REVIEW: Datz Music Lounge

Share

datz-logo.pngAfter my very wary preview of Datz Music Lounge, the other day, a review copy landed on my desk, so I thought you’d appreciate a full-on, honest look at the all-you-can-eat MP3 service.

Unboxing
It’s a big black box, with a Nietzche quote on the inside of the lid. It looks good, but ultimately 95% of the space in the box is taken up by foam – a bit of a waste. It only holds a manual, a gold installation CD, and a USB dongle. We’ll come back to the dongle in a minute. Click over the jump for info about installation, software and the available catalogue.

Installation
It’s Windows-only. Windows 32-bit only. It does work on Vista, but not on Vista 64, so I can’t use it at home. That’s a pain, and Datz need to sort that out soon. It works fine on 32-bit Windows XP. It doesn’t work on Linux or Macs.

The installation auto-runs when you put the CD in the drive. It installs Windows Installer 3.1 and .NET framework 3.5 (which takes ages!) if you don’t have them already. It also installs “Sentinel Dongle Software” – drivers for the USB dongle – that shows a few rather-scary DOS windows. Then it installs the Datz Music Lounge software.

When completed, you start the software, and it’ll probably prompt you to update. It’s fairly easy, but it means clicking “Allow” on a few more User Account Control windows, if you’re using Vista.

The limitations
You remember how I said this product sounded too good to be true? Well, it is. Kind-of. The aforementioned USB dongle is the key to your downloads – it needs to be plugged in for you to use the service. Oh, and you can only authenticate it on two computers. If you need more than two, then tough titties.

That said, once the MP3s are downloaded, you’re free to do whatever the hell you want with them. Put them on your iPod, phone, laptop, anything. Burn them to CD and give them to friends. Whatever you like. That’s great. If you can live with the OS limitations, and the restriction to two computers, then you’re getting as many MP3s as you like.

While we’re talking about limitations, I should talk about the Fair Use Policy. Commendably, Datz has put this in the back of the manual in full-size font. It says “we encourage you to use the services as much as you like”, but asks you to “use the services fairly.”

It also reminds you that Datz is for personal use only, and says that “exceeding what we deem to be reasonable levels” will get you suspended. Also banned is any use of automated download services. You’re not allowed to use Javascript or any other software to “download continuously without break”.

Lastly, you need to activate the product before the end of 2009, because Datz say “the final date that any content can be downloaded (…) will be 31st December 2010” – presumably they’ve only budgeted to run the servers until then.

To be honest, I’m not that bothered about the above restrictions, with the exception of the “2 computers only” problem. It’d be nice if you could de-authenticate one computer to allow another to operate. Also, there’s the “Ship of Theseus” problem, where you replace every bit of your computer over time until there’s none of the original PC left. How big a change does the computer have to undergo before it’s a “different” PC?

The software
Right, now that’s out the way, let’s talk about the service itself. Plugging in the USB dongle and starting up the software for the first time gives you a registration window. Fill in your details (address, email, name, DoB, etc) and it’ll send you an email that simply says “Thanks for signing up”.

The software itself is very responsive, though it appears to be just some sort of modified internet browser. There are a few buttons that don’t do anything at all, like the box-out arrows to the right of “Experience” and “Utilities” on the taskbar. The “Tools” tab simply contains a bunch of different-coloured themes. The default is dysentery beige.

The “preview” buttons next to the tracks don’t work, despite there being a media player in the top right of some sort. Bizarrely it has a ‘full screen’ button. The ‘download’ link, however, does, and I can verify that they come as DRM-free MP3s at 320kbps. No idea if there’s any watermarking on the files, though – if anyone knows how to detect a watermark, then let me know, and I’ll happily check for you.

Songs come on albums, so why can’t I browse via albums? That would be a nice thing to do. There’s also no search box on my review copy of the software – something that is apparently being rectified “this week”. Damn straight they better rectify it.

The catalogue
So, on to the biggest of my worries about the service – the music that’s available. There are currently 1,347,281 tracks on Datz. If I’m honest, probably about 95% of them are bands that the biggest music geek you know won’t have heard of. But let’s examine things more closely, so you see what I mean.

When you first click the ‘browse’ button on Datz, it gives you an A-Z option for artists and tracks, as well as a list of genres. I want to take a quick diversion here for a personal gripe. The genre list is the same one that you see all over the place which doesn’t make any sense. “Rock”, “Metal” and “Alternative” are all different genres, apparently. “Country” gets top billing. It’s simply not reflective of modern-day music in the UK. Where do the Libertines, for example, fit in between Pop, Rock, Metal and Alternative? What’s the dividing line between “Dance” and “Electronica”?

That aside, clicking “more genres” will give you a big tag cloud of different genres including “Latin Tropical”, “Christmas”, “Action Adventure” and (at last) “Indie Rock”. Brilliantly there’s a genre called “Do Not Use”. It’s got no songs in it. Not sure what I was expecting, but it shows up nice and big in the tag cloud, so the tag cloud’s evidently fake.

I’m probably most familiar with what Datz call “Alternative” music, so I click onto it. On the first page of results, there are 15 songs listed. I know 3 of the artists responsible – Neko Case, Gorillaz (surely they should be in Pop?) and The Frames. I know none of the listed songs. Increasing the number displayed per page to 45 reveals a few more bands that I recongise – Biffy Clyro, Killing Joke and Misfits, but still the vast majority of bands listed are utterly unknown by the wider public.

I ‘browse’ for some of my favourite bands. The Divine Comedy – nothing. Eels – nothing. Idlewild – nothing. Doves have a surprisingly decent selection, but they’re not sorted into albums. LCD Soundsystem – again, not sorted into albums – but the selection here is fantastic, complete with tonnes of remixes and rarer tracks. I’m starting to be a little more impressed.

I go to the ‘home’ page, to see the editorially selected top tracks. There’s the phenomenally popular “2 Hearts” by Kylie, Elvis’ “All Shook Up”, and The Streets’ “Fit But You Know It”. There’s the Rolling Stones, The Specials, Phil Collins and REM. Deep Purple and Estelle. The Kooks, even.

But digging a little deeper into these artists again reveals limitations. Alphabeat’s fantastic “Boyfriend” song is present, but it’s a live version. There’s absolutely no sign of the band’s debut album, just a tonne of remixes of “Fantastic 6” and a few other misc tracks. Why hasn’t the service got the sole album from one of the year’s biggest breakthrough artists?

Similarly, the Rolling Stones have a whole lot of live tracks, as well as a bunch of 1994 digital remasters. Elvis has a tonne of identical tracks, including eight copies of Blue Moon of Kentucky, but the hits are mostly there. There’s no sign of Kylie’s “Locomotion” or “I Should Be So Lucky” (except for live versions). Despite Katy Perry featuring on the front page, there’s no sign of her monster hit “I Kissed A Girl”, just the homophobically titled “Ur So Gay”.

I could go on, with more and more examples, but I think you’re getting the picture here. Top EMI artists, like Queen and Madonna are only featured live. The biggest Warner acts are completely missing. The major labels clearly aren’t being anywhere near as forthcoming to their customers as Datz would have you believe, and there’s still no Sony Music or Universal.

Datz promise me that by launch there’ll be more stuff available – they reckon 2.3 million by the time its on the shelves of Sainsbury’s later this week – an increase of a million on the catalogue I’ve described above. That seems a tad ambitious, and unless they’re saving the best till last, I’m still doubtful that it’ll make the service dramatically better.

Conclusions
Datz is a fantastic concept, but it completely fails in two crucial areas – catalogue and functionality. The software is fast, but is broken in several ways. It also misses crucial features and has a bunch of buttons that don’t do anything. The catalogue is big, but populated with songs you’ll never want to listen to.

Once Datz gets its software up-to-scratch (which won’t take much effort) then it’s down to the labels to make the service actually good. While the negotiation half of Datz is working hard at that, the software half needs to integrate more stuff like recommendations engines, radio, scrobbling and an inbuilt media player that actually works.

When those things are in place, Datz will be a fantastic deal. For the moment, don’t shell out £99 on this. You could do Comes With Music instead, but a far better idea is to ask for a free Spotify invite. Spotify has a much bigger catalogue with much better software. Try it, and you’ll love it.

Related posts: Spotify | Comes with Music | Datz Music Lounge preview

Duncan Geere

6 comments

  • Oops – replied to the wrong post!

    The SQL errors visible at the weekend actually gave away exactly why the catalogue has gone downhill. What the SQL that broke was trying to do is exclude all EMI and Warner items from the results. EMI had been missing for some time, so it looks like Warner have pulled out as well.

  • Having originally received a Datz subscription last year, initial impressions were good. There was a good choice to download.

    However it has slowly gone down hill. At this point in time 16/8/09 the choice is truly appalling. When you do find something you want it is usually a karaoke track or recorded by another artist.

    Datz use a third party (http://www.247entertainment.com/) to supply the music. Is every customer of 247 Entertainment receiving such a poor catalogue of music?

    As I write this the Datz site is returning SQL errors!

    I would avoid unless Datz can improve the catalogue.

  • ,I have the Datz product and have lots of problems with tracks appearing in the search but failing to download or preview. I am afraid despite Holly being very quick at replying, the fixing of the problems seems very slow. I have been promised the album name will be appended to the track name to help sort the duplicate file name problem. I do not understand why you cannot click on the very small album/single cover image and get a bigger version so you could actually find out what the album is.

    • The SQL errors visible at the weekend actually gave away exactly why the catalogue has gone downhill. What the SQL that broke was trying to do is exclude all EMI and Warner items from the results. EMI had been missing for some time, so it looks like Warner have pulled out as well.

  • Just had a read of your review and wanted to through a couple more things into the mix! The dongle can be re-set by us, it’s only to prevent it being shared throughout the ‘university’ or large companies as the Datz Music Lounge is intended for personal use and normal copyright laws still apply.

    Re duplicate tracks (we are aware of these and find them equally annoying!) duplicates appear because there are different album / versions available, it’s “currently” very difficult for us to remove without listening to each one as we can’t obviously pick up on whether it’s a “live”, “remix” or duplicate track that’s been re-released.

    Lastly, just to note…only 100,000 of these will be available in 2008 with a re-run before spring 2009 very unlikely, people who buy one today will get all the benefits of new labels / artist joining over the coming year without having to pay any more or buy a new box etc. Therefore artists tracks that are not available now will be available in the coming weeks/months

    Thanks, Datz.com

    • Hi Holly,

      Thanks for commenting, and for the extra info. Can I get a confirmation from you that you’ll happily reset anyone’s dongle if they have a genuine reason for needing more authentications? That would help matters, and I’m sure people would want that reassurance.

      With regards to dupes – surely if the track name is the same, then you can merge them into one? If the name is identical, and doesn’t have a “(live)” tagged on to the end, then I would have thought it’d be reasonably safe to assume they’re the same. Again, sorting the song list into albums would help this problem immeasurably. I strongly encourage you to check out how Spotify do it (as I mention in the post). If you need an invite, drop me an email and I’ll hook you up with one.

      – Duncan

Comments are closed.