The streaming music space is incredibly competitive. There many services that deliver quality audio and extensive catalogs, and companies will do whatever it takes to win over your ears. Such is the case with Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio, a free service (with premium options) that combines live radio with curated artist channels and podcasts. In short, iHeartRadio tries to be a music site that has something for everyone, though it looks clunky in places and lacks some features offered by the competition, like curated artist streams.
Live, Free Radio
iHeartRadio offers live, free radio streams. Its homepage prominently displays a grid that highlights Comedy, Jazz, News & Talk, Rock, Sports, and other content categories. Clicking a panel and then the Get Stations icon lets iHeartRadio know the genres that you want to hear.
For example, after I clicked the Hip Hop and Sports icon, iHeartRadio fed me related live radio stations, such as New York City’s famed Hot 97 and AM 570 Sports. Sadly, this main part of the site has an unattractive, aged design that looks like it was built a decade ago. iHeartRadio is in desperate need of a visual refresh that would put in on par with Spotify or Tidal, two of PCMag’s Editors’ Choices for streaming music services.
As a track plays, you can view its lyrics or a bio page for the artist in question. You must create an account, or sign in with your Facebook or Google credentials, however, to like or ban tracks, listen to Artist Radio stations, or view your Listen History.
Unlike SiriusXM Internet Radio, iHeartRadio lacks a huge, one-hour buffer that lets you scrub back to any point in the past 60 minutes. On a similar note, iHeartRadio doesn’t have a feature that resembles SiriusXM Internet Radio’s TuneStart functionality (a feature that always starts you at the beginning of a song streaming via live radio, no matter where you jump in to it).
Personalized Radio and Podcasts
Besides the free, live radio streams, iHeartRadio offers two premium plans: iHeartRadio Plus and iHeartRadio All Access.
The $4.99-per-month iHeartRadio Plus tier serves up live radio, plus personalized artist radio stations, unlimited skips, full access to the company’s podcast library, the ability to replay the last three songs, and on-demand song and album playback. Unfortunately, iHeartRadio Plus is only available on Android or iOS—there’s no web version.
The $9.99-per-month iHeartRadio All Access package, accessible via mobile apps or a web browser, builds upon the Plus plan by adding artist station caching and offline playback, as well as the ability to create unlimited playlists. iHeartRadio also offers a $14.99-per-month All Access Family Plan that covers five people.
Both iHeartRadio premium tiers boast tech that recognizes tracks from live radio and lets you save their artist station equivalents. In other words, it doesn’t let you record podcasts or live radio, so you can’t preserve classic The Breakfast Club moments. Still, I find it pretty cool that I could add Roxette’s “Listen To Your Heart” to my music library as soon as I recognized the track’s opening notes.
Like competing services, iHeartRadio has dozens of artist stations. In addition, there are 20 genre stations, and more than 400,000 artists and 15 million songs in the iHeartRadio catalog. I was able to find both popular (The White Stripes) and obscure artists (The Dirtbombs) with ease.
Playlists and Podcasts
IHeartRadio boasts numerous playlists, including “Office Hours,” “Smells Like the 90s,” and “BBQ Jams.” I selected “Smells Like the 90s” in hopes of getting a pick-me-up. The playlist presented tracks from Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and other 1990s icons. Your mileage may vary, but the list delivered what I wanted.
Like Pandora and Spotify, iHeartRadio has a solid podcast well. You’ll find popular shows, such as The Breakfast Club, The Joe Rogan Experience, and Stuff You Should Know.
The iHeartRadio Experience
I enjoyed hiccup-free tunes over my home and office wireless signals, though the 128Kbps Artist Radio stations sounded a bit better than the live radio stations. Regardless, neither set of streams were as crisp as Amazon Music HD or Tidal Masters’ tasty Hi-Res Audio tracks, but that’s to be expected. That said, iHeartRadio’s artist stations are on par with the audio content you’d enjoy from non-Tidal sources. The Dirtbombs’ “Sirens” crisply rocked my eardrums.
iHeartRadio also has news articles and event listings. The informative News section fills you in on music-related happenings (such as Cardi B’s thoughts on the novel coronavirus situation), while the Events section showcases lineups and highlights of iHeartRadio-sponsored live shows from across the country (such as the iHeartRadio Music Awards and the iHeartRadio Country Festival). Still, I prefer Tidal’s original, feature-length articles, which give more insight into the artists or bands that matter to me.
Will You Heart iHeartRadio?
If you like live radio custom stations, or podcasts, you’ll like iHeartRadio. The service manages to capture radio’s spontaneity (complete with audio ads and annoying DJs), while giving users options to create personalized experiences. Still, SiriusXM Internet Radio continues its reign as the Editors’ Choice for live radio, due to its useful TuneStart feature, video shows, and ability to rewind live radio.