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Amazon MP3 Store problematic with Zune? Print E-mail
Written by Kostas Tzounopoulos   
Tuesday, 25 September 2007
Amazon MP3 Store - DRM freeToday Amazon released their new music service, an MP3, DRM-free, online store. it has over 2 million tracks available from 180000 artists. They can be purchased using a normal credit/debit card and played on any player including WMP, Zune Software and iTunes but it has problems with Zune?! But the album art is great. EDIT: My problem's solved! ...



But first things first, the Amazon Press Release :

Amazon MP3 Offers Over 2 Million Songs From More Than 180,000 Artists and Over 20,000 Labels, Including EMI Music and Universal Music Group

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) today launched a public beta of Amazon MP3, a new digital music download store with Earths biggest selection of a la carte DRM-free MP3 music downloads. Amazon MP3 has over 2 million songs from more than 180,000 artists represented by over 20,000 major and independent labels. Amazon MP3 complements Amazon.coms existing selection of over 1 million CDs to now offer customers more selection of physical and digital music than any other retailer.


Every song and album on Amazon MP3 is available exclusively in the MP3 format without digital rights management (DRM) software. This means that Amazon MP3 customers are free to enjoy their music downloads using any hardware device, including PCs, Macs, iPods, Zunes, Zens, iPhones, RAZRs, and BlackBerrys; organize their music using any music management application such as iTunes or Windows Media Player; and burn songs to CDs.

Most songs are priced from 89 cents to 99 cents, with more than 1 million of the 2 million songs priced at 89 cents. The top 100 best-selling songs are 89 cents, unless marked otherwise. Most albums are priced from $5.99 to $9.99. The top 100 best-selling albums are $8.99 or less, unless marked otherwise.

Every song on Amazon MP3 is encoded at 256 kilobits per second, which gives customers high audio quality at a manageable file size.


The track: So I gave it a shot and downloaded my first song: Politik by Coldplay from the album A Rush of Blood to the Head (2001). Its an excellent (bit old) song by the way!

The players: The track can be played by many-many music players. I tried it with Zune Software, iTunes, WMP11, Winamp 5 on Windows and Amarok, VLC, kaffeine on Linux and it works fine with all of them.

Technical details: the track is 256kbps vbr, 2 channel joint stereo,  mpeg-1 layer-3 (mpga), 44.1 kHz. It contains a high-res, compared to Zune Marketplace, album-art (I hope it didn't got embedded by one of the many players I used), a 600x600 pixels jpeg!).

Spying the track's headers: Here are some headers I got when I searched the file with the "strings" application on linux, except for the ID3 tags it contains of course.

Amazon.com Song ID: 201954860TRCK

As you can see it contains the Amazon track id and the encoder id which is the open source application LAME v3.97. But it also has the word "Xing" close to the LAME strings. Thats interesting because Xing is a commercial encoder. The reason its name appears with LAME is something I don't know. Maybe thats true with all the LAME-encoded tracks, maybe not... Oh and I didn't notice my name on the track as with iTunes DRM-free tracks :)

Zune Sync: I was both positively and negatively surprised when I tried to sync two track to my Zune. The negative and most important surprise was when the Zune Software converted the tracks before syncing it, to wma 192 kbps. I don't know why this happened, normally MP3 tracks sync to my Zune without any conversion. But the positive surprise, as you can see from the photo below, is the album art appearing on Zune.  Its much better than the Zune Marketplace's tracks album art.

EDIT1: According to this Zune Support Article, Zune can play MP3 files up to 320 kbps, CBR and VBR, with up to 48kHz sampling rate. Which means the Amazon tracks should sync to Zune without conversion, but they don't, at least with me.

EDIT2: Ricardo Dawkins in his comment below helped me solve this problem (Thanks!): I had selected a maximum-acceptable track quality for Zune at 192 kbps. Anything more would be automatically converted to 192. So it wasn't a problem of Amazon or Zune, it was a problem of mine: I don't use MP3s more than 192kbps and this setting was never a problem to me till now.

Amazon track playing on my Zune - Great Album Art


The downloading Application: Amazon also released a very simple application to download the tracks the user purchases and to automatically add it to iTunes library (default) or WMP library. It is available for Windows XP & Vista and Mac OS X. This application is not mandatory, as you can download the tracks normally from your browser (I used successfully Firefox 2 on both Windows and Linux with the Amazon MP3 Store).

As the MP3 Store FAQ says, the Download Application is needed when you purchase full albums after all. Also a Linux version is under development.

 Here is a photo of the download app on Windows XP, downloading a free song, Energy by Apples in Stereo:

Amazon MP3 Store Application

For your information this track was also converted before syncing to my Zune. So if you bypass this small incompatibility, the (See EDIT2 above).  Amazon MP3 Store is a simple kid who does only the basics for now but does them very good, DRM-free and with variable prices.

Amazon MP3 Store (Affiliate link)

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 September 2007 )
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