I admit to shrugging with the force of a thousand jaded nerds on learning of Amazon’s reentry into the streaming music space with Music Unlimited. After all, this is a category rife with options, including Pandora Internet, Radio, Spotify, Tidal, and the Editors’ Choice award winner, Slacker Radio. But the shrug transformed into a curious, Spock-like eyebrow raise when I discovered Music Unlimited’s unique pricing scheme, Amazon Echo compatibility, and the promise of going beyond the existing Amazon Prime Music’s half measure. No, Music Unlimited doesn’t drastically change the game, but it does offer standout features that warrant a look, especially if you own one of Amazon’s voice-controlled speakers.
For the Love of Money
Like Microsoft Groove and Tidal, Music Unlimited forgoes a free version and charges the industry-standard $9.99 per month for its ad-free Individual plan. Note, however, that Amazon Prime subscribers receive a discount that drops the fee to $7.99 per month (or $79 per year)—on top of their $99 per year Prime fee. No, it’s not included with Prime membership. Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Amazon Tap owners receive a discount, too: they pay just $3.99 per month, which is the price of Slacker Radio’s ad-free Plus plan. That’s impressive. If you want to stream to multiple smart speakers, however, you need to pay the regular $7.99 per month fee, which is a shame.
Students receive a discount that drops the Music Unlimited fee to just $4.99 per month. Even better, Prime Student members enjoy six months of access for an incredibly low $6—that works out to a mere dollar per month! You can’t beat that price. Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal all offer similar deals.
Unlike Slacker Radio‘s offering, Amazon Music Unlimited’s cheaper plan for the voice-controlled devices comes with one big limitation. You cannot use it to stream music via apps or a Web browser; you must use an Echo, Echo Dot, or Tap. Amazon also offers a $14.99 per month (or $149 per year) Family Plan that covers six people. This offering rivals Spotify and Tidal’s similar packages. And a 30-day free trial is available for people who want to try before they subscribe.
Amazon Music Unlimited does not let you record audio. If you want that unique feature, check out SiriusXM Internet Radio, the Editors’ Choice for streaming audio services focused on live audio.
Amazon Music Unlimited vs. Amazon Prime Music
Signing up causes Music Unlimited to replace Prime Music as your Amazon music subscription service, which is a good thing. Prime Music still exists as a separate streaming music service, and it does a pretty good job as a music hub that also integrates your own local files if you use the downloadable desktop app.
I was pleased to see “Stairway to Heaven,” “Kashmir,” “When The Levee Breaks,” and other Led Zeppelin classics appear on screen after keying the band’s name into Music Unlimited’s large search box. And they’re the real tracks, not tribute works by bands no one cares about (though those also show up in the search results). Amazon Music Unlimited also boasts Prince’s catalog, which Spotify cannot. And the tracks sound good, too, as they stream at a clear, 256Kbps bitrate. This lags behind the non-compressed, 1,411Kbps FLAC audio of Tidal, however).
The Echo Effect
The increased library size makes Music Unlimited infinitely more interesting to use with an Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Dot, or Tap. In the past, I’d often grow frustrated with my Echo’s inability to stream songs in their entireties due to licensing issues. Now, I can command my Echo, using the Alexa voice-control technology, to fire up the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Suck My Kiss,” and it does so without issue.
Amazon’s smart speakers also deliver behind-the-scenes commentary, dubbed Side-by-Sides. For example, you can ask Alexa to “play Side-by-Side with OneRepublic,” and Ryan Tedder comments on songs from the band’s newest album. The Chainsmokers, Jason Aldean, Lindsey Stirling, Norah Jones, and Kongos also provide Side-by-Side content. It’s reminiscent of Slacker Radio’s DNA stations, but without the deep historical context that connects past and present musicians.
In addition, you can use an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, or Tap to search for songs by lyrics, fire up playlists, and search for songs to match your mood. It’s really cool to command Alexa to play up-tempo happy music and have the Echo blast the “Pop To Make You Feel Better” playlist.
Amazon Echo Show owners receive an additional benefit: lyrics. Amazon Music Unlimited displays lyrics on the Show’s 7-inch display, which very much pleases PCMag’s Hamilton-obsessed Executive Editor. Spotify’s Alexa app, on the other hand, does not display lyrics.
Music Unlimited boasts “tens of millions of songs” and dozens of stations in its catalog, plus the expected Classical, Decades, Rock, and Hip-Hop genres. The service doesn’t go out of its way to offer any surprising deep cuts, as Spotify does with its video game channel or as Slacker Radio does with its lifestyles content and live ESPN Radio stream. In a nice touch, any Amazon Prime Music playlists that you’ve created in the past carry over to Music Unlimited. You can, of course, create new ones, too.
Several areas built into Music Unlimited’s interface are designed to help you discover or buy music. In almost every part of the layout, you’ll find recommended albums and playlists that are based on your listening habits. Thankfully, these suggestions don’t feel forced upon you. In fact, I find them helpful.
The left navigation menu contains sections for Purchased and Imported music. The former has Amazon-purchased tracks that you can stream or download. The latter houses the files that you uploaded to Amazon’s servers using the Amazon Music desktop app. You can even edit songs’ metadata information, which comes in handy when you upload music files that may have come from dubious sources.
Music Unlimited has one of the best uses of lyrics I’ve seen in the streaming music space. Instead of offering a static page like Slacker Radio, Music Unlimited has karaoke-like scrolling music that moves in time with the lyrical performance. It’s really cool, and I’d like other services to adopt similar lyrics integration.
As previously mentioned, Amazon Music Unlimited has apps for both the Android and iOS platforms. I tested the Android version on my Google Nexus 6P, and discovered that it closely duplicates the Music Unlimited desktop experience. The app contains copious playlists, useful recommendations, and a music store for making purchases.
There are two major differences between Music Unlimited’s browser- and mobile-based versions: a lack of lyrics, and the ability to lower the streams’ bitrates, so that you don’t rack up high mobile data costs. One of these is annoying. One of these is quite beneficial. Still, if you’re going to invest in Music Unlimited, you may as well download the app to your smartphone or tablet.
Magical Sound Shower
After thoroughly exploring Amazon Music Unlimited’s many offerings for several days, I give the service an enthusiastic thumbs up. To be fair, the recommendation rides almost entirely on the back of the service’s Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap features. If you don’t have one of those devices, I would suggest you fire up Slacker Radio, our Editors’ Choice winner, for its excellent features and packages. But if you own one of Amazon’s smart speakers, you should definitely give Music Unlimited a listen.
For more, check out our Amazon Music Unlimited vs. Spotify face-off.