Digital music lockers offer compelling bargain

Dec 09, 2011 By Troy Wolverton

If you've got a big digital music collection, you may want to consider signing up for a digital music storage locker.

Some of the biggest players in mobile music - , Amazon and - have recently begun offering such services. For a small annual fee - or none at all - they allow you to keep a copy of your stored on servers on the Internet.

For each of the services, the uploading process can be time-consuming. But once you go through it, the result is a secure backup of your music collection that you can access from any PC or Mac and from a mobile device anywhere you have an .

I've been testing out all three of the new services. I liked all of them, but they each have their drawbacks. Your favorite will depend a lot on what devices you own.

As might be expected, Apple's Match is the best choice for owners of Apple , including the iPhone. It costs about $25 a year and allows users to store up to 25,000 songs on Apple's servers.

"Store" isn't actually the right word, though, because iTunes Match, a new feature built into Apple's popular iTunes , works a bit differently from other digital locker services. Instead of requiring you to upload your entire music collection, iTunes uploads only those songs it can't find on Apple's servers. You get access to both matched songs and uploads; Apple doesn't make a distinction in its cloud.

The advantage of Match is that it requires far less and time than uploading your entire collection. In my case, Apple was able to match all but about 500 of my 8,800 songs. The total process took about a day and a half, but it probably would have been much shorter on a computer more recent than my 6-year-old Mac.

iTunes Match allows you to stream music from Apple's servers or download albums, playlists or individual songs to your device. Depending on the speed of your connection, it can take a second or two for a to start streaming. The sound quality was good.

One problem with iTunes Match is that it only works with newer iOS devices. So if you have an Android phone or even an iPhone 3G, you can't use the service.

It also has an annoying bug. When you turn on iTunes Match, one of the cool features in iOS devices - the "genius" playlist of 20 tracks based on one particular song - disappears.

Amazon's Cloud Player service is the best choice for owners of the new Kindle Fire tablet. But it's also a good option for owners of other Android devices. That's because for $20 a year, it allows you to store an unlimited number of songs.

Unlike iTunes Match, Cloud Player is part of a true storage locker - you upload your entire music collection to it, except for those you've bought from Amazon, which are automatically placed in your locker.

One of the advantages of Amazon's service is that it's not tied to just Amazon's devices. You can also access the service through Amazon's MP3 app on other Android devices. And you can get to it on the iPad through its Web browser.

Like the iTunes Match service, Cloud Player allows users to stream or download their music from Amazon's servers through an app. You can stream but not download songs to a mobile device through its browser.

Uploading songs to Amazon took several days in my case, in part because the application used to upload songs to Amazon stalled out several times.

I had other problems with Amazon's Uploader. Unlike iTunes Match, it didn't copy over my iTunes playlists, meaning I'd have to manually reproduce them on Cloud Player. It also doesn't check to see if songs are already in your library; I ended up with duplicate copies of some of my songs because I had already uploaded some of them from my work computer. And unless you buy songs from Amazon, it doesn't automatically add new tracks to your library in the cloud.

The Cloud Player website has its own shortcomings, most notably that it's basically unusable on the iPhone.

Google Music is my favorite all-around service because it's free and works well on the widest range of devices. Owners of standard Android smartphones and tablets can get access to Google Music through Google's Music app, which comes with many of those gadgets. Owners of other touch-screen devices, such as the iPhone or the Kindle Fire, can access Google Music through a Web app that was designed specifically for them.

As with Amazon's Cloud Drive, you have to download and install a separate application on your computer to upload your songs to Google Music. I had even more problems with Google's Music Manager than I did with Amazon's Uploader. It stopped working repeatedly while uploading my files, requiring me to shut it down and restart it. Thanks to all that starting and stopping, it took even more time to upload my collection than did the Amazon program.

I also ran into the problem of duplicate files. When I ran the Music Manager on my computer at work, it didn't recognize that some of the songs I was uploading were copies of the same songs I'd already sent to Google Music from home.

Music Manager does have some big advantages over Amazon's Uploader. After you use it, it will run in the background and automatically upload any songs you add to your computer. So you don't have to do a manual scan ever again. And it also recognizes and uploads your iTunes playlists, so you don't have to duplicate them.

Once you have your music in the cloud, Google Music works great. Android users can see and play their entire collection and easily save individual songs, albums or playlists for offline listening. Via the Web app, users of other devices can play songs even while using other apps.

But Google Music has one big shortcoming compared with other services: Once you've uploaded your songs to Google, you can't download those tracks back to your computer. That could be a problem if your hard drive crashes and you want to use a different service.

Still, it's hard not to like a free service that lets you listen to your music just about everywhere.



-Price: $25 per year

-Likes: Matching feature much quicker than uploading; works seamlessly on iOS devices; good quality sound

-Dislikes: Not available for older iOS devices or non-iOS gadgets; activating service turns off Genius playlist feature; most expensive of three services




-Price: $20 per year; includes 20 gigabytes of storage for documents and photos

-Likes: Works seamlessly on Kindle Fire; available for other Android devices and through Web on iPad; offers unlimited storage; less expensive than iTunes Match

-Dislikes: Uploading collection can take days; Uploader stalled out repeatedly, didn't recognize duplicates, didn't upload iTunes playlists, and does not automatically upload new songs bought outside Amazon; Web interface unusable on the




-Price: Free

-Likes: Works seamlessly on standard Android devices; available on other devices through well-designed Web app; Music Manager automatically uploads iTunes playlists and new songs purchased outside of Google

-Dislikes: Uploading collection can take days; Music Manager stalled out multiple times while uploading and didn't recognize duplicate songs; no way to download songs to PC


Explore further: LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

More information: Troy Wolverton is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.

1 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Usefulness of 'Cloud' is a little hazy

Apr 19, 2011

"The Cloud," which is also simply known as online storage, got a bit more crowded recently with the launch of a new Internet locker from Amazon.

Review: iCloud 'just works' for songs, so far

Oct 19, 2011

Syncing music from your iPhone or iPad across computers has got to be one of the least enjoyable experiences in Apple's computing ecosystem. The advent of iCloud was meant to lift the headaches of this cord-reliant ...

Apple's cloud music could finally make piracy pay

Jun 07, 2011

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs on Monday introduced more than just a cloud storage system for songs that fans buy legitimately through iTunes. He unveiled a system that might finally get music lovers to pay for the songs they ...

Recommended for you

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

Apr 18, 2014

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

Apr 18, 2014

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

White House updating online privacy policy

Apr 18, 2014

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

( —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...