So what to do as summer fades away into Autumn? Well, you could try listening to the radio again. Cloud-based music services like Spotify are increasingly popular, but they're not very good at surprising you with new music. That's what radio does, especially eclectic and interesting stations like Radio 6 and the Bay Area's KPIG. But you can't put radio on your MP3 player…
What's needed is a bridge between all the services and tools we use, something that has the convenience of radio and the ability to deliver content to the web – something like Pure's FlowSongs service. Building on Pure's existing wifi-based Lounge service and adding relationships with 7digital and Shazam, Flowsongs lets you identify tracks as they're played and then buy them - on DAB, FM, and from Internet radio.
FlowSongs is surprisingly easy to use, not surprisingly, as it's designed to work on the limited user interface of a digital radio. Our test rig was a Pure Evoke Flow, with a monochrome OLED display and a set of touch buttons. It's a well-designed Internet-capable digital radio, with WiFi support, though you'll need an account on The Lounge, Pure's Internet portal and web-based media player, before you can listen to any Internet radio stations. You'll also need an account to subscribe to FlowSongs. There's a 90 day trial period for song recognition, with an annual £2.99 fee if you decide to stick with the service. You'll also need to prepay for songs you want to download – there's no ongoing purchase plan, though you can top up from your radio using stored credit card details.
You use the service by listening to the radio – FM, DAB, or Internet. Once you hear a track you like, just click the Flow button on your radio (on the Evoke Flow it's the middle soft button under the display). That takes a quick sample of the track, without interrupting the radio programme, and sends it to Shazam for tagging. The song data is then passed over to 7digital, and, if it's available in the UK, you're given a buy link. You'll need to enter a pre-defined PIN code to complete your purchase, something that's a little awkward when using the Evoke's dial picker.
Once you've bought a track it's available for streaming over the FlowSongs service to any Flow-enabled radio. You can also download the track to a PC for use in any MP3 player, though you can only download a track up to 5 times. That should be sufficient for most purposes, but it’s worth making sure that you have a backup. Track prices are reasonable, with tracks individually priced (unlike iTunes) and most coming in at around 79p or so.
Like most offices we have a radio on much of the time, and this lets us both identify songs we like and quickly add them to a MP3 library. There are some flaws with the service, and once we'd bought a track we liked we didn't seem to be able to buy the complete album from the FlowSongs' Lounge site. Despite this we ended up rather liking the FlowSongs experience. It was quick and easy to use, and the familiar shape of a radio meant that we weren't chewing PC cycles streaming audio – even when listening to a US radio station.
And the real benefit? The end to all those office arguments about just what song that is...