Archive for the ‘Amazon MP3’ Category

Everything except the song I want

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Since Amazon opened it’s MP3 store in September, I’ve been slowly converting my collection of DRMed songs acquired for free from iTunes to DRM-free MP3s as they become available on Amazon. I’m now down to 44 iTMS free songs that haven’t been replaced with MP3 or iTunes Plus versions. Not bad, all things considered, but there’s a handful of those remaining songs in relation to which both stores have become quite annoying. For two of those songs (”German Test Drive” by Spymob and “She Moves In Secret Ways” by Polly Paulusma), both stores offer high-quality versions of every album released by the artist - except the one the song came from. >_<

Another song ("Telescope Eyes" by Eisley) appears to have all but completely disappeared off the face of the earth. Even the physical CD ("Laughing City") is out of print. Making this even more annoying, the song itself is not entirely gone - but all the available versions of it are 30 seconds shorter than the one I have. I don't care if the upgraded version of a song I buy is from a different album, but I want the same version of the song.

Finally, there's one other song ("In The Shadows" by The Rasmus) which is available from Amazon. However, since I ended up buying the whole album from iTunes shortly after getting the song for free, I'm waiting for it to show up in iTunes Plus (which, btw, has another album by the same artist >_<).

That brings me to another rant. At this point, all four major labels have decided that DRM isn’t working and agreed to offer their catalogs on Amazon. However, only EMI has agreed to do the same on iTunes. This is getting rather annoying, as I’d like to upgrade as many as possible of the remaining 728 DRMed songs I have in my library, both for the higher quality and to get rid of the DRM. While iTunes and the iPod are unlikely to disappear for decades, I’d like to future-proof my library as much as possible in the event they do disappear, as well as leave open the possibility of using equipment that can’t handle Fairplay. Hopefully the contracts will come up for renegotiation later this year and the other labels will agree to make their music available on iTunes without DRM.

On an unrelated note, Apple today released a 32GB version of the iPod touch. That’s the minimum size I would consider buying, as my music library is some 18GB. The $500 price tag means I won’t be buying one anytime soon, though, unless I get a lot of cash and/or Apple gift cards for my birthday next week. I read somewhere that flash memory prices are supposed to drop dramatically this year, so I expect by September Apple will cut the price. Or better yet, release a 64GB version, which I’d rather have as it’s about the same capacity as my current iPod, so it will hold the same amount of photo and video content.

Trouble at Amazon MP3?

Monday, October 8th, 2007

In the last week I’ve noticed that at least three albums have been removed from Amazon MP3. Two of them were ones I had wanted to buy songs off of, and the third was the one I mentioned in my previous review with the mixed-up song titles. I have no idea if the other two albums had the same problem, but that is the only reasonable explanation I can come up with. Given that I have only looked at six dozen or so albums with the intention of actually buying songs, this problem appears to be much more widespread on Amazon than I would have expected. I hope Amazon resolves this and brings back those albums quickly.

Amazon MP3 review

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Earlier this week released its new MP3 download store into public beta. Known as Amazon MP3, it is the latest store to compete with the iTunes Store in the market for legal digital music downloads. I’ve been experimenting with it for the last few days and have been quite impressed with its catalog and ease of use.

Other stores have attempted to compete with iTunes, with little success. Most are crippled with DRM (digital rights/restrictions management) that is incompatible with iTunes and the iPod, and is far more restrictive than Apple’s Fairplay DRM. The few selling tracks without DRM generally have limited catalogs, and at least one (Walmart) requires Windows to work. Amazon MP3 avoids most of the problems associated with other digital music stores, and will likely be very successful as long as the record labels don’t pull out.

As the name suggests, Amazon MP3 sells all its music in MP3 format. There’s no DRM attached, so the songs can be played on virtually any computer or digital music player. Bitrate varies, but is always high quality. A lot of songs are at a flat bitrate of 256 kbps (the same as iTunes Plus songs), while others use variable bitrate (VBR) encoding, with the average bitrate anywhere from 207 kbps to 280 kbps. This is considerably higher quality than most songs sold through iTunes or other digital music stores, which generally use 128 kbps encoding.

Amazon MP3’s catalog is quite impressive, with around 2 million songs at launch, giving it a broad enough selection to make it popular with a lot of people right from the start. Naturally, it includes content from EMI (the only one of the major labels to renounce DRM) and lots of indie labels. Even more impressive, though, is that Amazon apparently convinced some or all of the other three big labels to sell their music through the store. I’m guessing they consider this an experiment. Hopefully enough people will buy music from Amazon MP3 to convince them that people want high-quality DRM-free music downloads, and they’ll drop the DRM nonsense.

Amazon’s pricing makes iTunes look expensive. Individual songs are 89 or 99 cents each, and most albums are under $9.99. Songs with the same quality on iTunes are $1.29 each, with albums at $9.99 (and often higher).

Buying and downloading songs is easy. Amazon provides a program called the Amazon MP3 Downloader that you install on your computer to manage downloads. When you click on the “Buy” button for the song or album you want to purchase, a small .amz file is downloaded to your computer which tells the MP3 Downloader what to download (all purchases are handled through Amazon’s 1-click system). Some browsers will ask whether you want to open or save this file; choosing the former option automatically passes the .amz to the Downloader. Saving the .amz (as my browser does for anything) also works, but you then have to open it separately. Once the .amz has been opened, the Downloader starts downloading the song or album you just purchased. Multiple songs and albums can be queued at once, but the current version of the Downloader can only download one song at a time.

Once a song has been downloaded, the Downloader automatically adds it to your iTunes (Mac or Windows) or Windows Media Player (Windows) library - an excellent feature for those who already use those programs to manage their music libraries. This feature can be disabled if you use another program to manage your music library, but you will have to manually import the songs from wherever they are downloaded to.

There are some imporvements that could be made to improve the experience. First, it would be nice to use a shopping cart, so you can buy multiple songs/albums at once without having to open a .amz file for each one. Second, it is possible for third-party programs to create playlists in iTunes and add songs to them as part of the import process. It would be nice if the MP3 Downloader did that. Currently I have a smart playlist set up to catch songs purchased from Amazon MP3 that looks at the comments (all songs from Amazon have an ID number in the Comment field, usually preceded by “ ” or “ Song ID: “), but even that misses songs that don’t have “” in the Comment field. I also found an outright error: on one of the albums I purchased, the titles on three of the songs were mixed up (iTunes is also guilty of this problem). Presumably this is a rare problem, as there would likely be a lot of discussion on the net if it was widespread.

The only other downside to Amazon MP3 is that it’s US-only. I don’t understand why the record companies won’t allow digital music stores to be global stores; that alone would cut down on a lot of piracy if people weren’t forced to choose between outrageously expensive import CDs and file-sharing sites for acquiring foreign music.

Minor flaws aside, Amazon MP3 is off to a great start. It’s easy to use, and the music works anywhere. I highly encourage people to support it.