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Spotify finally launches in the U.S. What is it?

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It might not have been on purpose, but Spotify's constant delays in coming stateside have somehow managed to create an organic buzz for the streaming music service unlike anything that could have been done intentionally.

Whereas we've seen plenty of streaming services pop up recently, there is something about Spotify that has set it apart from the rest. For the last few years, it has been a musical duck-billed plataypus -- a mystical and strange beast from another continent we'd only heard about in theory.

Although Sony launched its surprisingly good Qriocity service last year with no fanfare, and Rhapsody, Grooveshark, and Napster have existed for quite some time, Spotify is new and shiny -- and perhaps most importantly, it's coming from a company we've never heard of with a slick look and an inclusion invite system.

Now that's it finally here, we dig into it and test its selection. Before we get into semantics and issues, though, let's start with the hard facts. Below you'll find the pricing information, currently the free, limited streaming option is the part that's invite only.

Once you're in, either by purchasing a monthly plan or getting an invitation to the free (ad-supported) service, you'll download the Spotify client and be on your way to streaming a massive catalog of music to your computer. If you've used iTunes before, you'll know what to expect from its look and interface, but Spotify isn't nearly as bloated and slow to turn its gears as iTunes.

The catalog is the part that really matters, and Spotify delivers about as well as you'd expect from a new launch. Actually, it might even be a little better than that. The usual suspects of missing bands like Metallica, Bob Dylan and the Beatles are missing here, just like they're missing from pretty much every other streaming service, but from a few tests, it seems like the indies and big four are well represented.

A few titles are notably absent, including releases from Kill Rock Stars, among others, but for the most part, the selection is equal with the rest of the big streaming services. A surprising amount of Colorado bands made it in, too, and pretty much anything you can find in iTunes you'll find here (as far as locals are concerned). If that doesn't work for you, you can integrate your iTunes library into the Spotify application -- a handy feature to keep everything in one place.

It would be nice if the search was a little more versatile -- searching for bands, albums and songs works well, but you can't take a look at a labels catalog search for individual musicians. These might be a little niche, but it'd still be nice.

Sound quality is fine over Wi-Fi and passable over 3G on a mobile. It's not going to blow you away with its clarity, but if you've grown used to the sound of MP3's over the years you'll be fine with it on either. The mobile app isn't available with the free or $4.99 service, something we're not entirely able to wrap our heads around. Why Spotify would differentiate between mobile and computer streaming is beyond us, archaic logic that sounds like something the record companies came up with. Either way, be forewarned if you're hoping to get free or super cheap streaming on the your mobile.

There are also a whole slew of social features, including Last.Fm and Facebook integration for those looking to share their tunes. It's a bit like Grooveshark's, where you follow people and their playlists. If you're not into the idea of sharing, don't worry -- at the moment, it's an active sharing process, not a passive one, so you don't need to worry about friends spotting the fact you've been listening to Elliot Smith on repeat and wondering about your well-being.

You can also create and share playlists with friends, a handy little feature that gets streaming music as close to a music community as possible. It's not perfect, of course, but it's a step in the right direction. The biggest problem at the moment is the fact you need a Spotify account to listen to the playlist and invites are still trickling out pretty slowly. It's also a little buggy still. On day one we couldn't get anything to work and the free service occasionally froze up after playing an ad.

The hype that has lead up to Spotify's launch combined with the inclusive "invite-only" launch means its latching on to the "you don't want to miss out" culture of technology. Thankfully, once you're in, it works incredibly well. The freemium style of the initial launch brings to mind the early days of Pandora, but Spotify's simplicity, clean look and easy to use social and iTunes integration makes it a step above a lot of other services.

Spotify still needs to improve its recommendation engine, its similar artists engine and its biographies and reviews area -- but the foundation is set for one of the first really expansive streaming options. Spotify isn't a game-changer, but it's a game diversifier because it combines together the best of all the streaming services into one, affordable service.

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