When starting an internet radio station, a vital decision to make before you launch is which streaming technology to use.
As you might have guessed from the title, the two main contenders here are Shoutcast and Icecast. In this article, we’ll go over the differences between them so that you can make an informed choice.
What are Shoutcast and Icecast
In a lot of ways, an internet radio station has the same basic requirements as a website.
You need some software to run the radio station for you, and need something to run it on. These days, this is usually a virtual server in a data centre somewhere in the world. Generally, all it requires is to find a suitable hosting package for Shoutcast or Icecast, sign up, and you’re ready to go.
Both Shoutcast and Icecast are great options as both are very well established.
Shoutcast is a monthly subscription-based commercial package, which includes access to commercial-grade support. Use of Shoutcast may impact the fee that you pay to your hosting provider.
In contrast, Icecast is open-source software which means that anyone can download and change the code, and can use it for any purpose. Support for open-source software is usually provided via online forums.
Many streaming providers use an offshoot of Icecast known as Icecast-KH, which has improved performance and gets new features sooner than Icecast itself does.
Things to consider when choosing a streaming provider
So how do you choose between Icecast and Shoutcast?
As with all software they are quite similar, but with a different set of features. So you’ll want to consider…
- Device compatibility
- Internet radio station player software to embed
- Possibility of advertising your station
Feature comparison: Icecast vs Shoutcast
What end-user equipment does it work with?
Both Shoutcast and Icecast claim to be compatible with all end-user equipment, as they both can use MP3 streaming which is a universal format.
Though if you’re looking for a high-fidelity audio signal, you may prefer to stream using either AAC or one of the Ogg compression technologies. AAC is the audio technology used for high quality audio on iTunes and YouTube. And Ogg technologies are open-source and free of any restrictions or paid licensing requirements.
Both provide better compression than MP3 without a reduction in audio quality.
In the past Shoutcast provided AAC support, but this was discontinued in recent versions.
Icecast supports several AAC and Ogg codecs, which means that your listeners have higher quality audio for the same amount of bandwidth. Naturally, they’ll need to have an audio player that supports the codec you choose. These days, this is most of them.
Users often find internet radio stations via online directories. Shoutcast and Icecast both have online directories, and you can be listed in them when you use their software.
The Shoutcast directory has far more listeners browsing it to find new internet radio stations. This results in many new broadcasters choosing Shoutcast as their platform of choice. Though there are also dozens of other free stream directories.
Icecast and Icecast-KH come with native support for secure web traffic via HTTPS. With recent trends, it’s important to consider whether your listener’s audio stream is interceptable. In some parts of the world such interception is a privacy violation, which can result in large fines from the authorities.
While it’s possible to wrap security around streams used by Shoutcast, doing so involves taking extra steps.
With any piece of software, there’s a trade-off between ease of use and flexibility. In the case of internet radio stations, it’s usually useful to have as much flexibility in configuration as possible.
Icecast-KH is the most flexible streaming server by quite a margin. The features allow you to implement geoblocking which is essential when playing licensed music on your radio station.
Shoutcast and Icecast both provide only a current listener count. If you need further statistics, you may want to sign up with an analytics provider to collect data on your listeners for analysing.
This enables you to determine your hours of peak activity, which helps with scheduling and monetisation.
There have been reports on various forums over the web of stability issues with some versions of Icecast and Icecast-KH.
This means that if you choose to use either of them, it’s important to perform stability testing before any upgrade.
How to monitor your stream
Regardless of whether you use Icecast or Shoutcast, you’ll want to use a service to monitor your radio station. This is essential since otherwise you won’t know if it goes offline.
Some streaming providers will monitor your radio station for you and let you know when it’s down, so be sure to check if yours offers this service.
Overall, Icecast-KH is the current winner in every category other than the vendor’s directory listing. Since there are many free online directories, the best choice in most cases is to go with Icecast-KH for your internet radio station.