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Amazon Prime Music Service Reviewed

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Amazon-Prime-Music-logo.jpgI confess, I always forget that Amazon Prime Music exists. I'm an Amazon Prime customer who uses the website all the time, both to buy and browse. I own an Amazon Fire TV, and it sees more daily use than either my Roku 4 or Apple TV boxes precisely because of its access to the unlimited Prime Video content. I've even downloaded the Amazon Music app to my iPhone. Yet, when it comes time to actually listen to music, I just kind of forget about Amazon. I go to Pandora...or Spotify...or iTunes.

The funny thing is, every time I use the service, I'm reminded that it's really a very good streaming option. It combines all the things I like about Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music into one service. If, like me, you're an Amazon Prime subscriber who has basically ignored this entire part of your service up to now, allow me to help you two get better acquainted.

Like free two-day shipping and unlimited access to Prime Video, the Prime Music service is only available to Amazon customers who've ponied up the $99/year for a Prime membership. There's no free version of Prime Music, as you get with Pandora or Spotify. You can access Prime Music directly via Amazon.com on any Web browser, it's an integrated part of the Fire TV user interface, you can download the Amazon Music player for the PC or Mac, and you can download the free iOS/Android app for your mobile devices. That pretty much covers all the bases.

How does it combine the best of Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora? I'm glad you asked. Like Spotify and Apple Music, you can search for a specific artist and have unhindered access to their song/album category to listen as you please. And like Apple Music, Amazon puts a big emphasis on curated playlists built around certain genres, themes, moods, etc.--and it lets you upload your personal music files to the cloud to enjoy all your files through a single user interface. Finally, you can create artist-inspired stations. I happen to be a big fan of artist-inspired radio, where you pick an artist you love and then listen to a collection of songs that are similar in style/genre--and you can shape future selections with the ever-popular thumbs up/down response. All the services offer this now, although I still prefer Pandora's algorithm.

For this review, I auditioned Prime Music in all the major formats: on the Fire TV, on my iPhone 6, and on my Macbook Pro, via both Web browser and the Amazon Music software. Here are some highlights of each.

Amazon Music for the Mac or PC
Like the Apple Music/iTunes and Spotify desktop apps, the Amazon Music software combines a basic music-management app with a portal to the streaming service. Tabs along the top let you easily move between Prime Music, Your Library, and the Amazon Store to buy new tunes. Within Your Library, you have access both to the files stored on your computer and to the files that you've uploaded to Amazon Cloud storage. Amazon allows you to upload 250 songs as part of your basic Prime subscription (any music you've purchased through Amazon gets stored in your cloud locker automatically and does not count against that 250-song limit). For $24.99/year, you can import up to 250,000 songs.

The Prime Music section is divided into five categories: Recommended, Stations, Playlists, New to Prime, and Popular. As the name suggests, the Recommended section is where you'll find lists of stations, playlists, albums, and songs that Amazon thinks you will like. Prime Music doesn't walk you through an initial setup the way Apple Music does, where you can tell it what genres and bands you like the most. It bases its recommendations on your existing collection and listening habits, so the recommended playlists weren't quite as well crafted at first. Because I searched for The Beatles early on in my time with Prime Music, my recommended playlists and stations were very classic rock heavy at first, but the more I have listened to different genres, the more fleshed out those suggestions have become.

Amazon-Prime-Rec.jpg

As I said in my review of Apple Music, I do appreciate a well-crafted playlist. Like the Recommendations above, Amazon's playlists are a little more generic than Apple's, but there were still a lot of interesting choices. You've gotta love a playlist called "Grill and Chill" featuring Bob Marley, the Band, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and The Doobie Brothers (well, I've gotta love it anyways.) You can explore playlists by genre or by what's popular/new.

Amazon-Prime-Grill.jpg

On the top right corner is a search tab. You can type in a certain song, artist, or album to see what Amazon has available. Search for an artist, and you'll also be given the option to listen to that artist-inspired radio station, as well as curated playlists that included said artist. It's all pretty straightforward and intuitive.

Under "Your Library," the software includes categories for Playlists, Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, and Upload. The Playlist section showed my previously created iTunes playlists (older copy-protected songs are not included), and it's also easy to create new playlists. The one thing that wasn't as intuitive as it could be was moving all the songs in an iTunes playlist over to the Amazon Cloud. I could not find a way to move the whole list at once; rather, I had to import each song directly through the Import tab.

Prime Music can stream at a rate up to 256 kbps. Under Advanced Preferences, you can dictate the quality, choosing from auto, low, medium, and high.

Amazon-Prime-Stations-ios.jpgAmazon Music iOS App
The iOS mobile app is also easy to navigate, using many of the same design and navigation cues as the iOS Music app. Along the bottom are options for Browse, Recents, My Music, and Search. Within Browse, you can swipe the whole screen left or right to browse by Recommended, Stations, Playlists, Spotlight, New to Prime, or Popular. I liked the clean, colorful interface that uses a lot of album art and does not feel overly "list-y."

The My Music section gives you access to your Amazon Cloud library; again you can swipe the screen left or right to sort your collection by playlists, artists, albums, songs or genres. The Search tool allows you to type in a name and then see results in either My Music or Prime.

The mobile app includes an Offline mode through which you can access the playlists stored on your phone--but first you have to add them through the setup menu. A more interesting aspect of Offline mode is the "Offline Recommendations" feature that will give you limited music options from Prime Music to listen to when you have no network connection.

In the setup menu, you can also enable a sleep timer, set the app to stream only when you're on Wi-Fi, and change the streaming quality (with the same quality options as the desktop app).

One nice perk is that the iOS app worked with my iPhone 6's AirPlay, so I could easily send Prime Music content to any AirPlay speaker or receiver in my house. I could control the play/pause and track-skip functions from the Home screen, without having to fully unlock my screen and navigate to the Amazon app.

Amazon also offers its X-Ray tool to provide lyrics for every song at the ready, if you want them.

Fire TV
In the Fire TV menu, Prime Music is accessible through the Music section of the main menu. During the course of my review, Amazon updated the system to make Prime Music look/function less like the other areas of Fire TV and more like the mobile app, with menu options for Browse, Recents, My Music, and Search. Within Browse, you get lots of sub-categories like Playlists Just for You, Stations Just for You, Top Playlists, Top Stations, etc.

Amazon-Music-FireTV.jpg

The one thing that jumped out at me as being different through Fire TV is that the interface always shows lyrics as a song plays, with no ability to turn it off like you can through the mobile app. But otherwise, there's now great design and navigation consistency between all the different platforms to access Prime Music.

The biggest disappointment with the Fire TV platform is that you can't use voice search to look up a song or artist; you can only use the text-based Search tool within Prime Music itself, and it only searches Prime Music (not your library). When I began the review, before the Amazon update, you could at least voice-search artists that were in your own music library; now you can't search your own library at all, which doesn't make sense.

High Points
• Enjoy direct access to any desired song or album in the Prime Music catalog. You can also listen to artist-inspired stations and lots of fun curated playlists.
• You can upload your own music to Amazon Cloud for a more integrated navigation experience. Supported files types include MP3, M4A, WMA, WAV, OGG, FLAC, and AIFF.
• The interface has an attractive, user-friendly design, and there's good consistency between the different Prime Music platforms on the desktop, mobile devices, and Fire TV.
• Limited offline listening is allowed through the mobile app, and the iOS app works with AirPlay.

Low Points
• Amazon states that Prime Music includes access to over one million songs, which is good but nowhere near the 30 million-plus songs available through Apple Music or Spotify.
• Although Amazon Music for iOS works over AirPlay, the Amazon Music software for the Mac does not.
• Copying over your existing iTunes playlists to the Amazon cloud library is not as straightforward as it could be.
• Prime Music is not connected to voice search on the Fire TV.

Comparison & Competition
The most similar and highest-profile competitors to Amazon Prime Music are Apple Music and Spotify, both of which allow you to browse by specific songs/artists and stream genre- and artist-inspired radio stations. Apple Music costs $9.99/month, streams AAC files at 256 kbps, and is available as part of iTunes on the desktop, on iOS/Android devices and on Apple TV. The free Spotify desktop app gives you access to the core Spotify features streamed at 160 kbps. Spotify Premium costs $9.99/month, streams in the Ogg Vorbis format at 320 kbps, and is available on mobile devices.

TIDAL offers lossless music streaming for $20/month, and it's being integrated into a growing number of higher-end audio products. TIDAL also offers curated playlists. Other competitors include Pandora, Google Music, and Rhapsody.

Conclusion
Amazon's Prime Music service delivers a lot of worthwhile music content to any platform you desire, be it desktop, Web browser, phone, or TV--and it does so in a colorful, mostly intuitive way. Would I sign up for Amazon Prime just to get Prime Music? Probably not. If I were forced to pay a separate monthly or yearly fee, I'd be more tempted to look at Apple Music or Spotify and their much larger song library. However, if you're already a Prime customer, then the service is already right at your fingertips for no additional cost. Shouldn't you at least explore the platform and see what it has to offer? I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Additional Resources
• Check out our Applications category page to read similar reviews.
Amazon Fire TV (2nd Generation) 4K Streaming Media Player Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.

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