to a remote computer (like at work or school) that they can’t hook up to their phone or portable music player.  Other than that, Subsonic or a similar solution is definitely the way to go!

Subsonic Web Interface

Google Music Beta Web Interface


  1. Joe T 2011-07-06 18:13

    Nice writeup. There’s just one thing I disagree with.

    I haven’t used Subsonic, but I fear you’re missing the purpose of Google Music Beta. Anyone can set up a streaming service from their PC; heck, I think Windows Media Player has this functionality built in! The big difference is that Google Music Beta is hosted from the cloud, while Subsonic is hosted from your computer.

    While you do mention this in your post, I feel that this is puts the two products in two entirely different playing fields for most people. For tech savvy individuals like you or I, the only problem we would confront with Subsonic would be the electricity cost and bandwidth of converting our computers into media servers. But most users don’t really like the idea of leaving their systems on. Most users don’t even know what an IP address is, much less know how to find it.

    Google Music Beta is a free service (for now), which is better than most cloud streaming services. It’s really, REALLY simple to set up, assuming you already maintain an iTunes or Windows Media Center library. (And any Linux user worth his or her salt can configure or download a Wine configuration for the Windows version :D)

    Honestly, the only reason I can fault Google for the lack of sharing features is that one could say that Music Beta was rushed out the door before deals could be struck with the record labels. Google would definitely be incredibly scrutinized by the record labels if they even tried to let people share anything having to do with music since they are such a large company (ergo, they would be more likely to settle a court case for many millions of dollars).

    Sure, Subsonic is best for the advanced user that dabbles in networking and is willing to put some time into configuration. But for people who don’t want to leave their computers on, and for the average, know-nothing user, Google Music is much, much better.

    • Tyler Style 2011-07-06 21:24

      Hey Joe! Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I’d agree that Google Music is easier to set up, but I’d disagree as to how much easier. Honestly, I think that aside from needing to know your IP address they’re about par. Subsonic even utilizes UPNP to configure your router for you. However, I can’t argue that there is a barrier in having to leave your computer on 24/7 (though that doesn’t seem to bother file sharers I know!).

      A big part of my disapointment here is with Google’s narrow focus, and perhaps I hadn’t made that explicit enough in my post. Google has previously been very conscious of the web/cloud as a platform agnostic service delivery mechanism. However, with Google Music they’ve introduced the sort of vendor lock in that typifies Microsoft and Apple in that Joe User is limited to Android devices and Windows PCs. Everything else Google has offered up prior has been much more accessible than that, and I’m disappointed that they seem to be limiting their service offerings now. It lends some credence to the “Google is evil” meme that they have become so ubiquitous by offering tools anyone can use on any platform that they can now employ the “embrace, extend, extinguish” methods of Microsoft to reduce end user choice for their own advantage.

      • Aaron 2012-05-09 04:33

        I agree with Joe. Two entirely different servcies. 
        Leaving your computer 24/7 not bothersome? That's a good way to eat electricity, burn out fans, etc, etc. It's counter-productive. 
        I can access Google Music on both Mac and Iphone. That being said Google Music doesn't have it's own Iphone app but who really cares about that.
        There are two draw backs at the moment with Google Music capacity and streaming to an external player like itunes. I expect all in good time that capacity will increase. I understand why it's capped at 20,000 songs and that's because who realistically cycles through more than 20,000 songs daily, weekly even. At any given point we will only listen to select music, or stick it on shuffle. Sadly in todays tech wars it's becoming increasingly more rare that things are being shared. Facebook don't want to integrate with Itunes, Google Music don't want to integrate with anyone. I want to essentially be able to store my music in Google and stream to the player of my choosing; unless Google make an offline player that is equally or better than Itunes.

        • Tyler Style 2012-05-09 08:05

          To address your points:

          While Subsonic & Google Music are two different approaches, one hosted on Google’s servers and one hosted on your own, I’d disagree that they are entirely different: they are both methods to stream your personal music collection over the internet. Joe’s point is that the two services have two completely different *audiences* – that Google Music is more easily accessibly to the nontechnical than Subsonic.

          Most computers use relatively little power, especially compared with other home appliances like TVs and such. And powering up and down your computer all the time can be just as hard on components as leaving it on 24/7 – I’ve never seen a convincingly definitive argument showing one is better than the other from that standpoint. Also, leaving your machine on 24/7 allow for lots of other systems maintenance tasks to happen while you’re not actually using the computer (virus scans, updates, defrags, etc.) So even if you weren’t using Subsonic, leaving a computer on all the time is still a reasonable thing to do.

          And your stated drawbacks to Google Music are exactly why I use Subsonic – I can store as much music as I like, and can stream to any device as it’s not tied to any one company’s products/services/corporate strategy. So I’m not sure why you bring that up?

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