is a name most people associate with cut-price DVDs, electronics and video games, but it was actually one of the first UK stores to take on iTunes with DRM-free MP3 downloads.

It’s still one of the cheapest places to go for new albums, with a surprising number of current Top 40 titles available for £5 or less, and it’s built up a decent catalogue of tracks, with support from all four major record labels and many independent distributors. While it’s best on rock and pop, it’s also a decent store for lovers of jazz and classical music.

A Play sale will typically offer a couple of dozen albums at between £2.99 and £7.45’s most obvious weakness is that the MP3 download store shares its general look and feel with the sections devoted to DVDs and games, and while this means that the search functions work well, it isn’t the most enticing place to browse and discover new music.

It’s slightly annoying that, by default, a search lists a huge selection of tracks and albums in no particular order until you hit the Refine by Category link.

And while sells concert tickets and band merchandise, it doesn’t always do a great job of tying these in to the albums and artists.

Neither is it a great option for cut-price sales. Where a typical Amazon sale might offer hundreds of albums for less than a fiver, a Play sale will typically offer a couple of dozen albums at between £2.99 and £7.45. It doesn’t exactly leave you spoilt for choice.

To counter this, Play makes downloading music simple, with no downloader applet to install. Purchases are protected by a download locker, which means a crashed hard disk won’t result in you having to buy your music all over again. Tracks can be downloaded up to three times without question.

Getting tracks once purchased is as simple as selecting them – or whole albums – from a list then downloading the ZIP file prepares for you, although there may be some wrangling afterwards to get everything in the right folders for your media player. Most tracks are supplied in 320Kbits/sec MP3 format with no DRM, although a few drop down to 256Kbits/sec or even lower. is worth checking against Tesco and Amazon for new music, and the site also carries some back catalogue albums at bargain prices. In most cases, however, its prices tend to sit around £7.95, allowing rivals to undercut it.

Rating: 5/6

Click below for reviews of:
Apple iTunes
HMV Digital
MSN Music
Sky Songs
Tesco Entertainment

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