Taking advantage of their 35 free songs offer, I decided to sign up with eMusic and write about my experience with this online music shop. Offering DRM-free tracks at reasonable prices, they are one of the few online legal music stores that offers this unique feature. Now some of you may probably already know that I serial hater of online music stores, and the only reason I signed up with eMusic was their no obligation free download two week trial. I am 100% certain I'll not continue beyond the trial period. But do read on.
eMusic allows their customers to download tracks through their optional software called eMusic Download Manager, or direct download from their website, though this only allows you to download one track at a time. The download program is rather small and allows you to save the tracks downloaded into a specific folder on your PC. Download speeds vary, but personally I found it to be rather slow. The application is purely a download specific program and does nothing else. You'll have to install a third party software like the excellent Media Monkey if you require a music management program.
You can download tracks through any web browser or use the Download Manager
Now the most important bit. How are the selections? Well due to the lack of the 'Big Four', eMusic catalogues are more geared towards underground, niche and indie music. That is not exactly a bad thing as it does allow for one to sample a greater amount of music outside of the mainstream appeal. I am glad to report that music from some of the best bands around are on eMusic. I haven't really explored much, but I did find albums from Pink Floyd, Motorhead, In Flames, Camera Obscura, Lacuna Coil, Morbid Angel, British Sea Power, Napalm Death, Ellen Allien, Arcade Fire, Iced Earth, Interpol (though only Antics and Antics Remixes), Carcass and available for purchase. While I can't confirm, it is likely most of Earache, Century Media and all the major indie music labels' catalogues are available here.
Sadly the tracks made available are encoded in lossy MP3 format, specifically through a LAME encoder (standard -V 2 VBR quality averaging between 180-220kbps). While the MP3 format has significantly improved over the years particularly the LAME encoder, it is still the most significant downside of digital music compared to traditional CDs with PCM audio or lossless audio format like FLAC. On the upside the tracks are DRM-free, meaning you can upload them to a large variety of digital audio players like the (gasp) Ipods as well as, more importantly, superior players from the likes of Cowon, Sony and iRiver.
The subscription based model is flexible , competitive and much more reasonable than other mainstream services.
Unfortunately as I mentioned earlier I won't be continuing it. The lack of 'Big Four' isn't a major concern to me as their CDs are easily available at most stores anyway. The pricing is very tempting, but I've always been willing to pay a bit more for lossless downloads and in this case, eMusic has no such options. A shame really, as I do like the eMusic and their business model. If they started offering lossless none-DRM downloads with a competitive pricing, then I'll not be hesitant to recommend it. Until then I suggest you hold onto your CDs.
+ No DRM
+ Large variety of content by indie labels
+ Reasonable pricing (from 20p to 50p per track/download)
- Only lossy MP3 tracks sold
- Lacks 'Big Four', though that may be a good thing
- Download was rather on the slow side