eMusic Review

emusic main eMusic Review

With Amazon MP3 and iTunes out of the way- the two immediate giants in the music store world- it’s time to turn to some of the smaller services. First off is eMusic.

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Requirements and software

eMusic is another service that only works in certain countries. I was unable to find anywhere on the site which listed where it actually works, so I don’t know if it works anywhere outside the US. The good news is it does work with a proxy and doesn’t check your IP when using the desktop software (like Amazon Unboxed video does, which is the reason that service won’t get reviewed). To download you need the eMusic Downloader which is a software application very similar to the one Amazon MP3 has, which downloads your music/audiobooks and lets you auto-import to iTunes or Windows Media Player. Besides the fact the software crashed the first time I tried to download anything, it’s a decent application- however I still think that services that offer DRM free music like this should also allow for direct downloads to ensure maximum compatibility not only with mobile devices but also with shared computers at libraries etc. eMusic is browser based, no reason why the download shouldn’t be.

Concept and pricing

eMusic isn’t like Amazon MP3 or iTunes; it’s subscription based, where you pay a price for X amount of downloads per month. That price per track is lower, but you have less flexibility for when you want to buy something, and if you don’t use your credits that’s money lost. Pricing is as follows:


emusic musicprices eMusic Review


emusic audiobookprices eMusic Review

Finding music

Being browser based, that means that all of the browsing is done online. As with Amazon MP3 this results in somewhat of a more basic look and feel to it than with iTunes and it’s more about information that aesthetics. You have two basic starting points for browsing; the audiobook main page and the music main page. The music main page simple has a list of various things you can browse by; genres, newly added, special recommendations, live music, featured music, release date, member rating and alphabetical by album/artist etc. A lot less flashy than either Amazon or iTunes and it looks a bit “spreadsheet”, even though it does give you your main options straight up. While there is a way to browse by the most popular music this isn’t really featured on the main page, of reason I will get to later.

Browsing genres will give you a better main page with some actual music on it rather than just shortcuts, complete with recommendations of albums and artists. You can also browse further by sub-genre or “style” as they call it, such as “post-rock” or “indie rock”. If you instead browse by year and not genre, you get only a basic list of albums as your main page and the same goes for browsing by artist/album etc. It really does look a bit spreadsheet and half-hearted in many places, almost giving you the feel of walking through a ghost town. Part of that is also the fact you see very few popular artists, which again I’ll talk more about later.

eMusic does show you a tree structured navigation bar on top to see where in the system you are, but it’s a bit backwards at times in my opinion. For instance, if you browse to “electronic ambient” music via the editor’s choice menu, you’re at home>browse>editor’s picks>electronic>electronic ambient. That’s fine, but if you then want to jump into all electronic ambient music you have to browse from scratch, while if the build up was home>browse>electronic>electronic ambient>editor’s picks you would have the most specific filters at the end and wouldn’t be locked to a somewhat “random” filter at anything but the last level. I’m nitpicking of course, but I personally often jump around using the navigation bar and having filters like editor’s picks hang around wherever I go can make it hard to know what you’re actually looking at.

Artist pages give you the basic info for the band as well as artist picture if available. There are also boxes with related artists, YouTube videos, Flickr photos and Wikipedia entries. In other words, half the artist pages are outsourced, but it’s nice to have the info there anyways. Each artist page also has a list of music by that artist, divided into albums, singles, live music, compilations etc. eMusic never really seem to bother with listing separate tracks anywhere but the album pages, which can be a bit annoying if you want to browse all of the artist’s music by track not album.

Album pages have the standard album art, track list with previews, comments and ratings. Previews don’t seem to be flash based, but they work just fine for me- not sure you don’t need some extra plugin of sorts for it to work, though. The YouTube and Flickr photos have also made it to the album pages, as well as a nice feature that displays member playlists to give a new way of finding related music.

Downloading single tracks or albums is done on a one-click basis, which can be a problem if you mistake the smaller preview button for the larger download button. There’s no confirmation, no pop-ups, it simply starts downloading using the desktop software.

Finding Audiobooks

There isn’t much difference between browsing music and browsing audiobooks. The audiobook section has a nicer main page, but from there it’s pretty much the same. No YouTube videos, Wikipedia entries or Flickr photos (naturally), but also no previews- which is a pity seeing how bad some narrators are. Still one-click downloads, which can be a real problem with audiobooks since they cost 20 times as much as music. One wrong cli
ck and you’re out $10.


As mentioned earlier eMusic doesn’t seem to care much for single tracks and so don’t list them. In my previous reviews of Amazon MP3 and iTunes Music Store I’ve used a list of 20 artists and the number of songs available for each to give somewhat of a view of the selection in the store. Double entries, “X feat. Y” listings and so on mess up the results so it’s by no means an accurate representation, but it does give a general feel of the selection of each store. With no single tracks for eMusic I had to use number of albums instead, but you can extrapolate probable number of song by multiplying with 10-15 tracks per album. It’s flawed, I know, but there’s no good way of testing the selection. I do have to say that eMusic have a very poor selection, you’ll rarely see any popular artists anywhere which is why a “top 10” list is useless and so under prioritized- it’s top 10 of unpopular tracks, more or less. It lacks some of the most popular artists on the list and gives you a message complaining about licensing issues with the record label. Excuses might make your customers understand, but it won’t make them use your services. The list still shows the overall standing of the music stores so far: iTunes has the most, Amazon second, eMusic definitely worst by a good margin. As I review more software, the list will get updated.

spotify selection eMusic Review

I haven’t developed a way to test audiobook selection and won’t do so either. However, as a very heavy user of audiobooks (and hence it was the first thing I tried on eMusic) I can assure you that the selection is just as bad as for music. Part of it is the fact that the bigger companies like Audible produce a lot of the books themselves, and that leaves eMusic with whatever scrap they can buy the rights to. I’m sure the DRM free MP3 part doesn’t help with getting the rights to sell audiobooks.

File formats

I’ve already mentioned that eMusic uses DRM free MP3 as the format of choice, which is a good thing of course since it’s directly compatible with everything. To be more specific, most tracks are V0 VBR MP3, the same as Amazon. Older tracks might be V2 or even V5 VBR, but eMusic says these are marked clearly. There shouldn’t be any major issues with quality, in other words. I’m not sure if eMusic has tracks in joint stereo or not, which some people pointed out Amazon does.

Audiobooks are also MP3, which means they’ll play on any player as well. The books are split into separate tracks and numbered accordingly so there shouldn’t be an issue with sorting the files properly. Bit rate for the audiobook I tried was 64kbps which should be sufficient for speech and saves some space, but a full audio book is still a sizable download.

As for tags, eMusic has everything tagged fine- but some tracks don’t have album art at all (on the site or the downloaded files). I’m not sure how they can get their hands on music without also having access to the album picture, but it’s something people should be aware of. On more common tracks, album art was already tagged and the size of the album art seemed to be 600×600 for most, although I haven’t checked that many files.


eMusic has some nice prices if you really use all of your credits, but the biggest flaw of the service- the one that is for all intents and purposes fatal- is the selection. You might find music you want on there and be able to get some of the music you want cheaper than on other services- especially if you’re into older stuff, indie music etc, but you can’t expect to use eMusic as your only source for content, be it audiobooks or music- the selection is simply too poor from a mainstream point of view. The subscription model is also a bit annoying in that it tries to spam you with better (read: more expensive) plans both when you sign up, when you browse the store, when you try to leave and in your cancellation confirmation email. They also didn’t ask why I left, but considering how they seem to try to hide how poor the selection is I have a feeling they know. All in all eMusic has great prices but that doesn’t help when the selection is this bad.


Jan Kalkhoven on November 16, 2009 4:23 PM

I use emusic already for 6 years from the Netherlands and I’m very happy with it, every month I download 75 tracks and I don’t need much time to find 75 tracks I like.

Rob on November 16, 2009 4:39 PM

Holy…there’s hardly any selection from what you list there. Try Puretracks.com, MUCH MORE selection than that.

Brad on November 16, 2009 4:57 PM

You dont go to emusic to look for the stuff from the “majors”. They do have large quantities of stuff from the indie labels, where the best stuff is anyway.That said, i recently canceled my subscription due to their constant lowering of “what you get” (started out w/ 150/mo then 100 the 90 then 75 and finally started charging a full 10 for all albums w/ only a few songs) and raising the prices at the same time (started at 15 then 20 then 22 [USD] for LESS songs).

Botio on November 16, 2009 6:16 PM

Well, I’ve been using emusic for 3 years, and I’m very satisfied with the selection.I guess it depends on your musical preferences.They have loads of music that’s quite difficult to find otherwise, on other stores or on physical medias. Sure you won’t find much from the majors catalogs there.There is a large choice of dubstep, drum and bass, ambient, indie pop/rock, jazz for instance.Also I’m satisfied with how they reward fidelity over time. Now I get 50 downloads/month for 14€.There are some things that are not perfect though:- they are not very good at classifying music, it’s not easy to put genres on everything but they could definitively do better.- The sound could be better sometimes, 320bps mp3 or even flac would be nice.- their official client does not work on linux (crashes), there are alternatives that work well though.

Jordan on November 16, 2009 6:20 PM

I’ve found they have loads of techno/electronica/trance and they offer those nice 50 free downloads.

Skip on November 16, 2009 6:54 PM

I’ve been enjoying eMusic for several years now and I have to agree with a few of the others in that the site makes it very clear that it has one of the largest selections of Independent Artists. I think that is the whole purpose of the site, not to be like itunes. I have discovered many great artists that I would probable never have done using another service. It is easy to get suggestions from other users as well as the emusic staff itself. If an album has more than 12songs you usually get the extra songs for free when you download the whole album, the more you buy, the better the suggestions based on your preferences. eMusic is a great way to discover new artists, the quality of the tracks is generally good, you can always re-download if you loose any of your music and the staff goes to great lengths to help you find what you want.For me it is easy to find the well known artists on sites like itunes.etc, I have to admit that I really enjoy discovering new artists and this it the best site I have found for that purpose. Lastly, the pricing did go up a bit since they recently expanded their selection with some more mainstream artists, however I still think they offer a variety of plans that are reasonable and competitive.I’ve used almost every music service I know of and I still prefer eMusic for their unique selection and their efforts to help me discover new music is excellent, in my opinion.

Mike on November 16, 2009 8:25 PM

eMusic also has nice 15 or 30 day free trial offers available (do a web search), in which you can get 25 or 50 or 75 free tunes plus 1 or 2 audiobooks; very easy to quit within the trial period and you don’t pay anything …

Clay on November 16, 2009 11:04 PM

I’ve used eMusic for about 5 years now, and it’s important to note that it’s geared towards independent labels. If all you want is top 40 stuff, eMusic is going to be nearly useless for you. But for jazz, classical, and indie fans who are willing to do a little digging and a little homework, you’re rewarded with much better prices and sufficient selection. What you’re willing to put in is what you’ll end up getting from this service. Also, in my time using eMusic, I’ve never had a problem using up my downloads in any month.

Richard A on November 17, 2009 12:48 AM

As others have point out, eMusic is a much different model than Amazon or iTunes. They are known for having artists on independent labels, and many of their long time subscribers were upset recently when they increased prices and added Sony artists to their catalog.I like jazz and have no problem using my 30 credits each month. I do not like the fact that credits expire if you don’t use them but overall I am pleased with the service.

travelbore on November 17, 2009 9:56 AM

This set of reviews is great – very informative. Thanks for taking the time.Is there a specialist download facility for classical music?

anon on November 17, 2009 11:30 AM

EMUSIC SELLS YOUR EMAIL TO SPAMMERSI joined emusic using a unique email address (emusic@ my own domain). After cancelling my account (it was just a trial), I have been receiving all kinds of spam to that email address, every day. The address was never posted anywhere; I do this sort of thing all the time, and so far emusic is the only company that’s sold out my info.Just websearch for “emusic spam” and you’ll see I’m not alone.I would never resubscribe to such a dishonest service, and I recommend you avoid it as well.

Greg on November 17, 2009 3:59 PM

I’m not sure comparing iTunes and Amazon to EMusic is a real apples to apples comparison, because of 2 reasons:1. Emusic has a larger selection of independent music and uses a subscription model. 2. The others are sites that try to cater to everyone looking for everything.Many iPod loving pop drones would never use Emusic because they would not recognize much of its offerings vs iTunes pop for all focus.

Dan on November 18, 2009 2:18 AM

I’ve been using emusic for 4 years. It’s been fun to watch quality indie bands that were popular on emusic hit mainstream some 18-24 months later. Great for us indie kids!

Ross on November 18, 2009 11:00 PM

Wow, this guy just didn’t get it. Apples & orange to iTune/Amazon. I’ve been a member for three plus years. There are dozens of artists that I’ve tried out on emusic that I wouldn’t have tried elsewhere for a dollar a song.Also, he misses an extensive classical catalogue, including the entire Naxos line.Finally, recently emusic acquired the whole Columbia back catalogue. Where is mention of this? I was able to put together a great Philly Sould compilation on emusic.For someone knocking on the door of 50 y.o. emusic has been a great entry to music not as easily available elsewhere.Try again!

Nick on November 19, 2009 12:07 AM

I’ve been an eMusic subscriber for many years and while I agree with most of the responses, I also agree with the author of the article.Pretty much everything I’ve downloaded from eMusic is available from Amazon MP3, but there’s lots and lots of stuff on Amazon that’s not on eMusic. So the selection is much more limited. However, if you like indie music, older stuff, classic Jazz, or anything else that’s not the most current popular music, then there’s lots to be had at eMusic, and as long as you’re ok with buying a certain amount there each month, you’ll get more for your dollar there than at Amazon MP3.And I’ve certainly discovered a lot of artists I hadn’t known about in the process.

Andreas Ødegård on November 19, 2009 5:42 AM

@Ross: I’m well aware that emusic has other kinds of music than itunes/amazon, but it would be more biased to completely change the 20 artists i test seleciton by in order for emusic to appear better than it does now. I can’t possibly check every single sub-genre to see the seleciotn in there as you apparently think I should. As I already wrote, emusic is a cheap option but you cant expect to use it for all your music. The fact that you were able to “put together a great Philly Sould compilation on emusic” is a good thing for people who want that kind of music, but this is a review for the average, mainstream music enthusiast- and emusic doesn’t do very well in that regard.

Rob C on November 19, 2009 11:21 AM

Another long-tims Emusic subscriber here. I think you’ll find a lot of overlap between Emusic customers and Anythingbutipod readers.Emusic focuses on indie music, but its selection even in this narrow range isn’t necessarily great. I still find things I want only on Lala.com, ITunes, or another site. Or I find them there first and must buy them before they’re released on Emusic.It’s the low prices – and the exploration of new music that it affords be – that keeps me an Emusic customer, even with the recent price increase. I listen to music podcasts – The Waiting Room, The Tripwire, NYUB – that constantly introduce me to great music and bands that I’ve never heard before. Emusic’s pricing lets me take a chance on some of these, downloading songs or whole albums, that I would never – could never – do at 99 cents a track.I’m looking forward to your Lala review. I’ve started to use Lala in concert with Emusic. Like most services, Emusic allows only 30-second previews; Lala allows you to listen to any song all the way through, once. I listen to complete albums on Lala, then download the songs I like from Emusic. I buy songs that aren’t available on Emusic from Lala; it’s displaced Amazon almost entirely for this purpose.Thanks for the great site,Rob

JMac on November 30, 2009 1:36 PM

I ran across this review while looking for opinions on eMusic. I’m another long-time (almost 10 yrs) eMu customer, and while your review is fair given your intended audience, it could be more so if you made it clearer that eMusic is really not for the casual mainstream pop fan. To some extent the comparison with iTunes and Amazon is apples to oranges.There is one glaring problem with your survey, though, and it may partly be eMusic’s fault, not yours. eMu has a HUGE and very high quality classical selection, so your Mozart and Bach numbers are very misleading.Just an observation: I could in fact use eMusic for all my music. I don’t, because there are things I want that aren’t there, but if all other sources were suddenly cut off I could be content with eMusic. My tastes are eclectic but somewhat outside the mainstream.

Brandon on December 20, 2009 5:02 AM

I’ve been using Emusic for about a year now. I pay $11 a month for 30 downloads. They don’t have much in the way of mainstream artists, but they have TONS of indie music (GO M3RADIO!) They only offer 320kbps MP3 VBRas far as I know

swolves on December 25, 2009 6:07 PM

SCAM…cancel page on site won’t work…not even a partial refund…no phone # on site…contact page not working…BUYER BEWARE

DPetty on May 29, 2010 2:44 PM

Rather than subscribe you can buy download cards for $15 – 30 downloads $20 -50 downloads.

DAmsellNDistrezz on August 24, 2011 5:58 AM

eMUSIC’S Free Trial was a total scam and they charged me $99.99 BEFORE MY 7 DAYS WAS OVER AND I DIDN’T DOWNLOAD A THING! poor music selection… site ran me in circles and wouldn’t let me cancel the free trial. I now owe my bank $124.99. Worst late night decision ever!!!

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