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Amazon Music Unlimited launches in the UK, with Echo as its secret weapon

Amazon's Spotify rival stands apart from other streaming services when you chat to it with the voice-controlled Echo speaker.

Adele is one of the best-selling British artists available on Amazon Music Unlimited and Amazon Prime Music.

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Amazon Music Unlimited has launched in the UK -- and if you team it with Amazon Echo, it's one of the cheapest streaming services around.

Amazon Music Unlimited launched in the US in October and crosses the pond to launch in the UK, Germany and Austria today. Separate from the limited music service that comes with Amazon Prime, Music Unlimited is a standalone music service boasting 40 million songs -- basically, it's a rival to Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music and the like. But what really makes it stand out, according to Amazon, is how it works with the Echo speaker and Alexa voice-control system.

You can stream music on your phone or computer with Music Unlimited's app, the same as Spotify et al. Where it gets more interesting is if you own an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot speaker, because then instead of typing an artist's name in a search box, you can just say what you want the voice-activated Alexa to play from Music Unlimited.

Say to your Echo, "Hey Alexa, play Adele", and the "Hello" singer's dulcet tones will fill the room. Say "Hey Alexa, play some sad indie from the 90s", and it'll draw on metadata tagging songs with their genre, mood and release date to play you an appropriate mix.

Cleverly, if you say "Hey Alexa, play the new song" from an artist, and it'll guess that you mean the song you've just started hearing on the radio rather than the most recent single released a while ago. You can also say some lyrics too if you don't know the title of the song.

Echo and Alexa will also talk back to you. If it's playing a random selection and you hear a song you like, you can ask what it is and Alexa will tell you.

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The combination of Echo and Music Unlimited is also attractive in another way: price. A subscription to Music Unlimited costs £9.99 per month, the same as a Spotify subscription, unless you get involved with other Amazon products. It costs £7.99 per month or £79 per year if you're already a Prime member, but that's on top of the £79 annual Prime fee.

Where it gets cheaper is if you have an Echo or Echo Dot. Whether you have Prime or not, Music Unlimited through an Echo costs just £3.99 per month.

The Echo speaker costs £150, but the smaller Echo Dot is just £50. So if you buy an Echo you have a full music streaming service through a voice-controlled speaker for just under a hundred quid a year, compared to Spotify or Apple Music's annual cost of £120.

That is super cheap for a streaming service, which raises the question of whether a decent amount will make it to artists. According to Amazon, the fact record labels have added their catalogues to the service shows they're OK with the money they're getting. Amazon reckons Music Unlimited subscribers are likely to be a new audience for streaming and the goal is to get more people paying for music, even if it's only a smaller fee.

But it's possible the novelty of Echo and the price of Music Unlimited will tempt people away from paying for premium Spotify accounts, potentially reducing the amount of money going back to the labels.

At the moment Amazon is the johnny-come-lately to streaming and won't immediately trouble the well-established Spotify, which has over 40 million listeners. But the existing Amazon retail operation and its huge number of customers gives the new service a potential leg-up. "Amazon has 20 million existing entertainment shoppers," points out Andy Saxton of industry analyst Kantar Worldpanel, "over a third of whom have purchased music from Amazon in the past year. Meanwhile, almost half of all music customers have shopped with Amazon over the same time, so the new service certainly has the potential to disrupt the music market."

Along with the launch of Music Unlimited, the limited music streaming service included with Amazon Prime has been expanded to 2 million tracks. Indie label group Beggars has been added, which means Adele is now part of the service.