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Music discovery continues to be a conundrum in an era of homogenized radio, the disappearance of music on so-called music television stations, and a seemingly endless array of new artists to fit every taste. Streaming music services have attempted to fill the void with increasingly impressive recommendation algorithms, and Beats Music — which features the branding of the popular Dr. Dre-backed headphones — is the latest such offering, serving up more than 20 million tracks with a heaping helping of music expertise on the side.
This hand-holding approach is front and center right from signup – before you can dive in, you’ll first need to pick at least three artists you like in order to access the initial recommendations. Once inside, that mandatory process starts to pay off with a virtual audible playground. The "Just For You" screen assembles user recommendations from tracks or albums you’ve told the service you love (by tapping a heart icon) into a super-mix of favorites, as well as playlists that Beats minions have matched with your own.
More adventurous listeners can use "The Sentence" to create mixes based on where you are, how you’re feeling, who you’re with, and what style of music you want to hear. For example, we flipped through the variables and inputted “I’m on the couch & feel like chilling out with my pets to the 80s,” and got Madonna’s “Lucky Star” as a result, with other combinations yielding similarly suitable songs. We didn’t get much use from this feature, but the wide range of search options provided even this finicky listener with plenty to hear.
The only significant downside is that it’s easy to drill down into the music and get lost – the app lacks a one-tap option for jumping back to the main menu. Beyond the free trial period, Beats Music costs $10 a month; AT&T Family Plan subscribers get an appealing deal at $14.99 per month for up to five users across as many as 10 devices, though the fee gets tacked onto your monthly wireless bill (which is probably already too high to begin with).
The bottom line. Beats Music effectively balances music discovery while giving listeners with more rigid tastes full control, all in a stylishly designed UI that encourages you to poke around and have fun.
iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later
Slick, fun UI keeps users engaged with the service. Nicely balances music discovery while offering full control for discriminating listeners. Generous 90-day trial period for AT&T Family Plan subscribers.
No native iPad support. UI lacks one-tap breadcrumbs back to home screen. AT&T Family Plan subscription requires carrier billing.