There are a lot of places to buy music, but what's the best online music store? There are three very popular options, and many smaller independent stores. We'll look at the main differences between iTunes vs Amazon mp3 vs Google Play Music, and comment on some other stores with unique qualities to determine the best online music store for you.
iTunes vs Amazon mp3 vs Google Play
Bitrate is expressed in units of kbps (kilobits per second.) While a high bitrate is important to maintain good audio fidelity, it is just one of many factors that play into how good a recording sounds. Amazon uses variable bitrate encoding, which means certain parts of a song are stored at a lower bitrate to save space while maintaining fidelity. DRM is digital rights management, and is thankfully no longer used in these music stores.
The best online music store: Google Play Music
Google Play Music is the best online music store for three reasons: cross-platform availability, highest quality audio, and free cloud backups. Google Play Music is consistent with Google's view that everything should be stored in the cloud. When you purchase a song or album it is automatically added to your cloud-based library, and you can easily stream it from there or download it. Up to 20,000 songs can be stored in the cloud for free, regardless of whether they were purchased previously our through Google Play Music. I recommend signing up for an account if only to backup your music library for free.
Google also gives away free music every week and month. Mobile apps are available for iPhone and Android, but currently don't support making purchases. You can use a mobile web browser to make purchases but it's not an ideal experience. The mobile apps can be used to manage what playlists, artists, and songs are downloaded to your device and which are left in the cloud.
iTunes: most popular but starting to feel antiquated
iTunes is the most popular online music store, but that doesn't necessarily make it the best. iTunes is easy to use and comes included on Apple devices, but isn't available on Android or any other platforms. iTunes is designed around the principle that purchases will be immediately downloaded and won't be streamed over the web. You can download past iTunes purchases to your Apple devices or PC, but there's no way to back up your other music without paying $25 per year. iTunes isn't available for Android, but you can use a computer to transfer your iTunes purchases to your Google Play account. iTunes Radio is now integrated into iTunes, which is nice, but I prefer my meticulously crafted Pandora stations.
Amazon: similar to Google, but not as much storage
The Amazon mp3 Store is another of the best online music stores. Amazon has tons of great deals, both on new and older music. New albums are usually priced equal or lower than iTunes or Google. There are tons of $5 albums each month. And there is also lots of free music available with the monthly Artists to Watch sampler and a large free music section. Music purchased on Amazon is automatically accessible on the Amazon Cloud Player for free, and you can upload another 250 songs for free, with more storage available for a fee. The Cloud Player is available for PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, and more. The mobile apps currently do not support purchases, at least for Apple devices. Another neat feature is 'AutoRip', which gives you a free mp3 copy with the purchase of some CD or vinyl albums.
Options for higher quality music
The best online music store for you
The Google Play Music store is a great mix of higher-bitrate music, free storage, free songs, and is accessible on lots of devices. I recommend starting with Google's store unless you have reason to look elsewhere. If you're a bargain-hunter, Amazon may be the best bet for you. If you enjoy iTunes and Apple devices, there's no reason to change, but you may want to back up your music to Google for free. If you ever do switch to Android or your hard drive crashes it will be there waiting for you.
Thanks to Spotify and Pandora I don't buy nearly as much music as I used to, but I use all of these music stores to get free downloads, back up my library, and buy the occasional album, but the Google Play Store has become the best online music store for me.