7digital is a UK-based music store with a fine selection of stuff (22 million songs). Its DRM-free, relatively high bit rate nature used to mark it out as a connoisseur’s alternative to iTunes, but neither of those things are really an issue with Apple’s service today. What 7digital does offer is a different selection of special offers (including a lot of £5 albums in the first week of their release), a fully web-based shop (Apple forces you to use the iTunes app to buy things), Music Locker (a page that tells you everything you’ve downloaded in the past – iTunes could learn a thing or two from that) and simple, unlimited re-downloads of things you’ve bought.
Amazon MP3 Store
Amazon’s digital music store is now available in the UK, bringing 20 million songs with it (iTunes boasts 26 million). While perhaps slightly cheaper than iTunes, it’s not going to save you a huge amount of money – but you get the Amazon Cloud Player too, which allows you to access purchases on other devices (including iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices via an app, and computers via a web browser) in high quality 256kbps audio. So in theory you can sidestep iTunes altogether where getting music onto your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad is concerned.
Free/£4.99/£9.99 (Free/Unlimited/Premium), spotify.com
The most compelling streaming service out there, Spotify features a huge music catalogue, deep Facebook integration and handy range of third-party apps. It’s free (in a desktop only, ad-supported mode), £5 a month for ad-free listening and £10 a month for the Premium mode, which not only features higher quality digital audio but works on mobile devices too. Premium allows you to cache songs on your phone or tablet, letting you listen to them without a data connection.
£4.99/£9.99 (Web/Unlimited), rdio.com
Relatively new to the UK, Rdio is pretty much exactly the same as Spotify, except that it lacks a free ad-supported option: £5 a month gets you unlimited web streaming while £10 lets you stream or cache on a smartphone or tablet, or via Sonos. The music catalogue is fairly similar too. So why choose it over Spotify? Well, you don’t need a Facebook profile for Rdio.
An Internet radio service, Pandora allows users to select an artist or song then creates a “station” of similar music for them to listen to. There are also preset genre stations and user-created stations. By rating the songs with thumbs up or thumbs down, users can tailor music to align more closely with their tastes. There’s a free, ad-supported version and a paid ad-free version, but you won’t be able to use either in the UK as it’s currently US, Australia and New Zealand only. Last.fm offers a similar service in Blighty, and it’s strongly rumoured that Apple itself will be launching a Pandora-inspired “iRadio” service in the coming months.
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