May 11, 2011 at 11:02 am

The Awesome Hype Machine iPhone App Was Worth the Wait

hype machine home screenThe popular Hype Machine music service finally launched its iPhone app, and we’re happy to report that it justifies most of the anticipation that has built up in the past couple of years. We’ve been kicking the tires on the beta version for a while now, and in case this is all you want to know: Yes, this app rules — although not quite so much as it could.

If you’re looking for a fantastic new way to stay on top of the latest music, you just found it. Hype Machine Radio ($3) delivers a world of music discovery to the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, and is a phenomenal way to listen to music so fresh that Pandora’s humans have yet to parse it with their brains. For keeping tabs on the latest, most-talked — about, and, yes, trendiest bands — or tracking the latest releases from artists you already know you love, Hype Machine Radio is an unparalleled music discovery tool. It’s like listening to the zeitgeist.

We’ve waited a long time for this. ”Music fans rejoice: Hype Machine planning an iPhone app,” read one article — all the way back in ’09. Hype Machine creator Anthony Volodkin told Evolver.fm that he’s had prototypes of this app for a while, and that the delay was due to finding the right developer, simplifying the interface, and getting the API to work properly.

From the Now Playing screen, I can Love the track, skip it, or click that icon that looks like lines of text to read the blog on which the MP3 originated.

As often happens, everything took longer than expected — especially because Volodkin preferred to release something with “the right standard of quality… without rapid updates, [because] first impressions are huge.” Luckily for him, nobody stole Hype Machine’s thunder in the intervening years by creating something else this powerful for listening to blogs on the go. Now that the app is ready, he said he’s “really excited to offer this new Hype Machine experience to people, as it’s rather different from the one on the web.”

That may be true, but one feature is missing, thanks to a licensing requirement that either Hype Machine did not seek or record labels did not grant: the ability to save playlists of favorite songs, music from certain blogs, or any new music from a specific artist for later playback — including playback without a wireless internet connection.

This important ability to play music offline, available in some but not all streaming apps, allows playback with zero impact on the listener’s monthly data allowance and when no connection is available, which would have been great (especially for us subway rider types), but its omission is by no means a deal breaker.

For the uninitiated, The Hype Machine works by collating a handpicked collection of over 800 music blogs that post MP3s and write about them into a music service. It’s an ingenious way to harvest a huge cross-section of music from an army of bloggers, each trying to outdo the next by posting better music faster — and, in some cases, writing better reviews, which you can read from the Hype Machine’s web page or this new iPhone app.

hype blog list

I can browse all 800-plus MP3 blogs in order to play them like streaming radio stations.

Remember that friend from high school who was always turning you on to the latest new thing? The Hype Machine is that person times one thousand — and now, all thousand of those people fit onto your iPhone ready to play you tunes at your leisure.

The app does much of what the web-based version does, but it has a whole different feel, as Volodkin claimed. Part of this comes from the fact that you can listen to it as you walk around. It feels like all of these music bloggers are DJing your life, thanks to the way Hype Machine connects the dots between bloggers, the artists they choose to highlight, and your headphones — or any stereo, television, or other device connected to an Apple TV or AirPort Express, thanks to AirPlay integration (screenshot below).

hype airplay

Hype Machine Radio lets you play whatever you're listening to over Apple TV, Airport Express, or AirPlay-enabled speakers.

You can use this app in any number of powerful ways: listening to whatever’s popular with Hype Machine users, browsing by genre or blog, listening to what your friends have liked, or playing a mix based on your favorite blogs and preferences. In addition, you can subscribe to just about any music source in the app to make it easier to access later.

A Song History feature acts like a breadcrumb trail that presents the songs you’ve been listening to in one simple list. However, you can’t play those songs — you can only Love them or open the blog post that mentioned the song.

Even over a 3G connection, we didn’t have to wait too long for songs to start playing, and when the app tried to play a song that a blog was no longer hosting, it skipped on to the next one quickly.

From any song that’s playing, no matter how you got to it, one tap of the screen flips the interface around to reveal the blog post were the song originally appeared. This is more or less the integration of music journalism and devices I’ve been dreaming about for years, and it’s a great way to learn about what you’re hearing — especially because the Hype Machine dredges up so many brand new tunes.

The Now Playing screen also lets you pause the song, skip to the next one, Love the song to add it to your list of favorites. As with other high-quality listening apps, this one pauses if you get a call and resumes when it’s over.

There’s still plenty of reason to use hypem.com, should you buy this app, as great as it is. Only on the website can you manage subscriptions and friends.

In the end, no other app I’ve tested recently introduced me to as much new music that I’ve liked yet never heard before as Hype Machine Radio — and I’ve been looking. In addition, the app makes it makes it easy to share your discoveries with friends through social networks.

Simply put, this app rules (not everyone agrees — read our contrarian view here). The only thing we didn’t like about it is that it doesn’t function as an offline music player.

For now, Hype Radio is only available for the iPhone. Volodkin told Evolver.fm that an Android version could be coming, however, and unlike this one it might be free, if cluttered with ads.

“We are considering building something for the Android,” he said, “but given the difficulties around selling apps (poor purchase/transaction implementation), we are seeing how we could support a free app on that platform.”

If you’re looking for a new music source to help you escape the inevitable musical rut we all fall into over time, even without offline playback, Hype Machine Radio warrants serious consideration.

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