Having a large music selection is a great thing. If you’re looking to evoke a certain mood, nothing works as well as music. With apps like iTunes, that allow you to generate Smart Playlists, you have a very flexible means for matching almost any mood…assuming you have the collection to back it up. You can build up your collection with the iTunes store or Amazon, but even at $1/song or $5/album, the costs build up quickly. This brings us to two programs that seek to help you build your music collection using Internet radio.
Radio Gaga and Snowtape are two apps that help you build your music library from a wide variety of internet based radio stations. Each has its strengths and each would serve the purpose for a different group of people.
When it comes to the interface, neither program screams sexy but both are clean and relatively intuitive.
Radio Gaga has an interface that is a little more attractive. By using buttons or frames, you get a graphic representation of the genres available. Double click on a genre frame to see a listing of the stations. The lower left corner has a controller and there is also a mini-controller available.
Snowtape is a bit more utilitarian. It also allows you to select based on genre, but without the pretty icons. It provides an additional link that allows you to buy a song that you are listening to in iTunes. This can be handy if you’re trying to support a specific artist or you have found a song that you want to get in pristine condition.
Both apps provide a large collection of stations. They both will allow you to add stations via a URL or by dragging it from iTunes. Snowtape can go a bit further and can also load based on a playlist. Below is a listing of the genres available, as well as the number of stations/genre at the time that I was gathering the data.
In terms of station volume, Radio Gaga is the clear winner. However, bear in mind that many of the Radio Gaga stations that make up this huge selection are operating below 128 kbp. Those stations are great if you’re running with limited bandwidth. If you have a high-speed connection, the stations below 128 kbp sound like crap. If you’re using the app as a radio, it might be ok. If you’re trying to capture songs, forget it. The recordings will sound like an AM radio playing in a big metal cabinet.
As internet radios, the apps are pretty evenly matched to me. You may find a genre more readily in one app over the other (if you want Metal or Disco, you’ll have an easier time with Radio Gaga) but the both allow you to play and add stations.
It’s at this point, though, that the apps head down different evolutionary paths, which we’ll get to soon.
Here you can see the setup options for Radio Gaga. Pretty straighforward stuff. It does let you limit recording based on available hard drive space, which makes a lot of sense for Radio Gaga, as we’ll see.
Snowtape is more integrated with iTunes (allowing recommendations), has hot keys, permits you to set the format for recordings (AAC or MP3–various quality levels), limit bandwidth, and will let you use your Touch or iPhone as a remote (another point we’ll get to soon).
Both apps will let you record to your heart’s content and both will export the songs to iTunes with whatever tagging info is provided by the station. Radio Gaga does not provide the option to set the format (it saves to MP3) while Snowtape allows you to choose from four levels of AAC or three levels of MP3.
Radio Gaga provides more flexibility in recording. It allows you to set a schedule for recording (as long as the app is running). It allows you to filter for specific words in an artist name or song title. It also allows you to record multiple streams at once.
This screen shows that Radio Gaga organizes recordings by day. You can play the songs from here and you can export to iTunes from here. As mentioned, it only exports MP3 to iTunes.
Here you can see how the scheduling works. You select one or more stations and then pick a menu option to “Record On Schedule.” You control the date, the length of time for recording, and on which days it repeats. This can be very handy if you have a particular radio show you want to catch.
The limitation here is to an artist name or song name. As a test, I selected several rock stations and filtered on the band “The Kinks.” I selected several comedy stations and filtered on “Hedberg” to see if I could get Mitch Hedberg recordings. In fourteen hours of recording, I got one Kinks song and no Mitch Hedberg. Your mileage may vary. To be honest, I’m ambivalent about this capability. If I had a song that I desperately wanted, and I felt like having the app running all the time, I might use this functionality. I’m typically not that patient and I’ll have to think about any songs I might want that could be hard to find. Since I don’t know of any compelling Internet radio shows, the scheduling doesn’t do much for me either. For the right person, this seems like an excellent set of options that Snowtape does not provide.
Snowtape provides no scheduling or filtering capabilities. It cannot record multiple streams. What it does differently is: it finds artwork for the song and it allows “overlap recording.” Why is this important? Both programs do a decent job of getting the songs. The problem is that they key off the tagging information provided by the station. If there is a lag between the beginning/end of the music and the sending of the tag info, you may lose part of a song or may get extra. With the overlap feature, Snowtape will add 5 seconds to the beginning and end of recordings. You should be less likely to lose part of a song if you enable this option.
This screen shows a selection of songs that have been recorded, along with the artwork that was captured. Don’t like the artwork? Pick a song, then hit the “Change Album Artwork” button. You’ll get this window:
From here, you can select something else that suits your fancy. Of course, if you’ve picked up Pollux or TuneUp (Song Scrubber Showdown, Song Scrubber Showdown Updated, Genre Tagging — Pollux vs. TuneUp, Pollux vs. TuneUp Update), this isn’t terribly useful or relevant.
In recognition of the fact that this recording ability is not perfect, Snowtape provides an editor. When used in conjunction with the overlap function mentioned above, this provides your best bet of getting a full song by letting you record the extra and then delete if before exporting to iTunes.
I can’t really pick a winner on this one. Both apps provide an excellent means of beefing up your song library. Snowtape gets you the artwork and gives you a better shot of getting the whole song. Radio Gaga provides much better tools if you have radio shows you want to grab or if you want to go on hunting trips for specific artists or songs. Which product you choose will depend on your needs. Both will meet your needs but in different ways. If you want to stream to an Airport Express, Snowtape is your choice. And, if you do so, it will allow you to use your iPhone or Touch as the control, much like iTunes does. Here is a final matrix for your consideration.
In researching this, I saw that Snowtape is on sale “this week” for 50% off. Since it says “this week” and doesn’t actually set an end date, I don’t know how long the offer will last. To me, Snowtape has a slight edge in this contest. At $14.95, it looks even more attractive.