Amazon Music Unlimited is the Best Value for Streaming Music (But Nobody Knows It)
Amazon Music Unlimited launched in October 2016 as Amazon’s answer to the streaming music trend. Like Apple Music and Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited allows you to stream millions of songs directly from the Internet.
However, unlike Apple Music or Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited lets you stream this music through Alexa to your Echo, Echo Dot or Tap for less than $8/month.
The Amazon Music Unlimited Catalog is Just As Full as Spotify or Apple Music
Amazon boasts a vague “tens of millions of songs”, while Apple Music claims to have “30 million” in it’s catalog. On the surface, this seems like Amazon is trying to downplay their catalog size.
However, in my experience, everything I’ve wanted to play through Amazon Music Unlimited has been available.
The Amazon Music App is Not iTunes (and That’s a Great Thing)
I have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. I love that it’s where all of my music lives, and it’s already installed on my computer and phone.
But I actually hate iTunes. It’s slow and the user experience is clunky, at best. I hate how iTunes blurs the lines between my personal library and Apple Music, and I constantly find that I’m not able to play certain songs because iTunes logged me out.
Since Amazon Music Unlimited doesn’t intermingle with your personal music library, you will never get the annoying “You don’t have authorization to play this file on your computer” iTunes error. This is reason enough to consider ditching iTunes for Amazon.
What’s the Difference Between Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify and Apple Music?
Amazon Music Unlimited
"Millions of songs"
20 million songs
30 million songs
$7.99/mo for Amazon Prime Members
$9.99/mo for non-Prime Members
Can Stream to Echo or Echo Dot?
Playlist and Radio Station Quality
Better Than iTunes?
What’s the difference between Amazon Music Unlimited and Amazon Prime Music?
The difference between Amazon Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited is the number of songs.
Amazon Prime Music is included with your Amazon Prime account, and includes about two million songs. Amazon Music Unlimited is an additional $7.99/month and includes “tens of millions” of songs.
Alexa and Amazon Music Unlimited Work Great Together
Alexa makes it really easy to find and play music instantly.
If you want Thunderstruck, you simply say “Alexa, play Thunderstruck”. If you want to hear the entire Bruce Springsteen catalog, say “Alexa, shuffle songs by Bruce Springsteen”. These are only available with Amazon Music Unlimited.
But that’s not even the best part.
Amazon’s staff has categorized the music catalog so well, you can ask Alexa to help you find music.
Let’s say you’re not sure what you want to hear, but you know that it’s something fun from the 90’s.
Simply say “Alexa, play music from the nineties with a beat” and she’ll kick off a personalized playlist for you.
Even that’s not the best part. This is the best part.
Let’s say you’re in the mood for some classic rock, but you can’t quite remember the name of the song. It’s been stuck in your head for days, though.
Say “Alexa, play the song that goes ‘is this the real life is this just fantasy'” and she will start playing Bohemian Rhapsody.
Playing Amazon Music Unlimited on Your Laptop or Phone
You can listen to any of the songs, playlists or radio stations in the Amazon Music Unlimited catalog your computer by installing the Amazon Music app directly from Amazon.
The Amazon Music app is a great way to listen on your phone. You can install the app by visiting the iOS App Store, Google Play or the Amazon App Store.
Streaming Your Own Music on Echo
Amazon Music Unlimited gives you the ability to stream Amazon’s library of music. Included in that membership is the ability to upload 250 songs from your own library. Those songs are then available for streaming through Alexa or the Amazon Music app.
Sonos is a wireless home sound system that lets you stream your music in CD quality to anywhere in your house.
Sonos lets you stream music to any room without running speaker wire through your house. Then, it uses the wireless network already in your home to connect up to 32 speakers to each other.
And since you don’t need to run speaker wires, it lets you move your speakers anywhere, easily. Grilling on the deck? Working in the basement or garage? Simply unplug your speaker, bring it to where you’re working, plug it in, wait a few seconds for it to connect to your wifi network and voila! Now you have great quality streaming music while you work, wherever you are.
Sonos is the easiest way to add music to your home, period.
So, what’s so special about it?
Sonos lets you play the same song, at the same time, to multiple rooms in your house.
So if you’re throwing a big party, you can have the same music playing in the kitchen and on the back deck at the same time.
It even lets you play different songs in different rooms in your house at the same time.
For example, you can play rock in the office to finish the day while jazz plays in the kitchen as dinner is being prepared.
You can play TV audio in every room of your house (or just a specific room).
With the Playbar soundbar, you can play TV audio from the Big Game in every room in your house so you never miss the action.
As a result, Sonos’s low price and simplicity make it easy to create a rich home theater experience without the wires.
How does Sonos work?
Sonos uses wifi, not bluetooth, to stream music to your speakers.
This gives you the ability to pump CD quality sound anywhere in your house with smooth playback.
And since it doesn’t use bluetooth, your phone never stops the party. The music continues playing even when you leave the room, receive a notification or make a call.
Therefore, if you want to get Sonos set up immediately, grab the Play:1. But if you already have a speaker system you love, grab the CONNECT component, instead.
What’s the difference between Play, Playbar, SUB and CONNECT?
Sonos Play is the series of wireless speakers that are perfect for any room.
The Play series has three options:
Play:1 is the smallest and most affordable wireless Sonos speaker (pictured above). Perfect for your kitchen counter, nightstand or bedside table.
Play:3 is the medium-sized wireless speaker with deeper bass than Play:1. You can position the Play:3 vertically or horizontally. This is perfect for a larger room where you need robust sound at a reasonable price.
Play:5 is the most powerful Sonos speaker on the market. Perfect for audiophiles, the company says the Play:5 offers “face-melting sound”. The Play:5 is a large speaker great for huge rooms.
Playbar is the Sonos soundbar and streaming speaker in one.
The Playbar gives you great sound for your TV, while also allowing you to stream music to that speaker. Additionally, when a Playbar is connected to a TV, you can stream the TV audio to any other Sonos speaker.
SUB is Sonos’s sub-woofer.
Pair the SUB with any Sonos speaker, or with the Playbar for the ultimate connected home theater experience.
Sonos CONNECT devices lets you instantly turn any speaker into a full-blown Sonos speaker.
What’s the difference between CONNECT and CONNECT:AMP?
CONNECT allows you to connect powered speakers to your Sonos system. It includes a Line-In port, making it perfect for an existing stereo system.
CONNECT:AMP also allows you to connect speakers to your Sonos system, but also includes an amplifier. This makes it perfect for those who want a little more power with their music.
You can stream music directly from most online streaming services to any (or all!) of your Sonos speakers.
Does Sonos work with Apple Music? Yes. To play Apple Music:
open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or computer
add the Apple Music service
sign in with the Apple ID that you use with Apple Music
Does Sonos work with Pandora? Yes. To play Pandora:
open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or computer
add the Pandora service
sign in with your Pandora account
Does Sonos work with Spotify? Yes. To play Spotify, use Spotify Connect to let Spotify remotely control the music on your speakers.
Does Sonos work with Amazon Music? Yes. To play Amazon Music:
open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or laptop
add the Amazon Music service
sign in with the Amazon account you use with Amazon Music
Does Sonos work with Google Play Music? Yes. To play Google Music:
open the Google Play Music app on any Android device
choose the speakers to cast your music to
Does Sonos work with SiriusXM? Yes. To play SiriusXM:
open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or laptop
add the SiriusXM service
sign in with your SiriusXM account
Does Sonos work with SoundCloud? Yes. To play SoundCloud:
open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or laptop
add the SoundCloud service
sign in with your SoundCloud account
Playing Your Own Music
Sonos makes it easy to stream your personal library from a computer.
To add your personal music to your Sonos music library, download the official Sonos Controller app to a computer with your music library.
In the Controller app, click “Manage”, then “Music Library Settings”
Click the “add” or “+” button
Select the folder that your music is located in
The music will be added to your Sonos music library and available to play
Note: You can only add 65,000 songs to your Sonos library. So, if you have more than 65,000 songs, you may want to be deliberate in the songs you import to your library.
Can I stream TV audio through Sonos?
Yes! Adding the Playbar allows you to stream your TV sound to other Sonos speakers.
The Playbar works with just two cables: one for power and one for your TV. It works with your current TV remote. The Playbar uses a Line-In port to connect to your TV, and any audio playing through the Playbar can be streamed to any other Sonos speaker. This is especially handy if the game is on, but you can’t be near the TV.
Playbar gives you home-theater quality sound with just one speaker. But if you’re looking for a true 5.1 surround sound experience, simply pair it with an Amp and four Play:1 speakers.
Additionally, the Playbar can be used just like any other Sonos speaker to play non-TV audio.
Which speaker should I buy?
This chart makes it easy for you to build the perfect system for your house.
I’m brand new to Sonos and don’t already have speakers I love:
The Play:1 is the most affordable way to step into the Sonos ecosystem.
I’m an audiophile that’s brand new to Sonos and don’t already have speakers I love:
In October 2016, Sonos launched a private beta program to test Alexa functionality. The company used a similar program in 2016 to test the successful Spotify integration. That integration launched just a few months later, so we’re confident that Alexa integration is coming any day now.
You can sign up for an invite to the Alexa beta program here.
Control Sonos With SmartThings
SmartThings is the most popular Smart Home Hub on the market. The SmartThings hub lets you control various connected devices within your house. SmartThings can control your lights, thermostat and thousands of other devices. Now, it can even control your music.
By installing Sonos from the SmartThings Marketplace, you can include your speakers as part of any automation in your house.
Control music playback manually from the Things menu in the SmartThings app:
Sonos is really, really powerful. But it won’t fit into every budget. Not surprisingly, there are some great alternative ways to add multi-room audio to your home.
Apple Airplay lets you pump music from your Mac or iOS device to your Sonos speakers. However, it requires an Apple TV or Airport Extreme, plus speakers.
Airplay isn’t usable for Android users since it requires a Mac or iOS device.
Google Chromecast Audio
Google Chromecast Audio lets you turn any speaker into a wireless speaker for about $30. So long as the dongle is plugged in to power and connected to wifi, you’ll be able to use the Google Cast app on iOS or Android to set up your devices.
You can then stream audio from any Chromecast Audio-enabled app (and there are a ton of them).
Pure Jongo System
At about half the price, the Pure Jongo S3 speaker gives you the ability to have wireless speakers that are battery powered. The Pure Jongo system works over wifi (like Sonos), or you can use Bluetooth – handy at the beach.
Bose has entered the wireless speaker market with the Bose SoundTouch 10 product. At roughly the same price as the Sonos Play:1, you’ll get arguably better sound and the ability to control it with Alexa from day 1.
While there are a number of cheaper alternatives on the market, Sonos has been doing this longer than anyone else, and it shows.
Is Sonos Worth the Cost?
Sonos has some of the best speakers on the market, giving you the best sound anywhere you want it. The Play series gives you amazing bang for your buck, while the Playbar makes it unbelievably easy to stream TV audio anywhere else in your house.
Sonos has historically been slow to allow external integrations. However, they have been quick to integrate with popular streaming services. They were early supporters of Apple Music, and their Spotify Connect integration is world-class.
Their apps and services are some of the most stable and polished available. And once Sonos connects with Alexa, you’ll have the ultimate multi-room speaker system, powered by the ultimate virtual assistant.
Alexa is Amazon’s virtual assistant. Similar to Siri on iOS or Google Now on Android, Alexa is summoned and interacted with by your voice. This means that it (she?) can complete tasks and answer questions without ever needing a keyboard, mouse, computer or phone.
Alexa, are you the same thing as the Amazon Echo?
Alexa is not the same thing as the Amazon Echo. Alexa is the virtual assistant inside the Amazon Echo and the rest of Amazon’s smart speakers. The Echo, Echo Dot and Amazon Tap are essentially delivery vehicles for Alexa functionality.
The Echo, Dot and Tap are smart speakers that sit on a counter or table. While the Echo and Dot are “always on” and listening for you to interact with them. When you want to use Alexa, you simply say her name, followed by the command.
The Tap is closer to a portable bluetooth speaker. It has Alexa capabilities, but you can’t activate Alexa with your voice – you need to press a button.
The Echo is the speaker, and Alexa is the virtual assistant in the cloud waiting to execute your command.
Alexa, play music.
One of the most popular features of Alexa is her ability to find and play music.
You can ask her to play a certain kind of music (“play dinner music”), music by a specific artist (“play music by Bruce Springsteen”), or a specific song (“play Born to Run”).
She will also let you control the music with your voice. You can tell her to skip the song, replay the song, and even turn the volume up and down. Amazon boasts that the Echo, Dot and Tap can hear you over the music, so you shouldn’t need to yell at her to replay Bohemian Rhapsody.
Alexa primarily uses the Amazon Music service. Amazon Music is a catalog of about 2 million songs, and is included with your Prime membership. You can also access Amazon Music by purchasing an Amazon Music Unlimited membership for $9.99/month, or $7.99/month if you’re already a Prime member.
Can Alexa work with Spotify? Yes. Amazon lets you choose Spotify as the default music choice. This let’s you control Spotify with standard Alexa commands, but using the music from your Spotify library.
Can Alexa work with Apple Music? No, Apple Music doesn’t work with the Echo, Dot or Tap.
Can Alexa play iTunes? Sort of. You can’t control your iTunes library with your voice, but there are ways to play your iTunes music on your Echo device. You can use the Amazon Music app on your computer to upload your personal music collection to My Music. After it’s uploaded to Amazon, you can play it back using your voice through Alexa. My Music only allows 250 songs for free. If you want to upload more than 250 songs, you’ll need to buy an Amazon Music subscription.
Can Alexa play podcasts? Yes. In typical podcast players, you need to subscribe to a podcast to get the latest edition pushed to your device. However, with Alexa, you can just ask for the latest episode and it will play automatically. Just say “play the Planet Money podcast”.
Can Alexa play video? No. Neither the Echo, Echo Dot nor Echo Tap have a screen.
Can I use Alexa with a bluetooth speaker? Maybe. The Amazon Echo Dot can connect to a bluetooth speaker to play music and commands. (You can even tell it to connect or disconnect the speaker, which is particularly cool.) The Echo and the Echo Tap can only use their internal speakers.
Alexa, what is the weather?
Alexa knows your location and will respond with the current temperature and forecast for the rest of the day. I have found this surprisingly faster than using my phone, and equally as accurate.
Alexa, what’s the score of the Bruins game?
If a game is actively happening, she will respond with the score and time remaining (which is amazingly up-to-date). And when there isn’t a game currently being played, she will respond with the opponent and score of the last game played.
Alexa, add eggs to my shopping list.
Alexa will store a shopping list for you, which is helpful when you’re elbow-deep in cinnamon roll dough and need to remember to buy more cornstarch. While you’re near your Echo, it can read back the list to you.
What’s more helpful is that you can view and check off shopping list items inside the Alexa app on your phone or on the Amazon website. It will even print your shopping list, if she can find your printer.
What is an Alexa skill?
An Alexa skill is like an app on your phone: it’s a piece of software that adds functionality to your Alexa. Amazon has a marketplace of all available Skills on it’s website or inside the app on your phone. You can also enable or disable a skill from the website, through the app, or by speaking directly to Alexa, “add the (name) skill”.
Adding a skill lets you do things such as automating your home, listening to the news, and more.
Some skills are developed by Amazon, but the majority of skills are created by third-party developers. Amazon has created the Skills Kit to facilitate the development of these skills.
Alexa, automate my home.
Alexa lets you automate the devices in your home with your voice. This means that you can tell it to turn on the lights, change the thermostat or lock the house with just your voice. It’s similar to how a smart hub works.
What smart hubs will Alexa work with?
Can Alexa work with SmartThings?Yes, through the SmartThings Smart Home Skill.
Can Alexa work with HomeKit? Yes, sorta. Neither Amazon nor Apple have much incentive to make their systems work well together. Apple Homekit is powered by Siri, but Siri is a competing technology. You can make your Homekit-enabled devices available to Alexa if you use iDevices as a bridge. However, the Skills marketplace is fairly robust, so you can most likely find a skill that will control your device without necessarily using iDevices.
Alexa can work directly with smart devices through the Skills marketplace, as well.
Alexa offers an automated Flash Briefing, available on-demand. The Flash Briefing plays back the latest news updates from a number of popular broadcasters, like NPR or the BBC, the latest weather update and the latest sports scores from your favorite teams.
You can add new content sources to your Flash Briefing by adding new skills from the Skills marketplace. Some of the popular options are the Wall Street Journal, This Week in Tech, or The Skimm.
Alexa, entertain me.
Despite what it may seem, Alexa does more than just act as your assistant. She has a number of games and trivia available to play:
My favorite is Seinfeld Trivia, where it will ask you six questions from the TV show Seinfeld, and give you a score based on your response.
There is a Twenty Questions game in which she gives you up to 20 questions to guess the celebrity.
And of course, there’s Jeopardy!, where you need to answer in the form of a question.
Alexa can also help you become a better bartender. By adding a Skill called The Bartender, you can ask what ingredients are in a drink (“ask the bartender what’s in a Tom Collins?”) or what drinks can be made with a particular ingredient (“ask the bartender for a drink with pineapple juices”). And if you’re feeling lucky, you can ask The Bartender to surprise you, and she will return the name and ingredients for a randomly-selected drink.
Can Alexa control my TV?
Now that you’re starting to get the hang of the basic things that Alexa can do to change the way you interact with your home, let’s talk about some of the more advanced options.
There are some devices that may not be able to be controlled directly with Alexa, such as most TVs or every cable box. Most “smart devices” have a wifi chip embedded in them, and software that lets them communicate with the Internet. While most TVs these days include wifi, they are lacking the the “controlling” software. You experience this every day, since you probably still control your TV using a remote control that blasts infrared (IR) signals to turn it on, change the channel or change the volume.
The Harmony Hub is a black box that you connect to your home network via wifi. Like most smart hubs, you can control it with your phone. However, the Harmony Hub also includes “IR blasters” that connect to your TV. These IR blasters allow the Harmony Hub to control your TV, via your phone.
You can see where this is going: Alexa can control the Harmony Hub via wifi and your Harmony Hub can control your TV via IR. Therefore: You can control your TV with your voice via Alexa.
Alexa, turn on the TV and change the channel to ESPN.
“Alexa, turn on the TV” will turn on your TV via the Harmony Hub.
“Alexa, turn off the Xbox” will turn off your Xbox via the Harmony Hub.
“Alexa, tell Harmony to pause” will pause your DVD or Blu Ray playback via the Harmony Hub.
“Alexa, tell Harmony to set a sleep timer for 15 minutes” will turn off your TV and equipment after 15 minutes. This may be my favorite functionality, since my TV doesn’t have a sleep timer built in.
And if you want to get even more advanced, the Harmony Hub also works with Roku devices. If you have a Roku device and Netflix account, Alexa will let you turn on the TV, turn down the lights, turn up the volume and start a movie with just your voice.
Alexa, what else can you do?
Amazon spent a lot of time making Alexa useful to you anywhere in the house. Some of the most commonly used functionality in our house includes:
“Set a timer for 20 minutes.” Unbelievably handy in the kitchen when your hands aren’t clean enough to deal with your phone.
“Buy more laundry detergent.” Your Alexa is connected to your Amazon account, so Alexa can help you buy things with just your voice.
“What’s on my calendar?” After linking your Google calendar, Alexa can tell you what your next event is, give you the schedule for the day, or add events to your calendar for you.
“When was Queen Elizabeth II born?” With great Wikipedia and search abilities (powered by Bing), she can answer most questions you throw at her.
“Tell me a joke.” They’re not the best jokes, but they’re not the worst, either.
And since Amazon has opened the development of Skills to third parties, the opportunities are virtually endless.
You don’t have to be a software developer to create custom functionality for Alexa. IFTTT offers a channel of “recipes” to extend the functionality beyond the home. Many of the recipes are built by Amazon, but you can add your own easily through the IFTTT website.
You can also find a complete list of commands here.
Is Alexa worth it?
Yes, Alexa is the best way to make your home smarter. The wide array of abilities available to it via Skills (with more being added every day), along with the multi-directional microphone make it a very useful virtual assistant.
And at about $50, the Amazon Echo Dot is the best (and actually cheapest) way to add the power of Alexa to any room in your house.