Pandora quickly became one of the biggest names in internet radio after introducing a virtual genetic mapping of music in order to better determine what kind of music the listener might enjoy based on their likes and dislikes. In a sense, it took the intuition of a DJ and the experience of an automatic playlist and combined them to create something new. After years of developing and fine tuning their service, it became time to monetize. Ads were added to the stream and a new subscription music service was born in Pandora One.
With a standard free Pandora account, you have the ability to listen to a good quality stream of music for 40 hours a month including occasional commercial break-ins. You have the ability to skip past a song you don’t care for a total of 12 times per day, and you have to interact with the service often to indicate you’re still listening.
Pandora One offers unlimited playback on a higher 192K bit stream without commercial interruptions, unlimited skips, and an extended 5 hours of playback without needing to interact with the service at all. Pandora One users also get access to their Adobe Air desktop app which gives users the option to listen to music without having to open a browser.
The higher quality stream does make a difference in the overall experience as songs come out sounding a bit crisper and better tuned. Instruments sound more accurately represented, especially on higher quality headphones and speakers. While it’s still heavily compressed audio, the difference is clearly noticeable.
Commercial interruptions on the free stream are few, and serve no other purpose than to help compensate Pandora for the bandwidth and other overhead they encounter providing a free service. Occasionally, the ad includes a plug for their Pandora One service. Unless you really hate advertising, this really isn’t the strongest case for upgrading to a paid subscription.
Skipping unwanted tracks without limitations may be the strongest case for upgrading among picky users. Because you don’t have any direct control over what will be played next, being able to vote down and skip past something you don’t like, or just aren’t in the mood for at that time, is a great feature.
The Pandora One desktop app is sleek, simple, and easy to use. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the app to work with keyboard media controls on either Windows 7 or Mac OS X. The app sips on system resources and doesn’t take up much space at all, allowing you to hide it when minimized and keep it in the system tray. There are some great third-party gadgets out there that work with Pandora, but none really have the full feature set the Pandora One app provides.
Overall, whether or not this service is worth the yearly subscription fee depends on how much you use the service and how important audio quality is to you. Heavy users that need more than 40 hours of music per month will likely get the most out of the upgrade. If you are a light listener and you find the free service’s quality and commercials bearable, there really isn’t much of a reason to upgrade at all.