For personalized stations, Mad Genius Radio is the scalpel to Pandora’s hatchet

Mad Genius Radio
With rumored new plans to roll its recently-acquired Beats Music service into iTunes, even Apple has seen the writing on the wall: Internet radio is the next wave. However, whether you’re creating playlists on Spotify or thumbing around on Pandora, cherry-picking your favorites from among millions of songs has a way of getting stale fast.

To remedy the issue, new kid on the block, Mad Genius Radio (available for iOS and Android), has devised a creative new way to give listeners unprecedented control over their playlists in an effort to shake up the streaming world and get you out of your music funk.

“We’ve taken a very different approach from the other folks,” founder Eric Neumann told us in a recent interview.

“Most everybody else in the radio space is either aggregating existing broadcasts, or they are doing something that we refer to as binary correlation radio…thumbs up or thumbs down, if you like this, you like that. It’s interesting at first, but it also tends to lead to tired, predictable playlists.”

“We’re really focused on how to make it easier for the listener to get to the place where they can hear an eclectic array of music.”

In an effort to ditch the tired predictability, Mad Genius has ditched the thumbs up, thumbs down hatchet you’ll find on services like Pandora. In its place is a 5 point sliding scale scalpel, allowing you to rate both songs and artists like you would a stereo system on Amazon, and letting the carefully curated interface know more about what you want to hear, and what you don’t. But that’s just the start of the fun with Mad Genius.

As Neumann told us, Mad Genius is all about mixing things up, with the ultimate goal of making Internet radio more like the way people used to listen to traditional radio — you know, in the before time. Neumann should know, as he worked for years under the old guard.

“In the radio space, we’re really focused on how to make it easier for the listener to get to the place where they can hear an eclectic array of music … we believe most people are eclectic, and we believe music is an emotional attachment, and not a mathematical formula. First and foremost, we want to make it easy for people to mix genres.”

To that end, the interior halls of the Mad Genius interface are littered with clever ways to mix it up. For starters, the system offers users 5 different preset stations, with up to 7 genres available for each station. Genres include offerings like Glam Rock, College Radio, Country, 60s-70s Classic Rock, or Rap.

But the really clever part comes from the control factor that’s baked into the presets. Each genre in your mix is set on a 10 point slider that puts you in the driver seat. Heard a little too much Bowie and T-Rex this week? Turn Glam Rock down a couple of notches. Missing your Zeppelin fix? Crank up 60s and 70’s rock, and make sure and 5 star the Zep when it comes up. Are you starting to see the possibilities here?

There are a few other cool ways to get your eclectic music fix from Mad Genius, as well. One of our favorites is called Time Machine, which allows you to roll a genre back in time to a specified moment, and listen to what might have been on the radio then. For instance, say (hypothetically) you graduated college in the summer of 2004. You can actually set your Alternative, or Hip-Hop genre to play whatever was popular on the radio that summer, including songs that came out that year, as well as songs reaching back a few years. While the feature only works with select genres, it allows for 20 years or more of aural teleportation.

The Requests genre allows you to dig into the marrow of just about any artist.

Other interesting features include the Requests genre, which allows you to dig into the marrow of just about any artist and rate tracks from throughout their catalog, as well as the History feature, which keeps a log of everything you’ve rated, and lets you change things up. Unlike most other radio stations, which make the user wait, you can get at your ratings anytime.

“Anything you do can be undone,” Neumann said. “There are no permanent changes in our system.”

Finally, the system has a feature called Guilty Pleasures. That allows you to rate something, however terrible and embarrassing it might be, like say, Nickelback’s song … well, any Nickelback song. If you must give a bad track a high rating, this allows you to do so without sullying the rest of your genres with your distasteful choices.

So how does Mad Genius work in practice? Pretty damned well in our evaluation so far. While we love the control and the fun features like Time Machine, most impressive was the pure, deep reach the system made based on our choices, straying away from the easy hits and poppy artists to find something much more enriching.

In our brief time with the app over the last few days, the system lived up to its eclectic doctrine in impressive fashion, digging up deeper selections rarely heard from other services, with appearances from more rare artists like Cheryl Wheeler, Mandolin Orange, Jobriath, and Blitzen Trapper, and deeper tracks from well known artists, like Willie Nelson’s version of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.”

In short, those looking for a diverse, more enriching selection of tracks will find it at Mad Genius. In fact, we only have two minor complaints to wage after our time with the service. One is the 64 kbps sound quality, which is pretty poor, especially in comparison to Spotify’s 320 kbps. Users won’t likely notice straight from the phone or smaller speakers, but on a nice system, the lower resolution is definitely apparent, though not prohibitive. Neumann told us it’s something they’ve thought about, and may be addressed as the service picks up steam.

We also couldn’t believe there was no genre option for Outlaw Country. Sure, it’s a tad to the left of mainstream, but that’s what Mad Genius is all about. We ended up having to countrify our Requests genre to remedy the situation, pulling up Waylon, Willie, Johnny, and others to get our fix. It may be more of a personal problem, but we still think it should be part of the package. It’s also surprisingly light on the Funk.

Still, aside from those few hitches, our short time with Mad Genius has been pretty revelatory. The system really does dig deep into the music, and so far, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

The best news is that Mad Genius is available right now, ad-free, and free to anyone while it continues to roll out. Neumann told us a paywall will be erected by the end of the year (once it’s got you hooked, presumably) at which point users will have 36 more days of free listening before they’re asked to cough up $5 per month, or $48 per year, similar to Pandora’s fee. And there are no ads on Mad Genius — it’s pay-up or go home.

Home Theater

Amazon’s free Spotify competitor is here. Just ask Alexa

Just ask Alexa to play your favorite song. Amazon has launched a free, ad-based music streaming service to compete with Spotify's free tier on its popular Echo devices, aiming to bolster subscriptions to Amazon Music Unlimited.

Here's how you can download the best free music players for your Mac

Tired of your Mac's default music player? Take a look at our picks for the best free music players available for your Apple rig. Whether you're a casual listener or an audiophile, you're sure to find something that fits your needs here.

The best MP3 players of 2018 cram tons of music into a small package

Want to go for a run, but your phone is weighing you down? Don't sweat it. Can't fit your whole music library on your smartphone? No worries. Check out our list of the best MP3 players, and find one that works for you.
Movies & TV

From comedies to biopics, these are the best movies about music and musicians

The best movies about music range from hilarious comedies to powerful and informative biopics that illuminate the world of sonic expression from all possible angles. Here are our current favorites.
Home Theater

Amazon’s Echo Link and Echo Link Amp bring hi-fi sound to Alexa’s living room

Amazon's Echo Link and Echo Link Amp are designed to bring high-fidelity sound to your Alexa ecosystem. Are they worth the significant expense over a smaller Echo speaker, and how well do they integrate into a typical hi-fi system?

How to clean your records to keep them looking good and sounding sweet

Vinyl records are back in a big way, but the sound quality can suffer if you don't keep your collection clean. Check out our tips for keeping your vinyl and stylus immaculate, so you can hear every note of your favorite analog tunes.
Emerging Tech

Even a true rock god can’t smash this unbreakable 3D-printed metal guitar

Rock stars love to smash guitars. Geeky engineers love to build things using the latest high-tech tools. What happens when both parties meet? This "unbreakable" 3D-printed metal guitar.

These droolworthy albums are among the most expensive vinyl records of all time

From rare Beatles originals to one-off test pressings, these are some of the most expensive vinyl records on Earth — the kind of discs that make plaid-clad record collectors and average listeners alike green with envy. Or sticker shock…
Home Theater

Keep those albums sounding great by converting your vinyl to a digital format

There are all sorts of reasons for ripping records and storing them digitally, but what's the best way to do it? We cover the different types of equipment and software available for ripping records at any price in this guide.
Home Theater

Celebrate Record Store Day in style with the best vinyl setups

From simple and affordable to sleek and swanky, these are our recommendations for incredible vinyl setups that will allow you to listen to your favorite records with outstanding fidelity and take your collection to the next level.
Home Theater

Record Store Day is here! Here's how to build a killer vinyl collection

Feeling the vinyl vibe? You're not alone. If you're interested in starting your own record collection and listening to tunes the analog way, we're here to help. This guide will take you through everything you need to know.

Amazon rumored to be launching free music-streaming service

Rumors are swirling that Amazon is planning to take on Spotify by launching its own free, ad-supported music streaming service. This seems to be a move aimed at Echo users in particular.
Home Theater

Surface Buds? Microsoft might make AirPods competitors, joining Amazon and others

Microsoft is reportedly hard at work developing its own true wireless headphone model to compete with top offerings from Apple, Samsung, and others. It's aiming to take on the AirPods and Galaxy buds with its own pair of portable in-ears.

You can get V-Moda’s excellent wireless over-ear headphones for just $100

In the market for a pair of Bluetooth headphones? You can get a pair of V-Moda's first-generation Crossfade Wireless for a third of their original $300 list price, a fantastic deal for a pair of great-sounding headphones.