Is Being “Smart (DJ)” Better Than Being “Genius”?

software_smartdj_quickplayAs most people probably know, Apple’s iTunes media player includes a feature known as “Genius,” which attempts to look at your collection and create playlists of related music for you. However, they may not realize that the new version of the Zune desktop software includes a similar (on the surface, at least) feature known as “Smart DJ.”

Being completely open, here, I can’t stand using iTunes for many reasons, so I’ve only very gently used the Genius feature. Therefore, I’m not going spend too much time in this post comparing the two services; I’m just going to outline the properties of the new Smart DJ feature, and hope that some of our readers will fill in the gaps as to whether or not they are available in the iTunes Genius mode. From what I’ve heard from people that have used both, though, the Smart DJ feature seems to be much more intelligent than Genius.


One thing I did notice about Genius is that it takes a long time to set up. To begin with, you actually have to “enable” the service in iTunes. Once you do so, it takes quite a while (based on the size of your collection and the speed of your computer, I’m guessing) to get it up and running. In my case, it took more than 45 minutes for the Genius feature to finish setting up once I enabled it.

Smart DJ, on the other hand, is always on in the Zune software. It takes no time to set up, no matter how large your collection. It just works, no set up or configuration required.


Following are some of the features you’ll find with Zune’s Smart DJ:

  1. Flexibility – You can use the Smart DJ feature to find music related to an artist, an album or even a specific song. There is no need to go into a separate section of the software or to listen to pre-programmed playlists. You simply right-click on the item you want to start with, and the Zune software does the rest, instantly creating a playlist of related items. If you were so inclined, I believe you could actually right-click on a song that’s currently playing as a part of a Smart DJ playlist, and start a whole new playlist from there.
  2. Discoverability – Smart DJ will automatically suggest songs in the marketplace that are not currently in your collection. If you are a Zune Pass subscriber (which I am not), you can download those new songs for free and listen to them as part of the playlist. Since I’m not a Zune Pass subscriber, I don’t know if the songs are automatically downloaded or not.
    According to the documentation, you can also go to the Marketplace and start playing a Smart DJ playlist based on someone or something that’s not even currently in your collection.
  3. Sustainability – If you like what you’re hearing as part of the Smart DJ playlist, you can save it as a normal playlist to be listened to again later. You can even, then, sync that saved playlist to your Zune device, if you have one. Although it’s not possible to use Smart DJ on your Zune device, this is at least a nice compromise.
  4. Customization – The Smart DJ playlists can be customized quite a bit, as well. You can choose how long the playlist is and how often it “refreshes” (or changes, bringing in different songs). You can also specify whether you want it to play only songs from your collection, only songs from the Marketplace or a mix of both.

Why I Like Smart DJ

My music collection is actually quite large. Between mp3s, CDs and other forms of music media, I have over 1,000 albums. I am only about halfway through digitizing my CD collection, and already have over 10,000 songs stored on my Zune device (and, in turn, in the “collection” on my computer). There have been quite a few times that I’ve been in the mood to play a group of albums or artists on random, but I’m too lazy (or forgetful) to go through and select each artist or album and add them manually to a playlist. With the wide range of music in my collection, it would be ridiculous to simply hit “shuffle all” (after all, I rarely want to hear Deana Carter or Janet Jackson right after I listen to a track from Amon Amarth or Public Enemy).

For a long time, I used online services like or Pandora to listen to related artists and songs througout my work day. However, being that those are online services and that they are ad-supported, they certainly have their drawbacks. On top of that, those types of services generally require some sort of extra effort to get them working the way you want.

Zune’s Smart DJ, though, allows me to randomize related artists and songs without requiring any setup or Internet connection. I can use Smart DJ no matter where I am, and can even (as mentioned above) sync these playlists to my Zune device. I am absolutely in love with this new feature.

Smart DJ is one of those types of features you probably never realized you wanted, but once you use it, you can’t imagine how you lived without it. Try it out and let me know what you think.

4 Responses

  • Hector Santiago

    Actually you can use Smart DJ on your Zune HD, just hold your finger on the song you’re listening and a sub-menu will appear, and the first option is to Play Smart DJ Mix.

  • Thomas Dee

    I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I think that windows phone 7 is a great platform that should put M$ back on the map in the mobile arena. I found a pretty sweet article that compares smart dj to itune’s genius.

  • Cory RS

    The Smart DJ is even better if you have a Zune pass, like I do.

  • Chris Charabaruk

    The only problem with Smart DJ is that it’ll occasionally throw around a song that doesn’t match with the mood of others in the playlist, but doesn’t allow for tuning (telling it that the song doesn’t fit with the others). Hopefully Microsoft will add this to 4.8 or 5 (whatever the new version will come out with the public release of WP7.5 Mango), though…