World of Zune

Zune Pass Explained
A Music Subscription Service for your Zune HD



We review the Zune Pass—the key reason to own a Zune HD over an iPod Touch, in our humble opinion.

We also compare and contrast it with the two other major music subscription services—Napster and Rhapsody, although neither of them is compatible with a Zune HD if you want to take your music "on the go".

Do you have a Zune pass? Share your review here!

Music Subscription Services and the Zune Pass

The Zune Pass, Rhapsody, and Napster are the three leading music subscription services. Napster was the original and, needless to say, 10 years ago it started off as an illegal service (whether it intended to be or not) and allowed people to download mp3 music files for free.

The RIAA and many music artists stepped in and demanded that they be compensated, and the legal system was on their side. Thus, Napster closed down for a while and then became reborn as probably the first subscription service for music.

Rhapsody began as an online radio station and now has services similar to Napster's, and Microsoft has now given us Zune and the Zune Pass.

All of the services have internal search engines that enable you to search for artists, songs, albums, or genres. All of the services can select auto-mixes of artists or genres or genre-related online streaming radio stations for you to listen to.

About Rhapsody

With Rhapsody you can listen to your choice of music mp3s selected from over 8 million songs on your Windows PC, Web browser, or even through TiVo® via Rhapsody Channels. The service will also give you personalized suggestions based upon your expressed musical tastes.

Rhapsody Unlimited costs $13 per month and is compatible with Macs; Rhapsody to Go costs $15 per month and is currently not compatible with Macs.

Why would anyone choose Rhapsody to Go, then?

It's because your additional $2 per month for that subscription service allows you to download thousands and thousands of those mp3s to certain portable mp3 players (those that are supported by Rhapsody; you have to buy one separately).

Rhapsody offers a free 14-day trial subscription, too.

About Napster

Napster to Go costs about $15 per month, but if you sign up for one year by paying for 12 months in advance you also get a free Zen portage mp3 player, which is one of the Napster-supported portable music devices.

Napster Mobile allows you to directly download mp3s to your cell phone. Napster, like Rhapsody, has deals with all of the major recording labels plus many, many indie artists, so you have millions of songs to select from. Also like Rhapsody, you can download entire albums.

Under their "Things to Know" section at their website, Napster lists the following bullets:

  • Napster To Go tracks can be downloaded on up to three PCs and transferred to three portable music players or phones
  • To burn CDs, you can buy tracks as unrestricted MP3s
  • iPod players are not compatible with Napster To Go
  • Napster To Go is currently available for Windows XP and Vista only

Note: you also have to make one-time purchases of mp3 tracks in order to burn CDs through Rhapsody.

About Zune Pass

Microsoft's Zune Pass is the latest entrant into the world of music subscription services.

Featuring a more attractive but also arguably more confusing-to-use software interface, Zune emphasizes multimedia more than Rhapsody or Napster—this includes movies, podcasts, videos, images, and social networking in addition to music.

As far as the music goes, for $15 per month you get a Zune Pass and can do the unlimited download thing for any music in the large Zune collection including downloading songs or whole albums to your software on your Windows-compatible computer or the Zune portable player, and use features called Channels, Mixview, and Smart DJ to discover new music or create a streaming mix for you without your having to go through your whole collection manually.

In addition, each month you can download up to 10 mp3s that you would normally have to pay for the one-time-cost way and they become yours forever—in other words those 10 mp3s can be burned to CDs without your needing to buy them as unrestricted mp3s.

Zune offers a 14-day free trial.

Summary

It needs to be kept in mind that each of the three services has some music that the others don't, while in general there is a lot of overlap in selections.

Likewise, there is some music with each service that you cannot download for free—even if you don't care about burning a CD you still need to pay a one-time fee to purchase the music.

Prices vary depending on the service, and Zune seems to have overall the most competitive pricing here, with Napster being the most expensive although they do offer a volume discount.

All of this depends on the deals that the services have been able to cut with record labels with the compliance of the recording artists. (Napster of late seems particularly prone to losing deals that it has previously cut, so that music that you downloaded for free to your collection suddenly disappears or becomes pay-only access, which as a user you could become extremely annoyed with.)

Subscription based music services are the way that the entire music business is going, overall. Music lovers today want to be able to conveniently select mixes of individual favorite songs, and with unlimited access to a few million songs and tens of thousands of albums that don't have to be bought outright.

Subscription based music services easily offer the most affordable choice here. Imagine what it would cost you to go to the record store and buy 100 albums per month, or even just select individual mp3s by the thousands but need to pay anywhere from $0.79 to $1.49 each!

The Zune Pass service overall seems the most competitive service right now. The multimedia approach, the sound quality of the computer-streamed tracks, the competitive pricing on music that does need to be purchased, and those 10 forever-owned freebies per month make it a sweet deal—and one that you can try out for two weeks at no cost!




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