Jeff Bezos is one of the richest men to ever walk the face of the earth. He has his hands in just about every area of business there is. Whether it’s music, shopping, film, or television, he’s there. Heck, he even has hands in the business of going to space. That’s right, for those of you who haven’t heard yet, Jeff Bezos wants to go to the moon. That’s his big dream.
Can you even fathom how much money it requires to build a spaceship and actually go to the moon as a private entity? Hundreds of billions of dollars, easily. But thanks to that Amazon money, I’m sure Bezos will not have any trouble making that dream a reality.
As long as he doesn’t start neglecting his businesses on earth, though, I could care less where Jeff Bezos goes in the great expanse of outer space. There is a certain standard of excellence that you come to expect from a service provided by one of the richest men of all time. And I hold Amazon to that standard always, no matter what version of the massive digital empire of Amazon it is that we are talking about.
And, more often than not, I would say, generally speaking, that Amazon delivers, lives up to that expectation. Amazon Prime Video, for instance, has put out award-winning and critically acclaimed original content, such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Man in the High Castle. Plus, of course, Prime Video has tons of syndicated shows and movies for its viewers to enjoy. Never had many complaints with this corner of Amazon (save for maybe a few streaming and buffering issues here and there).
So, when it came time for me to take a look at Amazon Prime Music I, understandably, had high expectations. With the kind of unprecedented funding that Amazon has for its streaming services, I would expect to see more songs to choose from than Spotify, on-par sound quality with Tidal, and as intuitive an interface as Apple Music. Maybe it’s unfair for me to come to Amazon Music Unlimited with such high standards, but, hey, these are the criteria we always look for in our quest to find the perfect music streaming platform, right?
Amazon Music Unlimited is a new and improved version of Amazon’s original music streaming service, formerly known as Amazon MP3. It is in the same vein as Amazon Prime Video, in that you can stream certain content on-demand for free (rather, for the baseline monthly price you pay and nothing more), and you can download and purchase certain titles as well, allowing you to enjoy them anytime, offline or on.
Amazon Music (then Amazon MP3) launched a public beta version of the service on September 25th, 2007. By the time that January of 2008 rolled around, Amazon Music became the first online music store to sell songs and albums from all of the big four major music labels – EMI, Universal, Warner, and Sony BMG – as well as a number of independent and smaller record companies, without Digital Rights Management (DRM). What that means is that most of the songs were sold to the customer in MP3 format without any audio watermarking – some songs today, however, are, unfortunately, watermarked. It depends on what country you are downloading from. Some places are limited on licensing agreements with record companies for one reason or another.
Amazon MP3 was launched in the United States first, then in the UK on December 3, 2008; Germany on April 1, 2009; and France on June 10, 2009. Amazon continued this gradually global rollout over the years, expanding in the Japanese market on November 10th, 2010; Spain and Italy on October 4, 2012; and, finally, Mexico on November 7th, 2018.
Recently, on September 17th of 2019, Amazon Music announced that it would be launching Amazon Music HD, a new subscription tier that would be available for Amazon Music users in which listeners can enjoy lossless quality music, over 50 million High Definition songs. This lifted Amazon Music up to the status of Tidal and Qobuz for serious audiophiles and sound geeks (I use the term affectionately, of course, as I am one myself).
Honestly, Amazon Music Unlimited has a design that I would call counterintuitive. It’s almost as if the people who designed it were intentionally trying to do a novel layout, different from those of Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal just because. Just to be different, I presume. However, there is a reason that the largest audio streaming services in the world all have a similar design and layout … because it works well.
My grandpa always used to say to me when I was a kid, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And I feel as if those are some words of wisdom that Amazon Music really should have heeded when it came time to design their music streaming platform. This is going to take some time, surely, to get used to.
It’s not all bad, though, don’t get me wrong … I quite like the way that Amazon Music Unlimited looks. From an aesthetic standpoint, this is one of the nicer designed music streaming platforms on the market. It has a nice dark theme to it (which I have always preferred). If I had to describe it, I would probably venture to call it ‘midnight steel.’ Lots of blacks and midnight blues, as well as plenty of dark and metallic grays, make for a really slick presentation.
It’s in the functionality, though, of the layout where the design starts to get to me. Firstly, everything is inverted. You’ll find your albums on the left-hand side and your playlist options on the right. The whole thing feels backward. Of course, it probably won’t be an issue once you get used to it. But until then, it is likely to feel a bit clunky.
Well, as I touched on briefly before, Amazon Music Unlimited (and Amazon Music Unlimited HD) offers over 50 million songs. This blows Spotify out of the water. At least in terms of quantity of songs. Spotify boasts just over 30 million. Tidal still has Amazon Music beat, however, with 60 million+. But 50 million songs are certainly nothing to roll your eyes at, that’s for sure.
In addition to the ability to stream any and all of those 50 million songs on demand, Amazon Music Unlimited gives you the easy option to download them (for a price). Unfortunately, though, downloaded songs will contain watermarks – not invasive enough to diminish your listening experience, but still – and should you ever cancel your Amazon Music Unlimited membership, songs that were downloaded in the free trial period will no longer be available upon cancellation.
Desktop and Mobile Experience
Well, I have already touched upon my somewhat mixed feelings regarding the desktop browser version of Amazon Music Unlimited. Where they make up for this, however, is in their mobile app. It contains all of the best aspects of the web browser music player (aesthetically pleasing) with a highly improved overall design that is much easier to use.
Others seem to agree with my assessment of the app as well. It has an average user rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars on the Apple App Store (of 383,560 ratings). So, clearly the consensus is that Amazon Music Unlimited is best enjoyed through your mobile device. And, let’s be honest, that’s where you’ll want to be using it the most frequently anyway, right?
Pricing and Plans
Amazon Music has 4 different tiers and, thus, payment options. An individual account will run you $7.99 per month – a very competitive rate compared to the industry standard of $10. Then, there is the family plan, which offers up to 6 accounts with simultaneous streaming. Another fair deal, if you ask me, at $14.99 a month. Or simply hook your Amazon Echo device up with Amazon Music capabilities with the single device plan: $3.99 a month.
And, lastly, if you are a student, you can enjoy Amazon Music Unlimited for just $4.99 per month (Amazon has always offered fair deals to students).
If you want Amazon Music Unlimited HD, well, a single account is going to run you $14.99 (still significantly cheaper than Tidal and Qobuz, mind you).
Suggestions that I have for Amazon Music Unlimited
I would consider a redesign of your in-browser media player. Keep the aesthetic, find a more intuitive layout. I would also find a way to contractually get around the watermark business. That is incredibly annoying. Especially for songs that you have paid for. Oh, and adding podcasts into the mix would be a wise move, too.
All in all, if you are looking for an expansive library of music at a very fair price, Amazon Music Unlimited is a great option to consider. There are a few technical downsides, but there is a good chance that with time, these issues will be resolved. I mean, come on, it is Amazon we’re talking about.