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Hands on with 6 online music services

Apple has a virtual monopoly in the digital music download business, thanks to its iTunes Music Store. But there's plenty of competition. Here's a closer look at six services trying to deliver your favorite MP3s for less than Apple charges.
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1 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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by Ed Bott
I took a shopping list of seven albums to the iTunes Music Store and compared my results with those from six large and small competitors. This chart shows the result. The red entries indicate the highest price for a particular album; green means the lowest price. The line above the eMusic entries means it's nearly impossible to compare prices for that service, which charges a monthly fee for a set number of downloads.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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2 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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Amazon MP3 won't win any design awards for this somewhat clunky interface, but it's fast and it gets the job done. The Play buttons allow a 30-second preview of any track.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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3 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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You must install this downloader (Windows version shown here, but Mac and Linux versions are available as well) to purchase entire albums or queue up tracks for download.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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4 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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The bar at the top of this web page is Lala's Flash-based music player. With it, you can play any tune from your collection, including web songs and web albums that cost as little as a nickel per track.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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5 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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Like Amazon MP3 and eMusic, Lala provides a downloader utility that helps you store purchased tracks in the correct location and automatically add them to your iTunes or Windows Media Player library.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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6 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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The Music Mover utility doesn't just download; it also scans your music collection and matches it against Lala's licensed collection, uploading any tracks that are unmatched. As a result, you can have full access to your music library via a web browser even when you're away from home.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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7 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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The Rhapsody player is required if you have one of the service's subscription membership. The interface can be a little overwhelming and packed with too much detail.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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8 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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Downloads you purchase from all the major online services are now DRM-free, but subscription services like Rhapsody Unlimited and Zune Pass require digital rights management components.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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9 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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See those side-by-side Play and Add buttons to the left of each track and at the top of the album list? With a Rhapsody Unlimited or Rhapsody To Go subscription, you can play any tune or download it to your collection without having to pay any fee beyond your $13-15 monthly subscription charge.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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10 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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This pop-up player allows you to listen to subscription tracks from a web browser, without installing the Rhapsody software. The web player works with Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X, and most Linux distros. As of today, it doesn't work with Windows 7.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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11 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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Figuring out the cost of a purchase from the Zune Marketplace isn't easy. You have to purchase Microsoft points (400 points cost $5.00) and then translate point values to dollars. This album costs $17.50.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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12 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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This list (under the Account Settings heading) shows every purchase I've made from the Zune Marketplace. Unlike iTunes, you can download a fresh copy of a previously purchased track; click the Download button or click Restore All to copy all your purchases to a new PC.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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13 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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eMusic did a comprehensive redesign of its site last year. This clean, easy-to-read artist page is typical of the new look.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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14 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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An eMusic subscription allows you to download a fixed number of tracks each month. If you run out of downloads, you can add any album to this wish list to make it easier to find next month.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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15 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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The eMusic downloader shows the status of each track on your list. Unlike iTunes, eMusic allows you to download a fresh copy of a single track or whole album that you previously purchased.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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16 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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The recommendations section at Amie Street resembles an Amazon page. That's not surprising, given that Amazon is a backer of this artist-centric service.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?
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17 of 17 Ed Bott/ZDNet
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Prices at Amie Street aren't fixed. Instead, they rise as a track or an album becomes more popular. The first track on this album has hit the maximum price of 98 cents.
For more details, see 6 music services compared: Who can bust the iTunes monopoly?

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