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Christmas Gift Guide

Best sites to buy MP3s

Bandcamp

iTunes

7Digital

Google Play Music

Amazon Music

Bleep

CD Baby

Murfie

eMusic

Drip

Streaming music is great, but it's not always convenient. You'll need a solid internet connection (offline mode aside), and to keep your music library you'll need to pay a monthly fee until you die.

Buying digital music such as MP3s makes sense for a number of reasons. It's 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.

Whether you're looking to buy a music single or whole albums, here are the best sites to visit. We also include information on the typical pricing and the bit rate of encoded albums.

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Average cost per album: $8

Maximum bit rate: 320kbps + Lossless

Now with the support of many indie music labels, Bandcamp is our favorite alternative to iTunes, especially as our own tastes run to the more esoteric. We also appreciate the fact that you can download in whichever format you like (MP3, FLAC, Apple Lossless) and seemingly as many times as you like, without paying extra.

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Average cost per album: $10

Maximum bit rate: 256kbps (AAC)

Yes, we cheated, iTunes doesn't sell MP3s. Instead, it sells its own AAC format, but these files can be read by almost every modern player. As the biggest digital music marketplace, iTunes is hard for us to ignore, and its catalog should furnish all but your most obscure needs.

Caption by / Photo by 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.

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Average cost per album: $10

Maximum bit rate: 320kbps

With regular free albums, decent pricing and a tie-in with Google's Chromecast, the Google Play Music store offers a lot for your money.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

Average cost per album: $9.50

Maximum bit rate: 256kbps

If you're an Amazon Prime member, then Amazon Music makes a lot of sense. You get a music store in addition to streaming and automatic rips of physical discs that you buy.

Caption by / Photo by 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.

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Average cost per album: $10

Maximum bit rate: 320kbps + Lossless

Bandcamp's main competition in the indie space, CD Baby offers musicians and music fans a place where they can buy and sell their music. Not as browse-friendly as Bandcamp (due to the lack of label involvement and "name" bands), but it's a boon to truly independent artists.

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Average cost per album: Varies ($1 to $10)

Maximum bit rate: 320kbps

Murfie is a virtual music store that stores, sells and rips second-hand CDs, in addition to some new discs. As the last bastion before outright piracy, Murfie is a good way to find music that's unavailable elsewhere.

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Average cost per album: $7

Maximum bit rate: 200-320kbps

eMusic claims to have had the first legal MP3 album available on the web -- They Might Be Giants' "Long Tall Weekend." While eMusic's fortunes have ebbed and flowed, it's still holding on, and it now offers tracks from $0.49 each. Annoyingly, you have to prepay a set amount each month and going as little as one penny over your limit means you have to pay $5 (or more) for additional booster packs.

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Average cost per album: $5 ($10 a month)

Maximum bit rate: 320kbps + Lossless

Like eMusic, Drip is a subscription service, but it's more akin to an old-school record club than an actual store. Pay 10 bucks for the record label or artist of your choice (some indies, lots of dance) and get a minimum of two releases a month.

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