Stereo controls, song progress, and artist information (including album art) are displayed cleanly along the top of the application. Rhapsody packs curious factoids about artists, so it's fun and addictive to browse. Rhapsody includes links to artists' official Web sites and suggests related performers that might match what you enjoy. It even includes song information on albums that it doesn't carry--a truly useful resource.
In the midleft window, you'll find the main options: the Rhapsody Music Guide (default), Rhapsody Radio, My Library, and My Playlists, plus any portable attached devices. The browser includes a simple but effective search box with the option to search by keyword. In the Rhapsody Music Guide, you'll get links to features, 19 genres, a host of charts, and celebrity picks. You can also create My Rhapsody, your own music home page, which gets populated with music matching your tastes (more in Features). The My Library window is equally attractive and efficient, with a responsive search and a useful column dubbed Rhapsody Type, which can sort by imported, purchased, and subscription music.
Another big plus: Rhapsody is the only on-demand streaming service that offers seamless, off-the-shelf integration with digital media receivers, such as Rockford's Omnifi DMS1, Prismiq's MediaPlayer, Netgear's MP101, and Linksys's WMLS11B. With one of the aforementioned digital media receivers, you can navigate and stream Rhapsody's full content catalog over a wireless network connection to your home stereo, or you can use the excellent Sonos Digital Music System, which even lets you play different songs in different rooms at the same time. The only caveat is that your PC has to be on and running the Rhapsody application.Those who choose Rhapsody 25 can download the application for free (with a valid e-mail address) and get access to 25 excellent ad-free radio streams and 25 on-demand streams per month. Basically, as with a jukebox but for free, you can listen to 25 songs from the vast Rhapsody catalog--not a bad deal. In addition, the basic program adds jukebox functionality, such as MP3/AAC ripping up to 320Kbps, WMA ripping up to 192Kbps, CD burning, and a well-organized music library designed to simplify the tasks of managing music and transferring tunes to an MP3 player. You can also purchase tracks for 99 cents each or albums for $9.99. A really nifty feature: You can send your created playlists to friends. If they download Rhapsody 25, they can hear all the songs in the playlist, in their entirety, free of charge. Essentially, you can make one 25-song mix every month, and nobody has to pay.
Pony up the $9.99 per month for Rhapsody Unlimited, and you'll get unlimited streaming and download access to one of the industry's largest catalogs of albums, insightful background on your favorite artists, 128Kbps WMA streaming, 160Kbps WMA downloads, and access to many top-notch radio stations. One gripe about the radio: While you can skip past songs you don't like, you can't pause in the middle of a track; Napster, on the other hand, allows this. To date, Rhapsody's catalog contains more than 1 million songs. If that seems overwhelming to you, try the program's radio station creation tool, which customizes a station based on up to 10 artists of your choosing.
If you have a compatible portable device such as iRiver's H320, Creative's Zen Micro, or Dell's DJ-20, you'll want to investigate Rhapsody To Go. Following on the heels of Napster To Go's revolutionary Janus-based service, Rhapsody To Go gives you access to 100 percent of the downloadable catalog to transfer to your device. A clock built into compatible devices times out licenses for songs when the subscription runs out, but until then, these files can be played with aplomb. While you can populate your playlists with any track in your library, you can autosync when you connect your device with only purchased or imported tracks, not subscription-based downloads. In other words, subscription content must be manually transferred, so you can't automatically fill your 20GB player with random tracks from the Rhapsody catalog. Though we're picky about music, it'd be nice to have a one-click subscription fill-up on our portables.
New Rhapsody features
Since both subscription services allow on-demand streaming of any track available, most users won't need to purchase tracks, but studies have shown that subscribers still buy their favorite tracks. Subscribers have the option to buy tracks with a 10 percent discount. That's 89 cents per track or $8.99 per album. Purchased tracks are 192Kbps AAC files wrapped in Real's Helix DRM.