One could make the case that Amazon has been one of the most important digital music pioneers around. Since the mid-2000s, the company was one of the first to offer DRM-free digital downloads, and then it started the smart speaker revolution with Alexa and Prime Music. Over the past several years, Amazon has added to and refined its streaming music offerings, featuring various tiers, discounts, and quality standards across its Unlimited service. If you're just now looking to get started streaming with Amazon, which should you consider? Prime Music, or Music Unlimited? I have some thoughts on this topic that I'll share with you below.
Head to head
At first glance, it may not seem fair to pit a premium, paid service against a free service, but you may be surprised just how well Prime Music holds its own as a legitimate streaming alternative.
|Music Unlimited||Prime Music|
|Number of Songs||>50 million||>2 million|
|Monthly Fee||From $4/month||Free with Prime membership|
|Music Quality||320 kbps standard
Up to 3730 for "Ultra HD" plan
|Up to 320 kbps|
|Number of Simultaneous Devices||One
Up to 6 with family plans
|Works with Alexa?||Yes||Yes|
|Ad-Free||Yes||Yes with Prime membership
Free, ad-supported version available without Prime membership
As you would imagine, a "free" service like Prime Music is not going to be as full-featured as a premium paid service like Music Unlimted, but that doesn't mean it's not an excellent option for a lot of folks. Let's take a closer look at just why that might be the case.
Priming the pump
Prime Music has been around for nearly six years. In that time it has served first as a nice side benefit to a Prime membership, and then as an excellent gateway into Amazon's growing garden of paid media services to include Amazon Music Unlimited, Kindle Unlimited, and Audible to name a few.
This service is free for existing Prime members, and offers somewhere around two million songs, along with thousands of playlists and radio stations, all ad-free. Over the past year or so, Amazon has moved to further lower the barrier to entry for its music services, making Prime Music available for free with ads to anyone, across any device. No membership required!
Of course, this is more than just a gesture of goodwill, and Amazon hopes that those people will at a minimum sign up for Prime, and beyond that enroll in one of its other subscription services. Even so, it's still an excellent option to have.
If you're someone who doesn't listen to a ton of music or obsess over specific songs or obscure bands, Prime Music may be for you. If you mainly use your Echo devices not as music players but as a way to control your smart home, find out the temperature, or have random questions answered, Prime Music may be for you.
Heck, even if you like to listen to music but primarily do so on traditional radio, Prime Music may be for you. You can still stream free content from local radio stations, NPR, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and podcasts from your Echo at no additional charge. That's a lot of audio content for basically nothing. And that's probably enough for a lot of people.
Unlimited is pretty accurate
As good a value as Prime Music is, it probably isn't enough for you if you're someone who likes to have access to the latest hits as well as uncover undiscovered music gems. If you want artist exclusives, curated playlists, and content customized based on your preferences and listening habits, then you're probably going to want a more premium subscription service like Amazon Music Unlimited.
For starters, Amazon Music Unlimited is now the third-largest music subscription service, trailing only Apple Music and Spotify, and with a catalog to match both competitors. It leads the pack, though when it comes to high-definition music, offering higher quality options than even hi-fi leaders such as Tidal Music.
Amazon Music Unlimited may be a paid service, but it also offers the most tiers and options that I've come across, with plans as low as $4/month (one Echo device; Prime member discount) on up to $18/month (HD family plan), with several options in between for individual listeners and students. As I mentioned, Prime members can get discounts on most of the individual plans, though family plans are generally a standard price across the industry.
One other cool feature that Amazon Music Unlimited offers is called Auto Rip. Auto Rip is Amazon's feature that automatically puts digital copies of any physical medium music you by from Amazon immediately into your Amazon Music digital library. So if you want to support your favorite artists by ordering a CD or vinyl album off of Amazon, you'll get your physical media in a few days. Still, you'll get access to digital copies immediately. Pretty cool!
Which Amazon Music service should you use?
Honestly, I think both options are suitable for different types of listeners.
If you don't listen to a ton of music, or if you just aren't that particular in what you listen to, go with Prime Music. You'll still get access to a lot of great music, and you can supplement your listening with free access to other streaming services on your Echo devices such as local radio stations, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio.
If you have broader musical interests, if you are interested in listening across multiple devices, or if you really and truly care about the quality of your listening experience, then an Amazon Music Unlimited plan would be an excellent choice for you. Plus, if you're a Prime member already, you'll be able to save several bucks each month compared to services like Tidal, Spotify, and Apple Music.
Want to learn more about all of the Amazon Music options and plans? Then check out our ultimate guide to Amazon Music. Curious how Amazon Music stacks up against some of the other streaming services? Then dive into some of our great streaming comparisons.
- Amazon Music Unlimited vs. Spotify Premium
- Amazon Music HD vs. Tidal HiFi
- Amazon Music vs. Apple Music
One of the best
Amazon Music Unlimited
The best choice for most
Amazon Music Unlimited offers over 50 million songs, exclusives, and tailored playlists and stations. It's already affordable, but Amazon Prime members can even get some money off.
A foot in the door
Amazon Prime Music
A Prime benefit
If you're a Prime member, this service offers you the benefit of millions of songs, for no additional cost. Even non-Prime members can benefit from Prime Music's ad-supported offering across any device.
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