Monday, February 11, 2008

Amazon's MP3 Store Actually Doesn't Suck

So obviously I advertise for Amazon on this site. I have been critical of them on this blog. Call me a corporate shill if you like, but the following is my honest assessment of Amazon's MP3 Download store....

I am an iTunes junkie. Like clockwork, I log on every Tuesday to download the free single of the week. Usually it sucks, but once in a while, I find something that I like. I end up doing a lot of browsing and tend to make lots of impulse purchases. It gives me seamless integration with my three iPods, the price is decent, and it works flawlessly on my Mac. Apple's DRM sucks, but it was no worse than any other service (or so I thought). They have limited DRM-free content for a premium, so that's kinda cool. Now I knew about Amazon's MP3 store, but I never really bothered, since in the past when I tried other music services, I either had a hard time getting downloaded tracks onto my iPod or hated the interface, and got no DRM benefit.

So then last week I read (and wrote) about Amazon's acquisition of Audible in their attempt to de-throne iTunes in the downloadable content war. Not knowing previously that they wished to compete in that market, I wondered what sort of investment they had made in other donwnloadable content. I started my investigation by checking out Amazon's MP3 Store.

My first impression--WOW.

The familiar Amazon navigation scheme, so far so good. Price--89 Cents a song, all DRM free! Wow! Some independent MP3 sites might have better prices for spotty content, but you can't beat that anywhere with mainstream music purchasing sites. When I saw the DRM-free, I thought that there must be a catch.

My biggest concern was the iTunes integration. Other sites that I have tried (like eMusic) force you to download the files onto your hard drive and then import them manually into iTunes. This manual repetitive task is what computers are supposed to be good at, right? I installed Amazon's application, no problem and downloaded a couple of albums. No problem. I opened iTunes and the tracks were there. No import required. I might as well have downloaded them in iTunes itself. So the biggest concern was addressed. I was in love.

I'm not much of an audiophile, but I can generally tell the difference between a CD and low to mid-quality MP3 compression. Amazon encodes its music at 256 kbps. Listening to the music it sounds pretty darn good. after listening to Sheryl Crow and KD Lang's latest releases (Detours and Watershed respectively), I came away impressed with the sound quality on both. Audiophiles should not take my word for it--find a more qualified source.

So is there anywhere where Amazon comes up short up against iTunes? iTunes definitely has the upper hand on the exclusive content, especially with their iTunes Originals series, which is spectacular. Also, with iTunes, I get a music store and my iPod management in one application, and that is not likely to change anytime soon.

So the bottom line is that I expect to be spending a lot more time on Amazon's MP3 store, but I won't be giving up on the iTunes store entirely--I still plan to get my free weekly track and keep my eye out for exclusive content. Otherwise, Amazon's got me!

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