Amazon Cloud Player for Web
Listen to MP3 copies of CDs you have bought from Amazon anywhere and at any time through the Web
Those of you who have been buying CDs from Amazon for the last decade or so should log in to your account and check out the Cloud Player feature. Cloud Player is Amazon's free online MP3 audio storage and playback service and it offers something special: if the CDs you have bought in the past from Amazon (directly) support the AutoRip service, then they will appear in the Cloud Player — even if you are an Australian user with an Australian billing address.
- Makes MP3 copies of CDs you've purchased available to listen to online
- Easy to download DRM-free tunes from your library to up to 10 devices
- Import feature is useful
- Cloud Player smartphone app not usable in Australia
- Licensing issues mean not all tracks or albums get 'ripped' to cloud player
If the CDs you've purchased from Amazon over the years are compatible with Amazon's AutoRip service, then they will appear in Cloud Player. Even if you bought those CDs many years ago, there is a high chance they might appear in this player, which is simple to use and which offers some convenient features. However, it's a far from perfect service thanks to licensing issues, and the smartphone app isn't available in Australia.
We logged in to this feature for the first time recently and, to our surprise, found over 900 songs and 60 albums present in our Cloud Player. Some purchases date back to 2001, but Amazon says purchases from as far back as 1998 are taken into account. Basically, this means you can get an instant online music library without doing much work.
IMPORTANT: While Amazon states that AutoRip is only available in the United States, we were able to purchase a CD using Australian billing details and had a copy of it sent to our Cloud Player immediately. We're not sure if this is an oversight on Amazon's part — even our receipt says that AutoRip is only for U.S. customers. Funnily enough, the album that we purchased (Amy Winehouse's Back to Black [Explicit]) ended up costing us one dollar less including delivery ($15.74) than it would have if we had purchased it purely as a digital download through iTunes ($16.99).
Whether or not songs appear in the Cloud Player is dependent on the rights that Amazon has for that music. If Amazon does not have the rights to distribute that music as an MP3 using the AutoRip feature, then it won't show up. This means that only part of a purchased CD library may show up, which can still be very convenient. It also means you won't have to rip or re-rip many CDs you've bought, and your music will be accessible over the Internet at any time and anywhere you want it. Annoyingly, many new releases are still not available with the AutoRip feature.
If you want to continue purchasing physical music from Amazon that will then appear in Cloud Player, you will need to make sure that the particular CDs you are buying support the 'AutoRip' feature. CDs that are eligible for AutoRip are clearly marked as such next to the product's buying options. This means that when you buy the physical CD, you will also get a copy of it placed in your Cloud Player immediately.
The Cloud Player has a clean layout and it is simple to use. The music you have available to you appears organised by category, and you can choose whether you want to display all songs, albums, artists, genres or even deleted items. Playlists are also supported, with the default ones being Recently Added, Purchased and Imported. When you click on a category, the songs are displayed in the middle of the player with album artwork above them and suggestions for other music you can buy on the right. The player controls are neat: all you get is a play/pause button, and skip buttons. You can also use the slider to forward or rewind bits of a track. Modes include play all, single play (or selected play when you place check marks next to only the songs you want to hear), shuffle and repeat.
Downloading and importing music
One of the major benefits of Cloud Player is that it allows you to also download your music to up to 10 different devices (as long as you authorise them), and this is very convenient if you don't want to re-rip (or indeed if you have never ripped) the CDs that you have bought from Amazon. The quality at which they are offered is 256 kilobits per second (Kbps) and this is a variable rate. You can download tracks one at a time, or you can use the Amazon downloader to grab an entire album at once. The downloader places the files in a folder called 'My Music' in your computer's user account (if you are on Windows), and it can also import them to iTunes or Windows Media Player automatically. The files are free of DRM (digital rights management), which means you can easily transfer them to portable devices or other computers. You can also easily download individual tracks to mobile devices.
Importing of your own music is also allowed. Amazon gives you a quota of 250 songs that you can upload yourself from your personal collection. As is the case with downloading an entire album, to import music to the Cloud Player, you have to do so through a downloaded client. It would be better if this process was more integrated with the browser, or if the Amazon downloader was also able to handle imports. Either way, having to download two clients to handle two different features of the same service is cumbersome.
To import music, you must authorise your computer with the service and, as with downloading, up to 10 devices are allowed. You can let the program browse your computer manually to find music to import, or you can elect to browse for songs manually. The latter means you have to select a folder, which is then scanned for songs. If you have more than 250 songs in that folder, you will be asked if you want to upgrade to Cloud Player Premium for $24.99 per year, or if you want to make a manual selection of songs to upload. The latter brings up a tree structure that allows you to easily select albums and individual songs to import.
The neat thing is that Amazon checks for matches of the songs you have selected against its own catalogue and it places 256Kbps versions of those songs in your library if there is a match. Interestingly, since it's a song limit that is imposed rather than a data limit, you can import very long tracks, such as DJ mixes, without having to worry about space restrictions.
The service is not perfect. Lots of new albums still aren't available to buy with AutoRip and some albums in our collection were incomplete, missing a handful of songs or more. In one example, Kanye West's College Dropout album was complete except for one track: Slow Jamz. This is due to licensing agreements. The licensing does seem to be very confusing. For example, that very same album appears in our Cloud Player, but when we browsed Amazon for it while writing this article, it did not have the AutoRip logo next to it, suggesting that if you buy this CD now, it won't appear in the Cloud Player.
Another problem we noticed concerns old albums that have been re-issued. An original album may not be available with the AutoRip feature (such as the original Black Star album, for example), which means it won't show up in Cloud Player. The re-issue of that same album does have the AutoRip feature.
But the biggest problem is that the smartphone app for the Cloud Player can not be used in Australia due to "geographical restrictions". This means you can't really enjoy your music in a portable way though Cloud Player. However, you can still stream the music to your phone through the Web page version of Cloud Player, as long as you have Adobe Flash installed on your device — for newer Android phones, you will have to install this add-on manually.
Amazon's Cloud Player and AutoRip are very interesting services, to be sure, and we think they are a great idea, although the geographical limits are a hindrance to proper usage of the services in Australia. Licensing issues mean that it's nowhere near a perfect service and the AutoRip feature may miss some albums or key tracks off albums that you have previously bought. There are reports that this is especially true of deluxe album versions or compilations. Needless to say, you could always just rip the CD yourself and upload it to the Cloud Player manually, but then you will have to use up your song storage quota on songs that should have been there from the beginning.
Until MP3 downloads from Amazon become available to Australians, and as long as the exchange rate is favourable, Amazon Cloud Player and AutoRip seem to be a decent, legitimate way of buying digital music from a store that has as big a selection of music as any on the Internet. The only problem is you'll have to store the physical copy somewhere, too.
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