Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Napster, Amazon MP3: Digital Music Done Differently

Napster's music-subscription service has a great playlist function; Amazon's MP3 store is easy to navigate and very affordable.

When it comes to acquiring digital music, is it better to rent or buy? Napster's recently renovated music-subscription service and Amazon.com's newly erected MP3-download store make compelling arguments on each side. Napster 4.0 presents more options than ever, while Amazon's store makes song downloading about as easy and affordable as it gets.
The basic premise of Napster remains the same: Pay $10 per month, and have at the service's entire catalog of tunes--add songs to your library, create playlists, and listen to everything on your PC for as long as you're paid up. Lay down an extra $5 a month for Napster To Go, and you can load all those tunes onto any PlaysForSure portable device.
Now, though, you can listen to tunes via Napster's Web site, rather than having to download an application to your PC--handy if you're using a public computer or if your office's IT person is particularly uptight. To purchase or transfer tunes to a portable player, you'll still need to use the desktop app, which has been nicely updated to mirror the Web interface. Unsurprisingly, online performance lags that of the desktop app (page loads take several seconds).
Pay to Own

Amazon's MP3-download store has two things going for it: Its music is cheap and can play on pretty much any MP3 player. Amazon doesn't dabble in subscriptions--pay 89 or 99 cents for a track, and it's yours. Whether you'll find what you're looking for is hit-and-miss, however. Sure, Amazon offers DRM-free songs from both EMI and Universal (as well as indies such as Merge and Rounder). But it has only 2.3 million songs, compared with Napster's total of over 5 million tracks.
Amazon's store is still in beta, but it feels polished. From the home page, you can view new and notable albums, the day's top songs and artists, and other highlights; a list of genres resides in the left sidebar.
Once you home in on a song or artist, click the play button next to any track to listen to a quick-loading 30-second preview, or go straight for the purchase by clicking the Buy MP3 button. You can download 256-kbps songs to your hard drive or use Amazon's application, which manages your purchases and easily transfers them directly to iTunes or Windows Media Player.
Napster provides endless listening options anywhere you can get your hands on a PC. But if you want to buy a song or an album, check first at Amazon: It's cheap, it's unrestricted, and it offers seamless transfers.
Napster 4.0
Offers killer playlists and listen-anywhere convenience. Price when reviewed: $10 per monthwww.napster.com
Amazon MP3 (Beta)
Watch out, iTunes: This easy-to-navigate store has cheap music.Price when reviewed: $0.89 or $0.99 (single tracks) www.amazon.com

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