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.
The On Demand service is nicely integrated with the rest of the app.
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.