The British Broadcasting Corporation has provided quality, publicly funded entertainment via radio and television for nearly a century. Likewise, BBC Sounds, the corporation’s streaming music arm, delivers an impressive catalog of music, live radio, and podcasts to listeners across the globe. Although the free service lacks on-demand music listening and some licensed content isn’t available worldwide, BBC Sounds serves up excellent, no-cost live-listening options. It’s easily on par with iHeartRadio‘s excellent radio programming, though Spotify still sits on top thanks to its robust catalog of well-rounded content.
You can download and install the free BBC Sounds on any Android or iOS device, or stream audio from its functionally identical, browser-based interface.
If you’re new to the BBC’s services, you’ll need to create an account using an email address. After verifying the account and creating a password, you can sign in and start listening.
Like many contemporary streaming music services, BBC Sounds features a sleek, panel-focused layout. However, the service has a few interesting nuances that make the app a bit more intuitive than its rivals.
The Home button takes you to the app’s home screen, which highlights the live shows playing at the moment (for example, Radio 1’s Future Artists, or Asian Network Chill). You can peruse these programs by swiping left or right. Alternatively, you can scroll down to find listening recommendations from across the BBC’s expansive catalog.
You click a show’s icon to start listening. In addition to the basic pause and play button, BBC Sounds has a Start button on the far left of the screen. This lets you play a broadcast from its beginning, regardless of when you enter the stream. To the far right is the Live button that lets you jump to wherever the show is at the moment. You can also skip skim backward or forward by 20 seconds, too. These are accommodating controls, similar to those offered by the excellent SiriusXM Internet Radio.
Beneath each radio icon is a Stations & Schedules button that launches a scrolling menu with the station’s daily live show listing. You scroll up or down to see past or upcoming shows, or swipe left or right to view other station broadcasts. Clicking a show brings up information about the program’s subject or host. The Subscribe button adds a show to the My Sounds section, so you can find all past and upcoming programs in one place. The More button (represented by ellipses) lets you bookmark the show for later listening. You can also add the show to your queue, which BBC Sounds auto-plays once you finish listening to whatever you’re currently enjoying. In addition, you can share the show with other people via messenger, email, or social media.
Besides live internet radio, BBC Sounds has many curated playlists. Unfortunately, the service lacks on-demand listening options. As a result, a Michael Jackson search doesn’t produce the King of Pop’s expansive discography, as it would with iHeartRadio; you must explore various MJ playlists. The service tries to mitigate this limitation by letting you open specific tracks in another music app, such as Apple Music or Spotify. It’s a cumbersome solution.
BBC Sounds automatically delivers audio across several quality ranges, from 48kbps up to 320kbps. We enjoyed crisp, clean audio during testing (though the service doesn’t offer hi-res audio). Skipping around within a broadcast was snappy and responsive.
Podcasts have similar listening features to live shows and music channels, with one notable addition: You can download podcasts for offline listening. This stores the shows on your device, and you can access them via the My Sounds button.
BBC Sounds lacks on-demand music listening options, so you control what you listen to via your listening queue (you add audio to it as you explore the catalog). You can shuffle the play order of these tracks, but this is the extent of the customization options.
One thing international listeners must contend with is locked content. Occasionally, you’ll come across a playlist that is not available in your region. During testing, many holiday-themed shows were locked from US listeners. Some artist-specific content was also locked, so we couldn’t listen to BBC’s Artist Icons Collection of Michael Bublé tracks, for example.
BBC Sounds is a free and convenient resource aimed at radio enthusiasts. The podcast selection is entertaining and informative, and the curated music options have their charms (despite lacking on-demand listening). If you prefer an internet radio service with on-demand listening, however, try SiriusXM Internet Radio, an Editors’ Choice pick. For more general listening, including a deep podcast well, check out Spotify, another Editors’ Choice pick.
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