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Musicmatch Jukebox 10.0, the latest version of the venerable all-in-one jukebox software just got much better with several improvements to the interface, including deep customization, new features such as Auto DJ, and an overall performance boost. The new version supercedes version 9.0, which was released only five months ago and added subscription service Musicmatch On Demand. Version 10.0 provides tight and user-friendly integration of the growing On Demand world, the 99-cent-per-song Musicmatch Music Store, Musicmatch Radio (formerly Musicmatch MX), and Artist Radio (formerly Artist On Demand), all in a revamped interface that is faster and less buggy than previous versions'.
Those familiar with version 9.0 will immediately recognize the new interface, which is dark blue by default (seven other color-based skins can be downloaded). The music library can be viewed by album, album art, rating, On Demand tracks, or several other preset views, which are populated in a handy drop-down menu. You can also customize a view using more than 30 ID3 tag criteria; for example, you can create a view that shows the most recent 320kbps WMA tracks burned--the possibilities are endless. Another new addition is the Playlist Manager, which appears on the right-hand side of the interface. Here, you can drag and drop tracks from your library into any playlist--including On Demand tracks if you are a subscriber--and manage your existing playlists with ease. The new interface will also allow you to rename track information from directly within the library view; if you're using the Plus version, you can batch-change the ID3 tag info for multiple tracks with a couple of mouse clicks.
While the Auto DJ Classic feature is still available for those who like to create mixes on the granular level, the new Auto DJ feature is able to create playlists of any size based on any number of "seed" artists. In other words, you can drag and drop artists such as OutKast and Van Morrison into the Auto DJ window, set the number of songs (or a number based on file size, minutes, or hours), set the diversity ratio of like artists, set the source somewhere between the vast On Demand library or your local library, and finally designate the popularity of the music. In our tests using the abovementioned artists, Auto DJ created a playlist in seconds featuring a mix of library and On Demand tracks, including those by Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, and the Roots. Although On Demand requires a monthly subscription fee, the Auto DJ feature is a powerful way to explore the thousands of tracks available without having to do much work. This feature is also an excellent way of configuring 256MB of fresh tunes for your player, although our tests showed playlists slightly exceeding the 256MB threshhold.
Back to the Musicmatch Jukebox basics: Musicmatch On Demand offers users unlimited access to a library of more than 800,000 songs and 40,000 albums for a monthly subscription cost of as low as $7.95 per month (based on an annual fee). The streaming service, along with version 10.0, of the software itself breaks new ground in the level of personalization and customization it gives to the user, as well as in features not available in like services such as Napster 2.0.
By introducing these elements, the PC-only Musicmatch has only added value to its all-in-one player, ripper, encoder, burner, and music manager. While its jukebox features still separate it from the crowd, the addition of the On Demand service should raise Musicmatch's overall charm. Still, even after a major interface makeover, some users may seek the overall simplicity of Apple's iTunes or RealNetworks' RealPlayer 10.5. But neither of these apps can compete when it comes to audiocentric utilities and features.
As always, Musicmatch comes in two versions: the free, downloadable Basic package and the feature-packed $19.99 Plus version. The Music Store works with both versions, but the Basic program requires you to sit through upgrade ads. Only Plus users get Musicmatch's powerful SuperTagging, a helpful add-on that examines your audio files and fills in the appropriate ID3 tags based on certain characteristics, such as filename. Another reason to spring for Plus is burn speed. While Basic writes at 8X, Plus burns as fast as 48X. New to the jukebox are an improved main screen and set of right-click options, as well as better folder management.
We found navigating through Musicmatch On Demand an enjoyable experience, thanks in part to consistent and standard screens that all link back to recognizable sections. Unlike in versions prior to 9.0, Musicmatch 10.0 won't leave you stranded, as links to artists, albums, and songs--whether they live in the Music Store or in your own library--are logical and useful. You'll find the typical Related Artists links, but Musicmatch lists many more than the average interface. After playing with the service for a bit, you'll notice how personalized a service can get.
Subscribers will also be able to create and save playlists that include music from both the service and your personal library--in other words, WMA, MP3, and On Demand tracks. Plus, you'll get a daily personalized playlist based on the music you listen to. We were especially keen on the feature that allows you to remotely access your On Demand tracks and playlists from any PC (running Musicmatch 9.0 or higher, of course). In addition, you can e-mail a playlist to a friend, and they can listen to it up to three times without having to be a subscriber; they still need Musicmatch Jukebox 9.0 and higher, however.
Just like the iTunes Music Store, Musicmatch's Music Store runs through a tightly integrated standalone application. Browsing for music is free; once you find a song you want, you have to complete a one-time registration, which is relatively painless.
With more than 800,000 songs, Musicmatch's current catalog is similar in size to iTunes'. Unlike BuyMusic's erratic pricing, Musicmatch delivers on its 99-cent-per-tune guarantee, which is the same as Apple's service. Most albums cost $9.99--the same rate iTunes Music Store charges. The songs are secure WMA files encoded at 160Kbps, which sound approximately as good as Apple's 128Kbps AACs, although, to a certain extent, that's a matter of preference. Musicmatch has one leg up on Apple, in the form of its revamped built-in personalization technology, which recommends similar artists based on your music selections. Users may also purchase gift certificates ranging from $10 to $300.
In our tests, downloads flowed effortlessly onto our PC and, from there, a WMA-supporting MP3 player without problems. Likewise, streams from On Demand were instantaneous. In contrast, secure BuyMusic WMAs are still notoriously incompatible with portable devices. We appreciated that songs download in the background, for uninterrupted browsing. Also note that Musicmatch queues up all newly downloaded tunes in your current playlist by default, which can be annoying if you're listening to low-key ambient music but downloading tunes for Friday night's dance party. To change the default setting, select Options > Settings, and uncheck "Add to playlist window."
Once you've downloaded a song to your PC, you have a good deal of freedom on how you can use it. There are a few commonsense restrictions (also found in iTunes Music Store): you can play your tracks on up to five PCs, and you can burn the same playlist seven times--up from five in the previous version.
Introduced back in version 7.5, the Portable Device Manager quickly transfers your tunes onto most MP3 players. We transferred both older MP3 playlists and newly purchased WMA tracks to our Creative Nomad MuVo NX without a problem. If your portable device supports MP3Pro (most RCA players do), you can use Musicmatch to encode to MP3Pro for better sound quality per megabyte. Musicmatch can even normalize transferred tracks if you've checked the "Enable the volume leveling and sound enhancements during download" box in the Portable Players window. That way, the volume will remain constant through all the tracks on your MP3 player, though you can also normalize files during the ripping process. Musicmatch 10.0 supports Universal Plug and Play devices, so you don't have to camp out in front of your computer to enjoy your music.
Musicmatch offers the newly named Radio service as both a free and pay-per-month feature. The former includes more than 200 well-programmed radio stations, while the latter has two subscription plans: the $4.95 Radio Platinum and the $2.95 Radio Gold. Both work with either Plus or Basic, let you discover new bands based on your listening preferences, and create genre and era stations. Based on your artist preferences, you can form your own customized station, which you can then share with friends. Version 10.0 expanded the Explicit Lyrics Filter feature that was added in 9.0.
With its vast array of audiocentric features, its tagging prowess (especially in the Plus version), a full-on Music Store, an on-demand subscription service, and now a faster and more customizable interface, Musicmatch has pushed digital music forward yet another notch.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.