iTunes pioneered the model of buying à la carte digital music downloads back in the early 2000s. However, over the past decade, several compelling alternatives have emerged offering great catalogs often at cheaper prices and with fewer restrictions. For those seeking DRM-free music downloads outside the Apple ecosystem, excellent options for both iOS and Android users include Amazon MP3, Google Play, Bandcamp, HDtracks, and more niche stores like Beatport and 7digital.
One of the first and still best destinations for DRM-free music downloads is Amazon MP3. Launching in 2007, Amazon leveraged its cloud infrastructure expertise to build a high-quality music store integrated with many of its existing services. Years before Apple Music or Spotify, Amazon MP3 popularized the concept of uploading your existing music library for anytime access from all devices.
Benefits of Amazon MP3 include:
- Huge catalog with over 90 million tracks and albums
- Support for iOS, Android, Fire OS, Echo, and desktop apps
- Hundreds of daily deals with albums discounted to $5 or less
- Occasional free full album exclusives sponsored by artists
- Upload purchased music to combine with your cloud library
- High-quality 256kbps MP3 files without cumbersome DRM
Easy Amazon integration makes it simple for existing Prime members to enjoy ad-free streaming through Prime Music while still purchasing select albums or songs à la carte from the MP3 store. However, Amazon Music apps and cloud storage access does require creating an Amazon account. Still, for those already embedded in Amazon’s ecosystem, seamless commerce and cloud continuity between Prime Music and Amazon MP3 offer great combined value.
As the primary media store for Android products, Google Play Music & Movies features an extensive music catalog that rivals iTunes. When paired with YouTube Music, Google Play integrates excellent discovery tools by leveraging machine learning algorithms analyzing lyrical and musical connections.
Reasons Google Play Music appeals include:
- Free cloud locker for uploading 50,000 of your own songs
- Support for high-resolution audio up to 24bit/192kHz
- Access unlimited ad-free songs through YouTube Music Premium
- Radio-style stations based on any artist, song, or genre
- Familiar buying experience for Android faithful
- Promotional discounts or free content common
For Android users, Google Play Music & Movies offers the most cohesive user experience. However, music purchases do not transfer to iOS devices. Still, competitive pricing with frequent specials and tight YouTube integration pushes many Android users to favor Google Play for collecting digital music.
A popular community-focused music platform, Bandcamp facilitates artists and small labels selling albums direct to fans. Musicians customize Bandcamp pages showcasing their catalogs, merch, vinyl records, and even concert tickets. With a streaming preview player and options to purchase lossless downloads, signed limited editions, fan club memberships, and physical media, Bandcamp offers an immersive artist-to-audience connection.
Advantages of Bandcamp include:
- Independent artist community not confined to major labels
- Standard lossless downloads or hi-res options on select albums
- Merchandise, vinyl records, and other exclusives from artists
- Direct email from musicians with new release announcements
- Name your price promotions letting fans set album costs
Supporting indie artists while accessing uniqueness not found on mainstream platforms appeals to many passionate music lovers. Bandcamp delivers a vibrant artist-focused alternative to the larger stores.
For audiophiles wanting uncompressed fidelity, HDtracks provides an extensive catalog of albums available as lossless downloads and on hi-res formats like FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and more. Curating specialty labels focused on quality recordings in jazz, classical, electronic, and classic rock genres, HDtracks offers an unrivaled selection of ultra-high quality music.
Reasons discerning listeners love HDtracks:
- Lossless CD-quality or hi-res beyond CD uploads
- Genre-focused boutique labels like 2L, Chesky Records
- Print booklets, liner notes, and lyrics bundled
- Advanced audio electronics seller partnerships
- Free music player apps supporting hi-res formats
- Frequent discounts rewarding loyal customers
While the music diversity lags competitors, there is no better resource for legal high fidelity downloads than HDtracks for connecting audiophile equipment with worthy source material.
Specialty Dance Music Stores
For fans of electronic dance music styles, highly-focused music stores like Beatport and Juno Download cater to DJs, producers, and connoisseurs of niche subgenres through targeted curation and promotional tools. Both platforms are longtime pillars for dance music discovery feeding the latest tracks to club scenesters and bedroom DJs alike.
Perks of targeted dance music platforms:
- Curated new release feeds tuned to micro-genres
- DJ-friendly formats like continuous mix MP3s
- Mix recording from streaming previews to sketch mixes
- Embeddable players for music blogs and promotion
- Parties and live streams to discover fresh cutting-edge acts
- Close integration with production and DJ hardware/software
While nowhere as mass market as iTunes or Amazon Music, Beatport and Juno Download deliver an uncompromising selection of electronic music for $1-3 per-track tailored to veteran listeners and working DJs.
Escaping Apple’s Walled Garden
For over 15 years, iTunes Music reigned as the premier à la carte media download store. But limitations like having to access purchases through Apple devices and restrictions converting files to open formats led power users to explore flexible alternatives. As the streaming age marginalizes digital sales, niche use cases still drive customers to diversified music storefronts fine-tuned to specific listening needs.
The likes of Amazon MP3, Google Play, Bandcamp, HDtracks and more dance music specialists liberate consumers from closed ecosystems while better serving Android customers, indie artists, audiophiles, and dance fans. Rather than centralizing around iTunes, discerning music buyers increasing flow to diverse distributors catering to their listening preferences. And alternatives continuing to multiply ensure vibrant digital music commerce staying decentralized and format agnostic into the foreseeable future.