Whenever someone talks about music on the go or even music at home, chances are that they're using a music streaming services such as Spotify (still not available in India), Saavn or Gaana.
Unlike the earlier times when CDs and illegal downloads dominated the process of getting hold of songs, streaming services like Saavn, Gaana and Apple Music today are ubiquitous with mobile users. In our previous article, we have compared different music streaming services.
However, what if you want to go old-school and build a music collection? Remember those 80-GB iPod Classics, which could store thousands of songs. While it's nice to have an almost unlimited collection of music at your fingertips for a small monthly fee, there are some benefits of building an offline music library.
Better quality format (i.e. higher bitrate), no dependence on Internet, use of favorite apps or a dedicated player, ability to tweak sound using the equalizer are some of them.
Buying music legally in India has always been hard with very limited options. Earlier, it almost exclusively meant buying cassettes and CDs with no digital options available.
What I remember as one of the first digital service, which truly offered legal MP3 tracks to download, was Nokia Ovi Music. Select Nokia phones would once come with a complimentary 3-month subscription to the service, which included unlimited downloads of songs.
Ovi Music was active till mid-2014, after which it was replaced by the ill-fated MixRadio that was eventually shut down as well.
However, the present scenario is quite different. iTunes was one of the first music services to offer songs for purchase a few years ago.
Currently, all the streaming services offer an offline download feature but the songs are not owned by the users. They are downloaded in a proprietary format and are DRM-protected.
Here, we will explore five services that allow you to buy songs and albums. Let's begin.
1. Google Play Music
Play Music was made available in India this year with an introductory monthly subscription fee of only Rs 89 (increased since then), almost undercutting all other services in terms of cost. However, if you don't want to subscribe, the Play Music app also allows you to buy individual songs and albums.
The cost per song is from Rs 15 to Rs 18 while an entire album would cost between Rs 80 and Rs 120.
The songs are in MP3 format with a 320-kbps bitrate. All the purchases are done on Google Play Store, hence, the payment options are the same as the Play Store.
This means that credit and debit cards along with internet banking and even carrier billing are supported.
Overall, Play Music offers a decent deal in terms of collection, song quality, and purchase options. It also integrates with Android smartphones smoothly, as it should.
Next, we will see what Play Music's counterpart on its rival platform has to offer. iTunes came to India much earlier than Play Music. Its monthly subscription is a bit higher at Rs.120 per month.
Individual songs are priced at Rs.18 while albums' cost varies depending on the release dates and popularity. The downloads are available in M4A format, which is slightly better than MP3 and is smaller in size.
Payment options are limited to credit card and debit cards only. One more drawback is that you will need iTunes on your PC or laptop to access or download songs while Play Music works on any browser.
Lastly, if your music taste includes more of international music, then iTunes would hold a slight edge over Play Music in terms of content.
In our last comparison, Wynk's main redeeming point was its integration with Airtel, which made the experience for Airtel users a bit more convenient. It ticked all the boxes for being a good streaming service but that was it.
In this comparison though, it outdoes every other service in terms of price and payment options.
The per-song cost is just Rs 5 for the majority of Indian songs and Rs 10 for international tracks. It also offers the maximum number of payment options from CC/DC, internet banking, carrier billing (for Airtel users), and support for six payment wallets.
The songs on Wynk are in MP3 format with a 320-kbps bitrate, which is at par with what others have to offer. Besides, you can also access Wynk from any web browser but purchasing song or album can only be done on the mobile app.
Hungama is not only a music streaming service but it also offers movies, videos and TV shows. The plans are also designed accordingly with a Music Pro plan being perfect for someone who's only interested in music.
This plan also offers unlimited downloads of songs from their collection, but with a small twist.
You can download songs only on their website. And sadly, they are in 128-kbps bitrate only. I think this is more an overlooked bug or loophole rather than an intended feature, as you can't download songs in any of the Hungama's apps.
Hence, I would not guarantee the fact that it will last for long. Currently, the Music Pro plan retails at Rs 99 per month is the cheapest way to download music legally in India if you are okay with 128-kbps bitrate.
Finally, we have Saregama, one of the oldest music labels in India. Primarily a music label, Saregama has also forayed into the world of film and content production. Recently, they launched Saregama Carvaan, an innovative line of portable speakers.
While you don't need to buy this speaker to get the songs, as they also have an online music store where you can purchase them. The main feature of Saregama, which all other services in this comparison lack, is the availability of the songs in the HD version.
Not in the 320-kbps MP3 format, the songs are available in much higher-quality WAV format and that too for Rs 10 only. Normal MP3 songs are priced at Rs 4 only. Their collection includes songs from as back as the 1950s with Geetmala Top Songs of each decade.
One major downside is that you are limited to the songs of Saregama label and all the newer tracks may not be available. Same holds true for the international tracks.
Which One is Right for Me?
Unlike our previous comparison of music streaming services, the conclusion is quite simple this time. As you aren't bounded by any monthly subscription plan for actually buying a song, you can use any or all of the services available. The choice depends on your music taste and the song or album you want to download.
In terms of payment options, all the above services support debit cards at the least. In terms of offering the highest quality, Saregama is the winner as it uses WAV format, followed by Apple offering M4A format with AAC-lossless compression, which is better than MP3s and smaller in size as well. All others offer 320-kbps MP3s except Hungama.
Below, I've made a handy chart, which compares all the services.
Needless to point out that one should search for their favorite songs or albums on all these services and choose the one that has the cheapest price.
Finally, if you want to be really frugal, Hungama's Music Pro plan allows unlimited downloads (128-kbps MP3s via website only) will suit you the best.
If you have any doubt or opinion on this topic or use any other music streaming service, please do tell us in comments.