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Best Stores for Buying MP3 and Digital Music You Own Forever

Buying digital music means your tunes won't go away if you stop paying a subscription fee, and it helps artists make more music.

Streaming music from a service like Spotify or Apple Music may be great, but it's not always convenient. For starters you'll need a solid internet connection and, while you can download songs for offline play, if you stop paying the monthly fee the access to your music disappears.

Buying digital music such as MP3s or FLACs makes sense for a number of reasons. The tracks are yours to keep and put on whatever device you want, and it better funds the artist who can then keep making more music. All of these stores offer lossy music files for sale, but most also offer lossless FLAC or ALAC versions for a noticeable increase in quality, and they usually cost the same as MP3s.

Whether you're looking to buy a music single or whole albums, here are the best sites to visit. I'll start with the biggies -- iTunes and Amazon -- and move on to some of my favorites that you may not have heard of, including Bandcamp.

Apple

Average cost per album: $10

Maximum bit rate: 256Kbps (AAC)

iTunes may no longer be the star of Apple's lineup, given that Apple Music is the company's focus right now, but it's still one of the biggest digital marketplaces. iTunes still sets the standard for lossy music downloads, and its catalog should furnish all but your most obscure needs. Technically iTunes doesn't sell MP3s -- instead it sells its own AAC format, but these files can be read by almost every modern player. 

If you use MacOS Catalina you can access it from Music > iTunes Store. Additionally, if you want to download lossless files you will need a Music membership, but you won't be able to keep the music if your subscription ends.

Average cost per album: $10

Maximum bit rate: 320Kbps, Lossless (up to 24kHz)

With the support of many indie music labels, Bandcamp (now a part of Epic Games) is perhaps the best alternative to iTunes or Amazon, particularly if your tastes run to the more esoteric. The site enables you to download in whichever format you like (MP3, FLAC, Apple Lossless) and seemingly as many times as you like, without paying extra. In addition, the site runs regular Bandcamp Friday events, which give 100% of the proceeds to the artist.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Average cost per album: $9.50

Maximum bit rate: 256Kbps

If you're an Amazon Prime member, then the Amazon Music offering makes a lot of sense. You get a (limited) streaming service and a music store to buy MP3s from, in addition to streaming and automatic rips of physical discs that you buy. 

Note that although Amazon scuttled its "digital locker" service that stores your personal MP3s, the MP3s you buy from Amazon will still be available for streaming and download.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Average cost per album: $9

Maximum bit rate: 320Kbps, Lossless (up to 24kHz)

If you're looking for a wide selection of MP3s (and also FLAC files) 7Digital is a viable alternative to the Qobuz download store (which doesn't have MP3s). 7Digital is available in a number of countries and has decent pricing and regular sales offers. Though music is added to the site regularly it's often more difficult to find than on other sites -- in the US the front page and other discovery features haven't been updated in over two years.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Average cost per album: $10

Maximum bit rate: 320Kbps, Lossless (Up to 24kHz)

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 FLACs that aren't subject to the price hikes of some competitive vendors.

MP3 FAQs

How can I buy MP3 songs?

Despite the rise of streaming, millions of MP3s are still available for sale and the number of tracks is growing all of the time. All of the stores listed here enable you to either download songs legally to a computer or directly to your phone -- and most offer dedicated apps for Android. Be aware that due to Apple restrictions, iOS users may not be able to buy music from sources other than iTunes on their phones.

Where can I buy music instead of Google Play?

Google Play Music stopped selling MP3s in late 2020 as the company moved to the streaming-only YouTube Music. All of the above services offer an excellent alternative to Google Play Music, and some such as Bandcamp offer higher-quality lossless for the same price. One feature that YouTube Music did carry over from Google Play Music is the music locker, which lets you upload your own music library.

Which is better, MP3 or FLAC?

MP3 is known as a "lossy" format because it removes audio information in order to reduce file sizes, even at the maximum 320kbps rate. By comparison, FLAC is a "lossless" format because it doesn't remove info and instead compresses music in a similar way to a ZIP file. As a result, a FLAC sounds better than an MP3, especially one that's been ripped at a low 128-kbps bit rate.