Best music downloads for iPods

Best music downloads for iPods *Est. $0.69 to $1.29 per track Compare Prices
ITunes earns rave reviews and is highly recommended for owners of Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPod or iPod touch. Its catalog of more than 20 million tracks is one of the most comprehensive, with music from all four of the major record labels. All iTunes tracks are now free of digital rights management, but Apple still uses a proprietary music file format that has to be converted for use with music players that don't support it. ITunes' iMatch application (*Est. $25 per year) allows you to store your music on their iCloud servers rather than on your computer.

Best for MP3 downloads

Best for MP3 downloads *Est. $0.69 to $1.29 per track Compare Prices
Amazon.com boasts a large library of more than 19 million songs, comparable to that of iTunes. Its MP3 tracks can be played on virtually every music player, including iPods, so this is a good site if you don't want to be forever tied to iTunes or another proprietary format. Music is free of digital rights management, too. The site's AmazonMP3 Downloader will automatically transfer your purchases to iTunes, or to Windows Media Player if you choose. AmazonMP3 offers online music storage; the first 5 GB of storage is free, and you can access your music from Android devices (including Amazon.com's Kindle Fire), Apple iOS devices (including the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch), or your computer.

Best for online music storage

Best for online music storage *Est. $0.99 to $1.29 per track Compare Prices
Google Music offers over 13 million songs, though its catalog is not as extensive for mainstream music as that of iTunes and AmazonMP3. Reviewers, however, are impressed with Google Music's selection of indie music, supported by its arrangements with over 1,000 independent music labels and distributors. For a small fee, independent musicians can release their work directly on Google Music. Like other music download services, Google Music offers cloud storage, and it's fully integrated with Google Play (formerly known as Android Market). Users can store up to 20,000 songs for free from their own collection, and purchases from Google Play are automatically saved online.
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Best site for independent music

Best site for independent music *Est. $12 and up per month Compare Prices
With around 13 million tracks, eMusic's catalog consists mainly of indie groups and emerging artists, along with a significant selection of classical music. Recordings by major artists at the beginning and end of their careers, mainly on smaller labels, are also included. In 2009, eMusic signed a deal with Sony Entertainment to carry its back catalog of songs, significantly increasing the site's mainstream selections. Because eMusic uses the MP3 format, tracks are playable on nearly all music players, including iPods, with no usage restrictions. Songs can't be bought individually, but monthly download packages for between 24 and 50 tunes bring the cost per track down to 50 cents or less.

Comparing online music websites

The world of music downloads is ever-changing. Most music downloads are now available without the restrictions of digital rights management (DRM), and converting between different file formats is usually possible, though sometimes messy. The latest development is the availability of cloud storage for all your music tracks, making your music collection available from anywhere with a web connection. (Cloud storage means that your files are on a company's server, rather than on your local machine.) If you'd rather stream music than download individual tracks, see our related report on music streaming sites .

Three companies dominate the reviews of music download services: iTunes, AmazonMP3 and newcomer Google Music. Each offers similar services, prices and catalogs, yet each has different strengths. In addition, eMusic is our pick as the music download service to check out for music by independent and emerging artists.

How to Choose a Music Download Service
  • Music selection is key
  • Previews can help you decide
  • Music storage lets you listen anywhere
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If you're an Apple fan with an iPhone, iPod or iPad, then iTunes (*Est. $0.69 to $1.29 per track) is still the most attractive option for your music download purchases. With an extensive catalog of over 20 million tracks, including music from the four major record companies, iTunes presents a wide range of music genres, including Latin music, spoken word and music from independent musicians. All music from iTunes is now DRM-free, so it has no download or copying restrictions. However, iTunes still uses the AAC file format for its music tracks, so people with MP3 players that don't support the AAC format (many music players aside from the iPod now do, however) may need to convert these files into the WMA or MP3 format.

For fans of mainstream top-40 music who want low prices for their MP3 music downloads, AmazonMP3 (*Est. $0.69 to $1.29 per track) offers a catalog of 19 million tracks. Owners of Android-powered smartphones and tablets can download songs directly to their device. Anyone can use the Amazon Downloader to download music to a computer and direct it into Windows Media Player or iTunes. AmazonMP3 often has the lowest prices, with daily bargains and rewards for frequent purchases. ITunes compatibility makes AmazonMP3 a good choice for Apple users as well.

If your main concern is to access all your downloaded music at any time on any of your devices, then consider Google Music (*Est. $0.99 to $1.29 per track), which launched in November 2011. Now rolled into the Google Play service, Google Music's catalog of 13 million songs is smaller than that of iTunes and AmazonMP3, and content from some major labels, such as Warner Brothers, is not carried by these services. However, Google Music fills that void through arrangements with over 1,000 independent labels and distributors. Still, it's Google Music's full integration with the cloud that sets it apart from its competitors. You can upload up to 20,000 songs (regardless of where you purchased them) into your Music Locker at no cost, and access them from any
web-connected device. You can also make tracks available offline. ITunes and AmazonMP3 offer similar services, but at a cost, and their storage services are not as fully integrated.

EMusic (*Est. $12 and up per month) is a recommended option for those who listen to alternative music or who prefer not to deal with the larger companies. EMusic's catalog has over 13 million tracks, mostly from independent musicians or emerging artists. They also carry Sony's back catalog of songs, so you can purchase songs published more than two years ago by Sony artists. With eMusic, you don't buy individual tracks; you pay a monthly subscription that allows you to download a defined number of songs that you can play on any PC or MP3 player. For music by independent artists, it's also worth checking out the offerings on Google Music, as their Artist Hub service allows musicians to publish and sell their own music.

Expert & User Review Sources

While there have not been many recent reviews of music download services, we did find some useful comparative reviews at The Huffington Post, Lifehacker.com and TopTenReviews.com. The first two compare the current three biggest music download services -- iTunes, AmazonMP3 and Google Music -- while TopTenReviews.com presents its top 10 music download services for 2012. Professional reviewers at Download.com (owned by CNET), PC World, PCMag.com and Macworld all review at least one of our best-reviewed music download services, while About.com looks at music downloads primarily for mobile devices. Only the AmazonMP3 service receives customer feedback at Amazon.com. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)

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