Published on December 3rd, 2012 | by John I.1
Digital Music and the Six Best Options
Google Music has brought a new touch to digital music service in the UK. Local citizens now have another addition to their choices. The endless choices will leave some scratching their heads, but the answers will be provided in this article. Here is a look at six major options for digital music needs and what makes them respectable choices. There are two types of groups among these six; downloading services and streaming subscriptions. The likes of iTunes, Cloud Player, Amazon MP3, Google Music, Spotify, Sony’s Music Unlimited and Xbox Music.
This is the digital downloading service that got the process started. It has been around for a long time and has become an expert in this field. They are generally regarded as the best and safest option by most users. Looking at the related research, iTunes consists of the second best library on the market. It has a vast number of songs to select from and is continuously adding each day.
There is an associated ‘iTunes Match’ service that enables users to create their own library. What better way to become accustomed to new music and enjoy the perks of good quality files? This service does not come for free and has to be subscribed for by the user. If there is a negative to point out for iTunes, it would be the distinct lacking of streaming capability. It is all about the downloading aspect of things and no focus is given to streaming. iTunes music files come in AAC format and are generally found to be 256 Kbps. All files that go through this program are converted to that file type. AAC format tends to outperform the MP3 format for audiophiles. There is a noticeable difference in quality making iTunes a good option for listeners looking for all of the intricate details. Google Music is the only one able to match the quality with its 320 KBPs offering.
Many consumers tend to own Apple devices and it makes sense to work with the iTunes software. It is designed to flow with these devices (iPad, iPhone, Apple TV) and can be increasingly beneficial and simplistic for those looking to save time. There is no doubting that iTunes is one of the easier programs to use out there. They have perfected the art of making the software as user-friendly as possible in terms of design. The features are straightforward for users unwilling to learn new software and wishing to simply enjoy the music on their devices. The prices for the tracks in the store are 99p each. For those looking to get subscriptions, the price is listed as £21.99.
Looking to compete with the likes of iTunes means being creative with one’s approach. Amazon has looked to take the approach of being an option that provides users with cheaper prices. This can be a significant factor for many making Amazon Music a convenient option. Amazon has a decent collection of music with 20+ million songs on the market. Cloud storage locker allows users the option of including more than 250,000 songs in their library. There is a subscription fee associated with this feature and it is listed at 24.99/year. The amount of space on the storage server ensures this is a better option than others on the market. Google Music does not provide the same depth in terms of space in comparison to Amazon Music. The focus is still on downloading music and the emphasis is not taken away from that despite the storage facility. The streaming options are limited in comparison to others more focused options that rely only on streaming. The Amazon Cloud Player app has the ability to change the quality of the audio being played. Most of the files come in at 256 kbps bit-rate.
There is respectable set of established app support for the Amazon Cloud Player. Every device is covered besides the iPad, which ensures this option is available to almost all users in the UK. The system is not the best looking options on the market and could have been improved in that regard. However, it does run well and gets the job done, which is the key focus in the long run. The current prices are established at around 79p per track. The album prices are listed at lower prices similar to Google Music. Amazon MP3 does establish a good rapport with users by constantly indicating the latest ‘free’ options. The only issue with the system would be the subscription fee of 24.99 to unlock more storage space. This can be an significant snag for those looking to compile a proper list of songs.
This service has been around for some years now in the US. It has now moved on over to the UK and is looking to establish some footing. This is a ‘cloud’ service and is based on the concept of putting up the lowest possible prices. Android users will be intrigued by this service and the compatibility comforts. ‘AccessGoogle’ has approximately 15+ million tracks available and are constantly adding more each day. There are numerous free tracks to go along with the ones available to purchase.The established limit for the cloud storage service is listed at 20,000 tracks. These tracks can be streamed wherever one wishes to upon demand. 20,000 songs might not be worth the hassle for those looking to compare with services such as Xbox Music, Music Unlimited and Spotify. However, Google Music does put up and effort to make it an intriguing option for those willing to give it a try.
Google Music takes the prize for highest quality files by formatting them at 320 Kbps. This is the best offering on the market across all services and puts Google Music on top of the pile in this regard. Audio quality is important for those looking to hear their favourite artists with appropriate sound quality. An additional feature is in place for those looking to use streaming; the player immediately changes the bitrate to suit the connection.
Android has no troubles with Google Music and is fully equipped with apps. It is other devices that have a more difficult time being available. There is no Google Music available on the iOS, which has its own iTunes option. The web player is pushed forward by Google as the best option for those users unable to access the app directly. This is not the best for those looking to avoid such inconveniences that can become a headache in the short and long-run. A good part about Google Music is its ease of use. There are no difficult aspects of the service and is easy to understand for regular users. Google Music has had experience in America with this service and have rectified many prevailing issues. This gives UK users are more refined product. The Google Play Store might not be the best looking option, but it does get the job done. It is similar to the Amazon option when it comes to the appearance factor. The prices have been established at 79p and that is an advantage for the company.
Microsoft has created their own offering for the UK market. This is named ‘Xbox Music’ and is a respectable option. This service is in its early stages and is still being developed in comparison to some of the other names being thrown out.
The best part about Xbox Music would have to be its library. It is the largest on the market even more than the highly proclaimed ‘iTunes’ library. The number of songs is listed at 30+ million, which is quite significant for users looking to find a variety of songs. The negative aspect comes from the fact users are unable to bring along their own music. All of it has to be purchased directly from Microsoft’s store. The files are formatted at 192kbps, which is right up there with the other competitors.
It is behind Google Music, but it keeps it’s footing with some of the other options available. Microsoft looks to avoid the MP3 format, instead going with the WMA approach. Anything unrelated with Microsoft is unable to play this service. This is a major knock on Xbox Music are severely restricts their grip on the market. The library can be as large as it wants, if the devices aren’t compatible, the service will never grow.
There have been statements claiming there are apps being worked upon. These apps will be able to run on the iPhone and Android, which is a good sign for their future progress. At the moment, the service is strictly restricted to the Xbox 360, Windows 8 PC/Tablet or Windows Phone.
The system is still getting off the ground making it hard to judge it’s ‘ease of use’. It is one of the better looking options available, the interface looks neat and tidy. There are bugs that have to be cleared up, but other options have years of experience to lie back on. Xbox Music can’t claim the same, which makes this a tad unfair of an expectation. The subscription fees associated with Xbox Music can be complicated. The general fee is listed at £8.99, but the price can up to £40.00. This can be concerning for those looking to maximize the services available and not after forking over extra money. If one already has the ‘gold’ service, this is a good deal.
This is the highest regarded ‘streaming’ service on the market. It has been around for a while and has a grasp of what the market wants and doesn’t want. Music caching has been a big component of what makes Spotify a great option. It allows users to play the music even after losing connectivity on their mobile. This was a big move during the earlier years and continues to make it a popular option among users. Spotify has a smaller library in comparison to some of the others pointed out, but 18+ million is still a significant number of songs. One is unable to bring over their own songs, which is a bummer of sorts.
The audio bitrates with Spotifiy is extended only up to 160kbps, which is a tad disappointing for such an experienced service. The desktop version in ‘Spotifiy Premium’ does make a good offering of 320 kbps. Spotify Mobile is not able to match those standards, unfortunately.
Spotify has expanded itself across all devices. One can use it on almost any device available and this makes it a major player in the game of digital music. There are apps available on almost all devices. Social integration is used within the app to better the experience of the user. Due to the years behind this service, most of the work has been refined and redone. There is not a lot to pick on, besides the inability to bring along one’s own music options. ‘useSpotify’ is the player with this service and does an excellent job in terms of performance.
Sony Music Unlimited
Sony Music Unlimited is similar to the Xbox Music option, it is severely limited in terms of access. However, for those with Sony devices, this is quite an intriguing option that deserves a place in this list. Sony is a large company and will always be a major player in the technology race. The prices offered are right up there with other services such as Spotify, which is a major positive. A negative would be the smaller library, but this could be due to the restricted user base. The number of songs is listed as 15+ million songs. There is streaming access to the entire catalogue similar to other options on the market. One is able to play a personalized library at the snap of a finger, which is convenient. Music Sync does the job for those looking to import personal playlists with the service.
The real nail in the coffin for Sony Music Unlimited would be the audio quality. It is abysmal coming in at 48kbps, which is simply not good enough in this day and age. The file type does save space, but it cannot match up to the likes of Google Music and its quality. Under the right conditions, there is no chance for a service with 48kbps to pit up against 320kbps.
There is no BlackBerry or Windows Phone access, but everything else is open game. Any Sony related device such as the PS3 has immediate access to this service. One is able to play it anywhere in the house, which is convenient. There is definitely a lot to work with there for the UK market. The web player associated with this service is top notch. There has been a lot of work done on the product recently and it has definitely become easier to use. Putting it up with the Sony devices makes the experience wonderful for users. Music Sync as a service has been ridiculed in the past for being troubling. This is one aspect that needs a rehaul from Sony’s side. The prices are similar to Spotify with a £9.99 cost.
What is the Recommended Option?
The concluding question always comes to which one is on top of the pile? This question is difficult to answer because of the variety of situations that are associated with digital music download and/or streaming. None of the services have completely perfected the system, there are kinks in all. The best idea moving forward for UK users would be to ‘mix and match’ to hit the right combo. The right match of streaming and downloading services is the solution. It also depends on the type of device being used by users.
If the service is compatible with one’s device is essential before moving onto the next step of deciding. There are also a lot of questions surrounding file types and bitrates. These are all matters that have to be taken into consideration before proceeding further. Those that want to only use Apple’s devices, it is often best to go with the accompanying iTunes. It has been designed to be easy to use, it truly is the most convenient option. However, its prices are higher up in comparison to some of the others. This has to be taken into consideration by owners of Apple devices. Are you willing to pay the higher prices for easier service?