Happy in the cloud – A few weeks with the Amazon Cloud Player

Engadget has a good round up of the various online streaming and cloud music options:  Streaming music breakdown: how Google Music and iCloud will affect today’s options.

I signed up for the Amazon Cloud Music service the first day and I’ve been really pleased so far. 5 gigs free to start and then after I bought one mp3 album on amazon they automatically added it to the cloud and expanded my free cloud to 25 gig (mp3 items you buy on amazon can be automatically stored on the cloud player and do not count towards your space quota). I then set about uploading a bunch more music. It took a while, and I’ve only got a small proportion of my music up there, of course, but it’s a good start. The extra space offer expires in 1 year and after that I will have to pay for the space and can add more storage space for more money. I figure that by then I’ll have a good idea as to whether or not it makes sense to continue.

What are the use cases for me? Well, I have an Android phone (Nexus 1 running 2.3.4) and I have unlimited data on it. This means that I can stream any one of my 3400 songs to my phone any time. Press the “All songs” button and then shuffle and God is your DJ. This also works over wifi and in that case it would not have an impact on your data plan. There is decent playlist support and if you are going to be out of data range, you can download any or all of the songs to your device. You can also do all of this using the web interface on a home or laptop computer.

I recently did a record show in Amherst and while we were waiting for the DJ station to be set up I did the “God Is My DJ” thing on my phone plugged into my stereo. It worked a treat and I had many compliments on the selections.

Now, one could do this with any mp3 player, but with the storage size of those coming down inexorably, more and more folks will be streaming. Perversely, more phones are coming with more storage for less money, so one wonders why the average consumer would not just put their whole music collection on the 32 gig micro SD card included with their phone. Then again, perhaps it is full of badly framed blurry-cam shots. Streaming makes sense to me as I have a couple hundred gigs of music ripped.

And that brings me to the best part of the amazon model, the tracks are your *own* rips. When I am ripping to mp3 I do it at 320 kbps, significantly higher than online streaming sites. Thus, when the file comes beck down to me it sounds better than Mog, Pandora and the rest. At the moment the amazon service does not allow FLAC tracks to be streamed (although it is agnostic as to the files types you can upload), but AFAIK there’s nothing to prevent them from doing so in the future. This model differs from the old mp3.com model which had one copy of every CD merely gave you access to it after you proved that you owned it. In 2005 mp3.com’s founder, Michael Robertson founded mp3tunes.com, which AFAIK features a similar model to amazon. It’s unclear to me, however, whether they are using your own rips or not.

The corollary downside to only playing the tracks you yourself have ripped is the consequent lack of music discovery opportunities. I guess the extent of the discovery has to do with suddenly noticing a song in your stream and not remembering it or realizing that you haven’t listened to it in years. That can be cool.

A friend asked how this was different from just using Dropbox for cloud backup of music. The main difference is the player application and the web interface. Dropbox is great for bulk storage, but it cannot do playlisting and streaming.

Getting Stated with Cloud Player (requires amazon sign-in)

Get the Amazon MP3 Android app here

Amazon is being sued by at least one record company, but it’s difficult to see how their central claim that I am accessing my own copy of a CD can be effectively denied. Further, if the service is shut down, you are not going to lose anything as you still own the tracks you ripped yourself.

Are you using any other services? Any similar ones? Pros? Cons?

Update: Amazon cloud player now works on iOS