Snowtape: Internet Radio Done Right

Posted by | October 21, 2009 | Apps | No Comments

Although iTunes has offered a selection of internet radio stations for several years, this is one area of the application that hasn’t seen a great deal of recent development. Snowtape aims to take the baton, and offer a full-featured internet radio experience on the Mac.

The software makes it easy to find a station that plays a particular type of music, establish a “favourites” list, record and edit tracks, export music to iTunes, and automatically discover album artwork. I’ll be delving a little deeper into Snowtape and exploring what the app is capable of.

Setup

Setting up Snowtape is relatively simple. When launching for the first time, you’re asked whether to install a Safari plugin that will automatically send any radio URLs to Snowtape:

Safari Plugin

Safari Plugin

The app will also download the latest index of radio stations from the Snowtape server to ensure you have the most up-to-date listing available. It’s also useful for ensuring that any old, defunct stations are removed from your library.

The Interface

If you’re a seasoned iTunes user, you’ll immediately feel right at home in Snowtape. Although the interface is considerably darker than iTunes, it retains the same general layout and style. Each option and menu item is positioned exactly where you’d expect it to be:

Snowtape Interface

Snowtape Interface

The left panel allows you to navigate around the application, with recordings and radio shows displayed in the main central area. To the right, you can see detailed information about the track currently being played. When browsing stations, you can sort by a number of different headings – popularity is a good option for finding shows of a fairly high quality.

Snowtape also clearly shows the stream quality of each station, with different colours representing varying quality. It’s generally better to aim for the green shows, as those will resemble – at the very least – MP3 quality audio.

Mini Controller

Like iTunes, Snowtape also has a mini controller for a simpler listening interface. This is incredibly well-designed, and allows you to see current track information along with recording a particular song.

The Mini Controller

The Mini Controller

Recording, Editing & Exporting

Snowtape really comes into it’s own when you begin to record a particular radio station. This is done at a very high quality, and the application can automatically detect when one song ends and another begins. Each song is tagged with the correct artist and album information, and stored in your “Repository” of songs (a welcome alternative to “Library”).

Recording

Recording

After recording a song, you may find that it’s necessary to edit out any advertisements or dialog at the beginning and end of the track. Snowtape again keeps this simple with a tool for cropping a few seconds off where necessary:

Editing and Cropping

Editing and Cropping

When you’re happy with the finished result, exporting to iTunes takes a single click. The song (along with associated metadata and album artwork) is sent across to iTunes and stored in the “Snowtape” playlist.

This ease of export makes the application a useful tool for quickly loading up your iPod with a range of new music. The Snowtape website states that “In just 10 hours your music library will contain over 150 songs and by the end of the week your iPod shuffle is already packed with your favorite music.” It’s a valid claim, and the process of moving songs from radio to iPod is remarkably easy.

Album Artwork

One feature of Snowtape that particularly impressed me was the way in which album artwork is handled. The software does a good job of guessing the correct artwork automatically, but if you’d prefer to choose a different image, clicking “Change Album Artwork” will bring up a useful interface:

Changing Album Artwork

Changing Album Artwork

This brings back a range of different results for the track, and allows you to adjust the artwork search parameters to find exactly what you’re looking for. Incredibly useful, and something I’d love to see incorporated into iTunes as well.

iPhone Companion

A companion iPhone application is also available, SnowRemote ($0.99), that allows you to control the playback of music on the desktop application. You can also initiate recording of a particular station.

SnowRemote

SnowRemote

Conclusion

Although there’s an awful lot to like about Snowtape, a few areas did stand out as needing a little refinement. The first is the inability to record one station whilst playing back stored music at the same time – a limitation that seems unnecessary. I also had a few problems with lyrics not downloading (though this could have been an issue with the provider, Last.fm, rather than Snowtape itself).

I would strongly recommend giving the app a try if you’re interested in internet radio. It’s a great way to browse stations and easily record tracks to your local library. The interface is remarkably well polished, and it’s a fun piece of software to experiment with!

Our competition to win a Snowtape license is still running, so be sure to enter if you’d like to stand a chance of winning a free copy.