Hands-on with the Datz Music Lounge

We take the unlimited major-label MP3 download service for a spin. As much Madonna and Muse as you want may sound appealing, but we have some bad news to break

Unlimited MP3 downloads from major labels for an entire year, for a one-off £99 subscription. That's the Datz Music Lounge in a nutshell, as we reported last week . We've spent the weekend cracking open this DRM-free nut, testing the Lounge to its limits, but it's not all comfy sofas and free cocktails.

The Good

First off, Datz does indeed deliver MP3s from major labels EMI and Warner, and they're impressively encoded with the LAME MP3 encoder, usually right up to the MP3 maximum of 320Kbps. We downloaded half a gigabyte of songs from Madonna, The Streets, Massive Attack and REM.

Downloads were speedy, usually hitting about 800KBps. The Lounge uses an embedded version of Internet Explorer as its main interface, giving a very Web-like browsing experience. More on that in a sec, but when you choose to download a track, it simply pops up as a download dialogue box, with which you can save your MP3s to any location.

The Bad

We discovered, however, that about half of the songs we downloaded lacked any usable ID3 tagging, such as track numbering or even album titles. Yellowcard's most recent album sat in iTunes in alphabetical track order, so we had to look up the album on Amazon to add track numbers, then tell iTunes the title of the album.

Correct tagging has always been one of the perks of buying music legally, as a great deal of downloads from LimeWire -- the illegal service Datz is trying to compete with -- lack any tagging. We see this as a major issue that needs resolving.

The Ugly

Even more important is the issue of browsing for music. The Datz Music Lounge software is very reminiscent of Channel 4's 4oD application -- it's a clunky implementation of Internet Explorer, and we didn't enjoy using it.

Perhaps it would've been better if the software offered any realistic sorting options, or if it let you download albums all in one go. But it doesn't. All songs must be downloaded individually, and search results for artists list all available songs in alphabetical order, with no option to sort by album or date of release.

Browsing is a similar affair. Choosing to browse the metal genre just brought up a list of several thousand songs in no obvious order, with no choice to filter or sort by a range of options. This is not a music discovery service.

The Bottom Line

While the Datz Music Lounge delivers on the DRM-free downloads, it first needs to secure the other two major labels. Too many of our searches brought up no useful results, and this will put off the kids the service hopes to drag from P2P.

It then needs to seriously overhaul its interface. We're not just talking a little make-up and new shoes, but an entire gender change, a face transplant and a full blood transfusion. It feels less than half-baked, and requires so much time and patience to search for an artist, download the tracks individually, then edit all the ID3 info, that it makes even iTunes DRM look friendly.

The fundamentals are in place, however, and we think with the right alterations to the interface and a better roster of music, this could be a killer service. We'll certainly be keeping our eyes on it, and we suggest you do too. But at this moment in time, we just can't recommend it.

Have a poke over the next few pages for screenshots of the service, and don't miss our previous coverage for further technical details.

Back and forward buttons in the top-left corner remind you you're using Internet Explorer, just in case the horribly clunky navigation wasn't reminder enough.

Here's the results page for Muse, Devon's finest export since the cream tea. All songs are sorted by track title, and there's no 'Sort by...' option for other views.

Here's your advanced browsing page: a monstrous tag cloud. We're particularly keen to hear music from the 'Do Not Use' genre. If Web 2.0 design themes turn you on, perhaps you'll enjoy this. But for discovering music it's about as useful as being shot in both ears.

Our Datz downloads folder. As you can see, some songs are correctly tagged with album title and track number. But a hell of a lot aren't, and it doesn't appear to be limited to certain artists.

 

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