Is Amazon Music Unlimited a good deal?

With plans starting at just $4 per month, Amazon's new streaming service sounds like an affordable alternative to the likes of Spotify. But is it really?

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read

Amazon is coming for you, Apple Music . And Spotify . And Google Play Music.

Yesterday, the e-commerce giant rolled out Amazon Music Unlimited, an ad-free streaming service that aims to compete with those established heavyweights. How? With lower prices. Sort of.

Not to be confused with Prime Music, which affords Prime subscribers a fairly limited catalog, Music Unlimited offers "tens of millions" of songs, according to Amazon. (Its competitors get a little more specific, each claiming at least 30 million.) Let's just say it's Amazon's answer to Spotify.

Beyond that, Music Unlimited offers tight integration with Amazon's Echo products. In fact, Echo owners can take advantage of special pricing. Let's take a look at the various subscription options and whether or not they're really a good deal.

If you already have Amazon Prime

You paid $99 for your Prime subscription, which works out to $8.25 per month. Sure, it affords lots of benefits beyond just Prime Music, but you still have to consider that as part of the equation. Existing Prime subscribers can add Music Unlimited for $7.99 per month -- or $79, if you pay annually.

All the competing services charge $9.99 per month for a single-user subscription. So if you're paying for Prime already, another $7.99/month (or an effective $6.58 from an annual payment) is a decent deal -- though hardly a great one.

If you already have an Amazon Echo

Here's where it gets interesting. Echo owners can get Music Unlimited for just $3.99 per month. But -- and this is a big "but" -- that subscription will play your music only via Echo -- and only a single Echo at that. You don't get to listen on the web, and you don't get to use the mobile apps .

Verdict: no, thanks. This might be a bigger deal if you had no other options for unlimited music via Echo. But you do: Spotify. And obviously that service doesn't limit you to a single device.

Admittedly, $3.99 per month is the single cheapest streaming-music option out there, but remember, you still need an Echo, which isn't free.

If you don't have Amazon anything

"Civilians" can get Amazon Music Unlimited for $9.99 per month -- the same price you'd pay for Apple Music, Spotify or the like. So then the question is, how is Music Unlimited better than the competition? At first blush, it appears to be very similar: big catalog, curated playlists, personalized stations and so on. Perhaps the best argument for choosing it is if you think you'll purchase Prime and/or an Echo at some point down the road. But if you go with, say, Spotify from the start, you'll still enjoy Echo integration.

If you have a family

That $9.99 per month is for a single user. If you want a family plan -- even if you already subscribe to Prime -- will cost you $14.99 per month. That allows up to six users to share the service, on par with what you get from Apple , Google and Spotify family plans.

However, Amazon also offers an annual payment option for Music Unlimited: $149, which works out to $12.42 per month. That would make it the least-expensive of the major music services. (I didn't find a discounted annual-payment option for any of the others.)

But, as with the individual plan, the savings are pretty slim -- just a couple of bucks every month. I definitely don't see the value in Amazon's Echo-only plan, which is way too limiting, and unless you already have a subscription to Prime that you like for reasons other than music, the standard $9.99 rate is unexciting.

If you do have that subscription, though, $7.99 per month is a solid single-user deal. And for families of six willing to prepay by the year, the $149 rate is definitely worth considering.

What are your thoughts on Amazon Music Unlimited? A good deal, or not quite good enough? While you're weighing those questions, be sure to check out CNET's music download and streaming directory (which iscurated by our commerce team and includes affiliate links).