Jun 22nd, 2014

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In case you haven’t heard, Amazon has recently added music to the list of goods that come with your Amazon Prime subscription. Is it any good? Should you fork up $100 per year (billed annually) and cancel your subscriptions to the likes of Google Play Music and Spotify? That’s what we’re here to find out.

App overview

Long story short: Amazon MP3, the ugly app Amazon used to make you use to retrieve your digital tracks on the go, became Amazon Music. The app is a significant upgrade over the original in terms of design and functionality. It adopts the same design language as most other Amazon apps, which is a pretty far departure from the design guidelines Google suggests.

That said it does offer a familiar UI that is easy enough to get around. The app is broken down into three categories:

  1. Library: all the tracks in your possession, whether you’ve bought them or added them through Amazon Prime Music
  2. Store: where you’ll go to buy new music
  3. Prime Music: where you’ll go to discover all the free music that is now part of your Amazon Prime subscription if you happen to have one

Each category gives you the ability to drill down by genre and browse by artists, albums and songs. You’ll also find a search button prominent throughout all levels of the app, so if you know exactly what you’re looking for you can skip the hunt.

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Jumping into an album or playlist view gives you the ability to play that entire playlist from start to finish, as well as access to shuffle and repeat functions. You’ll also find a handy button for storing all your songs on your device so you won’t have to use any data if you’re on a metered plan. If there’s just one song you want to listen to you simply tap the song and it’ll start playback. Simple enough.

The app does nothing special in any regard: you find your music, you play it. Some glaring annoyances get in the way of making it less intuitive than it could be, though, such as the inability to listen to a Prime Music song without first adding it to your library (any tracks you purchase or already own are automatically added to your library).

We also would have liked a more intuitive “swipe to skip track” option: the current method brings up the overflow menu when you’re doing it, making it a lot more clunky than it should be. App design has never been Amazon’s strongest suit, but they could have done a whole lot worse here.

Heading into the settings menu presents a wealth of options that should satiate the appetite of anyone looking for fine control over their music experience. You can set tracks to automatically download upon purchase, set streaming and downloading up for WiFi only or 3G + WiFi, set streaming music quality, enable equalizer and lock-screen controls and more. It’s pretty standard stuff that any app had better possess if they want people to consider spending money.

All in all it’s a very ho-hum app that won’t shine as a music player on its own, but as a tool to access all the music you have via Amazon’s service it does its job decently enough.

Audio Quality

As I often do when I write about music apps or audio accessories, I must make the declaration right now: I am not an audiophile. I’m your average Joe Schmo looking for some tunes to put into my ear. That said, I found nothing worth complaining about when it comes to the audio quality of Amazon’s tracks. They sound just as good as the tracks I listen to in Google Play Music. Should you end up using this app for your music needs and you find that it isn’t up to your standards, be sure to take a dive into the settings menu and set your preferred bitrate: it’s automatic depending on network conditions by default, but you can set it to play at the same bitrate no matter what.

Song Selection (with and without Amazon Prime Music)

Song selection is a deciding factor for anyone looking to find a music ecosystem to invest in. Anyone who has taken a stroll through Amazon.com’s music section knows that they have digital versions of pretty much any track you can think of. Their selection rivals Apple’s iTunes and the Google Play Music store in that regard. Where things get tricky is the new Prime Music selection that comes with the cost of your subscription — it’s slim, and almost badly so.

You get just over a million tracks sparsely littered throughout over a dozen genres. I did find some music worth listening to, such as several Outkast albums, Journey’s Greatest Hits, and Prince’s Purple Rain, but you won’t get the same freedom of “think, and you shall hear” as you would from other services unless you’re willing to pay for individual tracks and albums. Then again, you can’t really expect that out of Amazon Prime.

Why not?

Because Amazon Prime is a different sort of subscription. The Spotifys, Rdios and Google Play Musics of the world enjoy 18 million to 20 million+ tracks because you’re paying for that one service. Amazon Prime provides a multitude of content for an overall cheaper price (now $100 per year, in case you were wondering). amazon_prime

You have Amazon Prime Instant Video, Prime Music, Kindle Lending Library, and all of the shipping discounts and perks that most Amazon Prime members originally got the service for in the first place. I personally subscribe to Amazon Prime for shopping alone: the money saved on shipping of tangible Prime-eligible goods far outweighs the cost of the service. That’s the way it was meant to be from the start. But Amazon started adding movies, music, books and all sorts of things that we weren’t expecting, and now it’s become one of the better values in e-commerce.

So yes, while there are better individual services out there for movies and music, Amazon Prime provides great value that the others do not. It’s up to you to decide if the core of the service and all the additional features surrounding it is worth the cost of admission.


Simply put, you don’t get Amazon Prime for one thing alone, unless that one thing is free two-day and $3.99 overnight shipping. It’s the sum of all the things Amazon provides that makes it such a great value.

Amazon Prime Music is a very fine addition to that value, but if you were hoping to be able to cancel your subscription to your favorite music service I implore you not to. Not unless you don’t mind not having unlimited access to nearly any track you can think of, anyway.


So Amazon isn’t the bee’s knees unless you’re the type to want to buy individual tracks and albums — what else is out there? If you don’t mind coughing up a bit of coin, these fine alternatives should offer what you’re looking for in some capacity. Have a look!

Google Play Music — Free features, $9.99/m Premium


Google’s library is quite varied with 18-20 million tracks on tap. Google’s edge comes from the ability to upload 20,000 of your own tracks at no extra cost (and the feature is available even if you don’t opt to pay for the premium All Access subscription). Downside is that Google Play Music doesn’t have quite the same geographical reach as some other alternatives.

Spotify – Free features, $9.99/m Premium


And for those whose countries go unrepresented in Google’s lineup, Spotify should fill that gap. Spotify was the defacto premium streaming service for a long time, and it was almost laughable to consider spending money with any other company just a short couple of years ago. Their library is as good as anyone’s, if not better than most’s, at a comfortable 20 million tracks.

Spotify’s music curation and suggestion angles are also hard to beat. For those not comfortable spending the money  Spotify went free a while back, so if you don’t mind advertisements and not being able to listen to any song you want on demand (think Pandora) then that’s worth checking out. We wish their app was a bit better, but eh — small price to pay for a quality service otherwise.

Rdio – Free features, $9.99/m Premium


Rdio also offers both free and premium goodness. On the free side, you’ll get access to an ad-supported stream of over 25 million tracks on both web and mobile, as well as the ability to listen to pre-built playlists and albums on the web. Pay the fee and you’ll eliminate the ads and get on-demand access to any album and song you want. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that they have a very nicely designed app.

Grooveshark – Free features, $5/m Premium Grooveshark_Logo_Vertical I’m not the biggest fan of Grooveshark, but it can be a pretty fine internet streaming service if you’re OK with a couple of quirks. For starters, their smallish library pales in comparison to the likes of Spotify and Google Play Music at just 15 million songs. That said, this is one of the only services offering free, ad-supported on-demand music.

The perk is that you can only get said access by visiting their website. Want apps for mobile and desktop and not a fan of those pesky ads? You’ll have to pay $5. The only real downside to Grooveshark has to be their unsure future: Apple banned the app from their app store due to legal concerns, and the Android app is no longer in the Google Play Store. No worries, though, because the ability to sideload apps on Android should mean you’ll always be able to grab the Grooveshark app.

Rhapsody $4.99 or $9.99/m Premium

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Rhapsody is probably the only service on this list that won’t let you in on the fun without paying a dime, but what they’re offering is quite worth it. $5 per month gets you Pandora-like internet streaming radio, except you have unlimited skips, no ads and access to live radio stations worldwide. The $9.99 option gets you on-demand access to a library with over 30 million tracks.

Slacker – Free features, $3.99 or $9.99/m Premium


Slacker Radio isn’t everyone’s go-to internet radio service, but it has come a long way over the years. It’s one of the more versatile services on the list, giving you three options depending on the level of access you need. Their free service is pretty much Pandora — pick artists, genres and songs, and let the service work out a nice ad-supported playlist that should get you through a work day. They do some unique things here such as playlists based on your mood or activity.

In the realm of premium access, a $3.99 option will net you the same aforementioned service without ads and with unlimited song skips. You’ll also be able to download stations with up to thousands of songs for offline listening on mobile if an internet connection isn’t exactly handy (or if you want to mind your data cap). Stepping up to $9.99 gets you on-demand access to all the songs Rdio has to offer, as well as all of the other goods mentioned in the lower tiers.

Pandora – Free features, $4.99 Premium

Pandora for Android

Pick an artist, song or genre. Combine them. Have the service deliver music based on your tastes that it learns over time. Pandora’s “you get what we give you” model might not be the most attractive for everyone, but if you just want some no-frills music streaming and a chance to find some really good music that you didn’t know of otherwise, this is your best bet.

A $4.99 premium option is a little steep all things considered. It removes ads, but you won’t get unlimited song skips. A couple of other handy features, such as high bitrate playback and a desktop app, are nice but nothing worth writing home about. It’s fine as a free service but your money is better spent elsewhere if you’re looking for anything more.

Beats Music — $9.99/m or $99/y Premium

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Beats took an ambitious trek into the music streaming arena. The service doesn’t do anything technologically amazing compared to anyone else — it’s very straight forward, simple and clean. It also doesn’t have the most music to choose from, though it’s doing very well for itself right now with over 20 million tracks.

What Beats does provide, though, is some of the most heralded music curation you’ll find. Beats’ team of super music expert geniuses (or whoever these folks are) do a pretty good job of serving up music suggestions for your taste. Whether that is worth $10 per month or $100 per year is up to you to decide.

Name your own

Of course, these aren’t the only services in existence. We’re sure there are many more that you guys will want to highlight. Let us know if you have anything to add by dropping a comment below, and why not participate in the poll and tell us which one of these music services you prefer. Have at it!