Amazon’s new DRM-Free MP3 Store was all over the news this week, so I thought I’d check it out. I fired up Firefox and went to I found the service under Search: MP3 Downloads.

The hardest part of the process was deciding which song I should buy. I decided to check the depth of the service and looked for songs from the seminal Canadian metal band Voivod. They had plenty. I went with their cover of Syd Barrett’s classic “Astronomy Domine.” It was 99 cents. (Some of the songs are only 89 cents.)

Amazon asked if I wanted to download and install their “Amazon MP3 Downloader.” That sort of confused me, why should I have to download software merely to get an MP3? That’s what’s always bugged me about iTunes. I’m not some idiot who can’t figure out how a browser works or how to organize files on a computer. I don’t want software to hold my hand and make choices for me, I just want my music!

I noticed there was an option to “skip installation and continue.” I went with that. Amazon asked for my user name and password, as it always does before I check out. Seconds later I was downloading the song.

Here’s the information from the MP3 according to Winamp:

I certainly like the bitrate. But notice how the song is not marked as copyrighted. Weird.

I’ll also note that the song transfered and played perfectly on my Creative ZEN Vision W, which is not shocking at all considering the file has no DRM. There also appears to be some sort of image of the album art embedded in the file which showed up in my Zen. That was sort of cool. (I tried to take a picture of it for the blog, but couldn’t get a clear shot.)

Anyway, with the incredible ease of use I’ll almost certainly buy again. And while Amazon certainly does not have the vast catalog that iTunes has, it’s a start in the right direction: Well organized high quality DRM-free songs at a cheap price.

Update: According to reader snoopyjy, the Amazon MP3 Downloader serves a useful purpose. It transfers the MP3s into iTunes to make it as simple as possible for iPod users. Considering how popular iPods are that’s pretty smart thinking on Amazon’s part.

Update 2: I tried the Amazon MP3 Downloader because it’s required for downloading full albums, which by the way are priced a little lower than the meat-space CDs. I bought Bill Haley and his Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock.” It was only $9.49 while the CD was $9.98.

By default it downloads music automatically to your Windows Media Player’s music directory. But you can change it to any other folder. Also, as stated above, it you have iTunes installed it automatically adds it there.

  1. Mike says:

    This looks quite promising. I just hope Amazon doesn’t limit this to just the US. I might actually start getting into buying music again (after a LONG LONG absence).

  2. snoopyjy says:

    I like the possibilites that this model offers. The download is a program that will import your new music into iTunes which will help draw in people who are not as tech savy as the rest of us.

  3. Paul Git says:

    It appears that you need to use the Amazon MP3 Downloader application if you want to download complete albums. Not a big issue but they currently do not support Linux! 🙁

  4. ECA says:

    then I would suggest you tell them…That they are missing out on at least 20% of the market…

  5. Mark Derail says:

    A definite step in the right direction. Amazon said a Linux d/l was in the works.

    When I can’t find a particular artist / album from (aka I’ll definitely use Amazon.

    I found Voivoid on :

    The Astronomy Domine song is on the Nothingface Album, and it only costs $0.22 to buy at 192 Kps, or $0.35 for 320kps. Legally with royalties paid.

    I fail to see WHY an album has to cost the SAME PRICE for an electronic download versus physical media.

    It’s like paying 1.99$ for a ringtone, total ripoff, and the public doesn’t know better.

  6. MikeN says:

    But so any people have been insisting that music downloading should be legal. Why should I ahve to pay this much to begin with? I should be able to take these tracks and share them with whoever I want.

  7. paul says:

    I concur with this review. Bought 4 songs yesterday and it worked perfectly. I have been waiting for this service ever since I changed music players and lost access to all my DRMed music. Never again will I buy DRMed anything. Yeah Amazon!

  8. V says:

    Agreed. This is a great start. The web interface needs work. Amazon needs to remember that this should be Streetside Records Online, not just another branch of Amazon.

  9. Danijel says:

    Ha! It works internationally! I just bought a song from Poland and i couldn’t do that with any other major MP3 selling sites. All I did is gave my credit card number and now I have a legal song on my computer!

  10. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    #6 – Mark…

    How reliable is MP3Sparks… There is no way in hell I’m gonna pay 99 cents for a digital track. That makes these albums more expensive than buying them in stores (real indy music stores, not Best Buy).

    But MP3Sparks makes me nervous about using my credit card online. What is your experience?

  11. pcheevers says:

    “seminal Canadian metal band Voivod”

    You said it, my favorite sci-fi/prog/metal band since ’86 and the ‘Nothingface’ album that “Astronomy Domine” is on was produced in an all digital environment, quite a big deal for an underground metal band in ’89…

    Off topic I know but I had to give SN props… In addition, a search for Voivod or Fela Kuti will always give you a good clue about the depth of offerings of any music service/internet jukebox….


  12. Mark Derail says:

    #11 My experience is 100% positive.
    I have a 500$ limit card that I’ve had for years, that is also binded to PayPal. Don’t take chances, ever.

    Over the last two years, &, I’ve bought for over 250$ worth. They have a system where the more you buy, the more $ you get in free downloads. I’m at 10% return, so when I buy 50$ I get a free 5$ worth.

    Of course Mp3Sparks deals with an outside agent for credit card processing, and you could also send them a money order via Snail Mail I believe.

    I’ve also sent them lots of people, but you don’t get any referral $ back.

    I’d like to point out that most of my 250$ music bought online, I had originally bought on cassettes or vinyl. Also they have all the Beatles albums & compilations.

  13. Howard says:

    RE comment 10: Interesting that it works in Poland. I just went to the site and when I tried to download I noticed that it said the MP3 files were only available in the US. So I decided to forget it and complain about it here. But since you say it works internationally I’ll go back and try it.


    Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

  14. Alas, it turns out that I am unable to download MP3s from Amazon.

    I just tried it and was unable to use my Canadian credit card to pay for downloaded music. Even though Amazon knew about this card and displayed part of its number, I was prompted for the address on the card. And the form wouldn’t accept anything but US states and zip codes.

    So, it looks like those of us living north of the border will have to wait.

  15. paul says:


    Other people report that you can give it a fake U.S. address and download from anywhere. Probably won’t last for long.

    I’m sure they will roll it out worldwide once they test the beta.

  16. Mike Voice says:

    Nice to see this happening…

    Especially since it undercuts Microsoft’s & Real’s bitching about Apple’s lack of FairPlay licensing, or not supporting non-Apple DRM on iPods.

    If the music is DRM-free it can play on a Zoon, iPod, Zen, etc.

    Maybe now Microsoft can let Zoon owners “squirt” songs that don’t implode…

  17. Mike says:

    #4, you have to be kidding!!!

  18. Rob says:

    I won’t be impressed with *any* online music service until I can buy AC/DC tracks. And no, Verizon’s goofball VCAST crap doesn’t count.

  19. Mark Derail says:

    #19 Prepared to be *shocked* has all your AC/DC albums !!!

    Shesh, I wished I would get referral $ from them. Refer a friend, get a free song…How do you say that in Russian? 🙂

  20. Angel H. Wong says:

    “It transfers the MP3s into iTunes to make it as simple as possible for iPod users. ”

    But.. Wouldn’t Apple do what it knows best and sue Amazon for tampering with iTunes?

  21. Danijel says:

    #15 I used:

    But now, I’m not sure it’s worth it. I mean, whats the difference between getting an MP3 this way and just downloading it from Kazaa or other things like that….

  22. doug says:

    well, I have been longing for more DRM-free downloads, but anything that involves Phillip Glass has to be pure evil.

  23. SN says:

    12. pcheevers, I was fortunate enough to see Voivod play once, it was on their Nothingface tour. It was one show I’ll never forget. Faith No More was the warm-up band. Soundgarden played second. And, of course, Voivod closed the show. Even though Voivod wasn’t getting anywhere near the press as the other two bands, they had a huge following in the Detroit area which pushed them to top bill. They somehow managed to play metal with finesse but without any pomp or pretense. Just pure and perfectly executed energy.

    But what I’d give to see them in their War and Pain days!

  24. snoopyjy says:

    Well I have to say that the idea of taking on iTunes takes some planning but as far as I know you can’t use iTunes on Linux right? If that is the case the entire idea of using the program would be useless anyways. The program makes sense because there are a whole lot of people out there who are not computer literate and while I can put songs on my iPod myself I have to admit this program is better than the one I have for Audible since it doesn’t go into memory when the system starts up nor does it stay there after the song is transfered like Audible’s program does on default.

  25. snoopyjy says:

    #21, I fail to see where Apple would have a case since the program doesn’t do anything to iTunes that you can’t do to yourself and like I said in my previous post Audible has a similar program that takes the Audiobooks and imports them into your player.

  26. doug says:

    #26. Agreed. I would think that Apple would have moved against Audible if they had a case, since Audible competes with Apple’s own audiobook sales. Although I suppose that a threat to the music biz is a bit more serious. OTOH, since Apple’s real money is in the players, not the music, I am not seeing it as imperative (for them) that Apple somehow try to thwart this.

    OT – if there was any doubt that Steverino’s $100 iPhone apology money was good for buying iTunes gift cards, it was dispelled for me the other day.

  27. Mike Voice says:

    27 I would think that Apple would have moved against Audible if they had a case, since Audible competes with Apple’s own audiobook sales.


    I just went to the iTMS and checked a few audiobooks – at random – and they all stated: “Presented by”

    Why would Apple “move against” a content-provider they are in partnership with?

  28. snoopyjy says:

    28 If you were listening to an audiobook and heard presented by audible that is because they are contracted by various publishers to convert book to audio and if iTunes wants to host that book then they don’t have a choice who provided the audio for it. My point is that if they really saw these programs that take files, sort them, and import them automatically then they would have said something by now but then again who knows perhaps they will become nervous with Amazon and take action. I also wonder if the prices will stay at this level or go up later on.

  29. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    #13 – Mark…


    Thanks for the feedback… I’m gonna give them a try…


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