Top cloud services for storing and streaming music

Want to bring your music collection with you? With Amazon Cloud Player, Apple iCloud, or Google Play, you can.

Online music lockers not only back up your music library but also let you listen to it on most any device, anywhere you have Internet access. All three of the services we looked at work on PCs and Macs; mobile device support is more fractured, however.

Amazon Cloud Player

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Amazon is the most agnostic music service, supporting the Kindle Fire, Android devices, iPhones, and the iPod Touch. Although an iPad version isnt available yet, the Web interface works fine on mobile Safari (albeit without some Flash functionality, such as the ability to drag songs into a playlist). It leaves Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry users out in the cold, though.

Amazon customers enjoy 5GB of free storage; you can purchase more starting at $20 per month for 20GB. Songs bought through Amazon dont count against your data cap. Unfortunately, the service has an Achilles heel: Amazons Cloud Player supports only MP3 and AAC files, leaving you on your own to convert unsupported file formats.

Apple iCloud

Just as Google Play is all about Android, iCloud is limited to iOS mobile devices. Fair enough, but many users will object to having to purchase an iTunes Match subscription ($25 annually) in order to sync their entire music libraries to iCloud. Without that, you can stream only the music youve bought through iTunes. The service will stream all the tracks in your iCloud library as 256-kbps AAC, regardless of how you originally encoded them (thats fine if you encoded them at a lower bit rate, but its terrible if you en­­coded them using a lossless codec).

Although Apple gives you 5GB of storage space, everything you store in iCloudphotos, documents, music, and morecounts against that quota. An additional 10GB, 20GB, or 50GB costs $20, $40, or $100 per year, respectively.

Google Play

On Google Play, you can store up to 20,000 songs, with a maximum per-song file size of 250MB. (Songs purchased from Google dont count against that quota, but currently Google offers no means of buying more storage.) If you rip your CDs and encode them to FLAC, OGG, or AAC (the codec of choice for iTunes), Google Plays Music Manager (for Windows, Mac, and Linux) will transcode your tracks to 320-kbps MP3s (youll get a lower bit rate with a slow Internet connection). What Google Play wont do is play nice with iOS or Windows Phone 7 devices.

The Winner

In this category were declaring a three-way tie. Google Play supports the largest number of codecs, Amazon Cloud Player supports the most platforms, and Apple iCloud is the most natural fit for the iPad.

CHART NOTE: n/a=not applicable

This story, "Top cloud services for storing and streaming music" was originally published by PCWorld.

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