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All in all, despite being largely catalog- and indie-driven and streaming-only, Rhapsody is a pretty strong entry in the sub-service sweepstakes. Still, for online-music fans who've suckled at the teat of free, unlicensed, "untethered" P2P services, it faces some serious obstacles.

LET'S LISTEN TO RHAPSODY

Giving Listen.com's Streaming Service a Spin
Listen.com's Rhapsody subscription service, now available online, has hustled its way to the front lines of the online music wars, going head-to-head with MusicNet (which debuts on Real.com this week), the pending Pressplay and the reformed Napster, among others, despite its lack of a major-label imprimatur.

Subscribers can stream, not download, a selection of tracks organized by genre in "catalogs"—the "Sampler" version, boasting 1515 albums' worth by 1346 artists for $5.95 per month, or 2733 albums by 2928 artists for $7.95 per month for the "Sampler PLUS" package. Both catalogs can be explored on a free trial basis. Click here to read about some of Listen.com's licencing deals.

A cursory inspection of the service reveals an easily navigable, relatively attractive interface. The process of adding tracks to one's account is also fairly straightforward. The playback is reliable and the fidelity superb; unfortunately, multi-tasking tends to jostle the audio.

In addition, Rhapsody offers its own pre-programmed streaming stations—and on first inspection, both the sound quality and selection on these channels are outstanding. Outlets like the "Alt. Country" station showcase real depth, while the hits-based channels perform like stellar, chart-driven jukeboxes. The streaming radio portion, because it is pre-programmed rather than on-demand, is not subject to the same licensing headaches as the rest of the service.

All in all, despite being largely catalog- and indie-driven and streaming-only, Rhapsody is a pretty strong entry in the sub-service sweepstakes. Still, for online-music fans who've suckled at the teat of free, unlicensed, "untethered" P2P services, it faces some serious obstacles.

"Rhapsody has the best concept for digital music subscriptions," comments digital media consultant Scott Ross. "They don't give customers exactly what they want—they use a proprietary encoding method that deletes the file 30 days after the customer stops paying his subscription fees—but they make up for it in enhanced functionality. Unfortunately, even the best ideas can't work without licenses."

What's more, doubts continue to linger about whether music fans will pay for music they can neither download nor transfer to CDs or portable players. But critics lining up to shoot these services down would do well to remember that it's still very early in the game. As circumstances change, consumers have greater choices and everyone gets used to the idea of music as a service, it's entirely possible that the big subscription packages will begin to offer new options. In the meantime, though, Rhapsody has made a respectable debut.

NEAR TRUTHS: THE KYNCL-LOUSADA DANCE HAS BEGUN
This oughta be interesting... (9/30a)
GRAMMY CHEW:
RAP EDITION
Michael and Kyle find a feast of hip-hop to chew on. (9/30a)
CHART FINAL: VERANO INVADES FALL
Like a broken record... which it is, figuratively speaking. (9/30a)
HITS LIST: COUNTDOWN
TO ECSTASY
We enter the month that was once known as Rocktober. (9/30a)
HIS OWN ARCHITECT:
THE STEVE LACY BUZZ
It was a surprisingly easy "Habit" to break. (9/30a)
GRAMMY SEASON
New categories! New rules! New WTF!
THE BIG DEAL
It's the one you didn't see coming.
RAID AT MAR-A-LAGO
"Who took my passports?"
HITS' 36TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
Allow us to apologize in advance.
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