The company behind RadioSearchEngine have ported some of its key features into a new mobile app, with a slightly different hook. Launched in 2013, RadioSearchEngine does what the name implies: it lets you search just about any streaming radio station for artists, songs or shows, and then plays it on demand.
The free 6 Seconds app brings similar live streaming music search to your mobile device with a slick, minimalist interface. When you start it up it presents you with its logo and indicators to swipe down to bring up “faves”–which is a shortcut to station formats and your favorite stations or songs–swipe down to search, and swipe left to skip songs. You can start listening right away by tapping the logo, which plays a random Top 40 station by default the first time you run the app, or on subsequent uses it plays the last format or favorite you listened to.
The name “6 Seconds” comes from the app’s promise to deliver most songs from within six seconds of its beginning, rather than starting you off after the second chorus. It’s other selling point is the ability to have unlimited skips, skipping songs as often as you like, as many times as you like. It’s aimed directly at Pandora, which limits skips to six times an hour (there’s that number again) up to 24 skips a day for free account users.
The 6 Second Test
First I took the 6-second-start feature for a ride, and I was impressed at how well it seems to work. Aside from songs that I am intimately familiar with it was difficult to judge if the six second mark had been strictly crossed, but when I did a search it rarely seemed as though more than a single verse had passed.
I decided to throw the app some curveballs by searching out artists that are less frequently heard on the radio, but not utterly obscure. Looking for King Crimson brought up only one station playing the band. The song was “In the Court of the Crimson King,” which was just in the midst of the opening mellotron line. Going with the royal theme I also looked for the rising young hard rock band Kyng, whose “Burn the Serum” was also playing on just one station. 6 Seconds joined in the middle of the first verse.
Picking current charting songs like Maroon 5’s “Sugar” or Mark Ronson’s and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk!” provided darn near-instant gratification while missing only a few beats. In most cases these songs were playing on three or more stations at any given time. They could be anywhere in the world–6 Seconds claims a database of 100,000 digital stations that are being continually indexed.
Once in a while the app appeared strangely prescient, streaming the station seconds before the song even started. I figure the cause is the station’s metadata (information about what it’s playing) is actually running ahead; sometimes a stations’ metadata can be delayed, too.
The Skip Experience
Skipping a track takes you to another song in the same genre or format, but playing on a different station. To some extent 6 Seconds is dependent on stations’ playlist and adherence to style. Skipping Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” brought me Human League’s 80s synth pop hit “Don’t You Want Me” coming from a soft rock station in Indianapolis that has both songs in it rotation. Of course, that was easily remedied by skipping again, bringing up Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder,” streaming from Radio Tau in Bologna, Italy.
Since these songs are streaming from actual stations, you may also encounter DJ patter, commercials, news and weather updates. Again, you can skip those anytime with left swipe.
The experience is kind of like having an infinite seek button. It’s addictive for the side of me that has a little bit of attention deficit. The app also seems much quicker than RSE was the last time I tried it. I can distinctly remember having a stream fail to start several times while using RSE. Over the course of dozens of searches and skips that didn’t happen to me once while using 6 Seconds.
Despite the skip limitations, Pandora does have a couple of advantages over 6 Seconds. Building custom stations is not something 6 Seconds replicates. So if you’ve invested a lot of time getting your stations just right, you’re probably not going to be enticed by 6 Seconds. What 6 Seconds does let you do is favorite stations or songs for each access later.
The second limitation is minor: there’s no pause button, something that Pandora does have. Given that 6 Seconds is just playing live streams this makes sense. Though it would be kind of cool if the app had some kind of limited DVR feature, letting you pause a live stream. Even the iPod Nano lets you pause broadcast radio for fifteen minutes, and Robertson’s own DAR.fm supplies an online radio DVR service.
6 Seconds doesn’t sport all the functionality of its parent site. RSE lets you search for artists, genres, shows (including podcasts) and stations, while 6 Seconds is limited to searching artists. However, since the app is so streamlined this doesn’t feel like much of a limitation. I think I’d mind it more if songs didn’t start streaming so darn quickly.
Who’s It For?
The big question for 6 Seconds is similar to what I asked about RSE: who is this for? Despite the unlimited skip feature, I doubt it will pull away all but very casual Pandora users. I’m not sure it’s even a sure-fire replacement for users of free accounts with Spotify, Slacker, or iTunes Radio. I can certainly make a case for why someone might choose 6 Seconds instead–being able to skip commercials being one key advantage. But I’m not convinced that makes enough of a difference.
It can be a good alternative to a radio listening app for someone who doesn’t have a particular station in mind, but is in the mood for an artist or format. Compared to TuneIn or iHeartRadio it’s simply easier and faster to start streaming right away with 6 Seconds.
Like RSE I think 6 Seconds is an impressive feat of clever engineering. My question about who might use it aren’t a critique of its functionality, but rather an acknowledgement that it enters a very crowded and competitive field.
Then again, streaming radio and music is a growing sector, with new listeners to attract. The fact that it’s free and pretty much just works as promised are good reasons to try it.