US-centric: Starting Tuesday, Amazon launched Amazon MP3, a new online digital music store selling DRM-free MP3s for $US0.89 to $0.99 a la carte or $5.99 to $9.99 per album. That's as cheap or cheaper than the iTunes Music Store but without any of those pesky DRM restrictions or codec issues (everything supports the MP3). Featuring over two million songs from over 180,000 artists, it's shaping up to be an extremely viable alternative for purchasing music online.Check out the features offered by Amazon MP3 in the gallery below.
Although Amazon MP3's two million songs sound impressive (and there is a lot of very good and popular content offered), it contains a lot of what most of us might consider filler. That said, if I'm looking at downloading the same album in iTunes or Amazon MP3, the choice is pretty obvious: I'm going for the cheaper, DRM-free MP3s. With the Amazon MP3 Downloader, the music will be added to my iTunes library just as seamlessly as if I had bought it from iTunes, and I'm not vendor-locked into iTunes or the iPod for the rest of my life.
Technically speaking, the MP3s are of a pretty high quality, generally encoded using variable bit rates averaging at 256 kbps. While it's not the 320 that seems to be the standard for high-quality MP3 encoding that the BitTorrent crowd has probably come to know and love, it's definitely high quality. (Eight years ago I thought it was crazy to go any higher than 192!) On the flip side, Apple's default bit rate for their AAC-encoded music is 128 kbps (though you can purchase some DRM-free AAC tracks at 256 kbps for $1.29/song). Remember, though, the 128 kbps AAC offers much higher sound quality than a 128 kbps MP3—namely because the AAC codec is more efficient than the MP3. However, at 256 kbps, Amazon's MP3s should sound just as good if not better than your iTunes-purchased AAC files. The main difference, then, will be the file size (the AAC files will be smaller) and the DRM (Apple restricts your downloads, Amazon does not).
Granted, Amazon MP3 is far from the first vendor to offer DRM-free MP3s, as other such services—most notably eMusic—having been around for quite some time. But Amazon is Amazon, and with their imposing consumer influence, this store might have a real chance. In the end, whether it's a viable iTunes replacement or not, it's still a very promising option for digital music lovers. Let us know what you think of Amazon's new offering in the comments.