Best sites to buy MP3 and digital music you own forever


Sarah Tew/CNET

Streaming music from a service like Spotify or Apple Music is great, but it’s not always convenient. For example, you’ll need a solid internet connection. And while you can download songs for offline play, once you stop paying the monthly fee, access to your music disappears.

Buying digital music such as MP3s makes sense for a number of reasons. The tracks are yours to keep and put on whatever device you want, and it better funds the artist and labels who can then keep making more music. Many of the following sites offer lossless music for sale as well, which offers a noticeable increase in quality and usually costs the same.

Whether you’re looking to buy a music single or whole albums, here are the best sites to visit. I’ll start with the biggies — iTunes and Amazon — and move on to some of my favorites that you may not have heard of, including Bandcamp.

Apple

Average cost per album: $10

Maximum bit rate: 256Kbps (AAC)

iTunes may no longer be the star of Apple’s lineup, given that Apple Music is on a tear right now, but it’s still one of the biggest digital marketplaces. If you use MacOS Catalina you can access it from Music > iTunes Store. Technically iTunes doesn’t sell MP3s — instead it sells its own AAC format, but these files can be read by almost every modern player. iTunes still sets the standard for lossy music downloads, and its catalog should furnish all but your most obscure needs.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Average cost per album: $9.50

Maximum bit rate: 256Kbps

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, then the Amazon Music offering makes a lot of sense. You get a (limited) streaming service, a music store to buy MP3s, in addition to streaming and automatic rips of physical discs that you buy. 

Note that although Amazon scuttled its “digital locker” service that stores your personal MP3s, the MP3s you buy from Amazon will still be available for streaming and download.

Average cost per album: $10

Maximum bit rate: 320Kbps, Lossless

With the support of many indie music labels, Bandcamp is perhaps the best alternative to iTunes or Amazon, particularly if your tastes run to the more esoteric. The site enables you to download in whichever format you like (MP3, FLAC, Apple Lossless) and seemingly as many times as you like, without paying extra.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Average cost per album: $9

Maximum bit rate: 320Kbps, Lossless

If you’re looking for a wide selection of MP3s (and also FLAC files) 7Digital is available in a number of countries and has decent pricing and regular sales offers. Though music is added to the site regularly it’s often more difficult to find — in the US the front page and other discovery features haven’t been updated in two years.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Average cost per album: $10

Maximum bit rate: 320Kbps 

If your tastes run to dance music with a sprinkling of indie, then you’ll find a lot to love about Bleep. The site also has a good selection of 16-bit and 24-bit FLAC that aren’t subject to the price hikes of some competitive vendors.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Average cost per album: $7

Maximum bit rate: 200 to 320Kbps

eMusic claims to have had the first legal MP3 album available on the web: They Might Be Giants’ Long Tall Weekend, released in 1999. While eMusic’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed, it’s still holding on, and it now offers tracks from 49 cents each.