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Software reviews: streaming and podcasting

Now that your phone or tablet is also your radio and MP3 player, we look at ways to keep yourself audibly entertained and informed, at home and on the go.

Pure

Pure Connect

£5/month

Pure Connect is a new streaming service from the eponymous DAB radio maker. Parent company Imagination Technologies often uses the Pure brand to showcase new technology, and this streaming service demonstrates Imagination's cloud infrastructure capabilities very well.

Two years ago, Pure built up a small but loyal following for Pure Lounge, a process for purchasing music that you hear on one of its radios using an inbuilt Shazam engine. This has now been relaunched as Pure Connect, a streaming service primarily designed to work with Pure's new multiroom synchronous wireless speaker system.

Subscription costs are relatively low at just under £5 a month. That gets you access to a vast library of music which you can stream synchronously to multiple Pure Jongo speakers. The service is also available on iOS (with an Android version shortly to be released) and via the Web.

Music fidelity with the new Pure speakers is good, but you can also stream music from an iPhone to any Bluetooth speaker or to Airplay compatible devices. The menu structure is simple and you can also create custom playlists. You can also favourite albums and tracks, podcasts and live radio – the latter two are available to stream with or without a subscription.

The one downside is that being a companion product to Pure's own range of speakers it won't work with Sonos, putting it at a disadvantage when compared with other streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify.

Shifty Jelly Pty

Pocket Casts

Android (£2.60) & iOS (£1.49)

If your preferences turn more towards the spoken word or TV, you may well prefer podcasts – audio or video recordings made available for download – over streaming music. Keeping up with your favourite podcasts is relatively easy, as most of them broadcast links to updates via an RSS feed to which you can subscribe. The challenge is making sure new episodes are waiting for you on your phone or tablet, without eating up all your 3G data allowance, and without gradually filling up all its memory.

Enter the podcatcher, with Pocket Casts being perhaps the best example around. It lets you subscribe to podcasts and build up a playlist, which you can then toggle to automatically download everything new as it comes along. Other settings control how many episodes to save for each podcast, and whether you want them deleted to save space once you have listened to them. You can also listen to a podcast as it downloads, which means fewer audio drop-outs if reception is poor, and it can be set to automatically download only over Wi-Fi, or only if the device is on charge.

Pocket Casts updates faster than most RSS readers – its Australian developer processes the podcast listings on its own servers, so your phone doesn't have to poll your subscriptions itself. This also means you can backup and synchronise between devices, so once you have played a podcast on your tablet it is deleted from your phone's playlist too. (Sync is initially Android-only though.) The default assumption is that you will subscribe to podcasts already in the directory, but you can add podcasts manually too, most easily by clicking the appropriate link in your browser.

One neat feature is that it can vary the playback speed from 0.5x to 3x, while keeping the tone (mostly!) the same. We found spoken podcasts were often acceptable at 1.3x, though listening to anything above 2x probably requires practice. Pocket Casts can easily skip forward and backward too, by a configurable amount. Other useful features include lists of things you've downloaded but not played yet, and sharing via social networks or email.

The Bossjocks

Bossjock Studio

£6.99

Turning things around, Bossjock Studio is one of the few apps for creating audio podcasts that is not Windows or Mac-based. It runs on iPhones and iPads, and allows you to create a mastered stereo recording in real time, using just the device's own microphone and a pair of headphones.

It is designed to resemble a mixing desk, but is pretty simple to get your head around regardless. You can have six (good for phones) or 12 (better for tablets) audio files lined up on buttons – these are called carts, a term from the days when radio DJs played jingles from looped tape cartridges. Also on screen are a microphone on/mute button and a volume slider.

You can load the carts from your local or iTunes music libraries, from other music apps, from Dropbox, or over Wi-Fi from a computer. Creating an audio recording is then as simple as holding the mic button down while you talk, and triggering the carts as needed. For example, suppose you are recording a podcast on recognising birdsong, you might load sample sounds into the carts then mix them in. You can even put previous Bossjock recordings on carts, for example to compile separately-recorded sections into a single longer programme.

Of course, there is some preparation needed, in particular to get the microphone and cart volumes right. Most of us will also need a script of some sort, plus a read-through and then quite possibly several takes. Recordings can be exported in a variety of formats, and then emailed or uploaded to Dropbox or a podcast hosting service such as iTunes, Libsyn (via FTP), Audiocopy or Soundcloud.

The Bossjock website is good for tips, a notable one being to use mic-less headphones because the iPhone and iPad microphone are so much better than the ones built into headsets. Other good advice includes putting the device in flight mode before recording, just in case a call or message turns up noisily. Make sure too that you have at least 1GB of free space for the recording, because of course you can't add more memory on an iPhone or iPad, and export your recording as m4a rather than mp3 if at all possible, because m4a compresses faster and more efficiently.

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