Over the years I’ve used and subscribed to a number of music services - my favourite, Pandora, isn’t available here, and as we’re a cross-platform household neither the Apple nor Google offerings were compelling. Tidal seemed over hyped and expensive, though does have the advantage of working with Plex/PlexAmp which has replaced our old Squeezebox solution. Almost by default Spotify became our familiies solution.

Fun for all the family

But … we’re an Alexa-heavy household, with a variety including original devices, Dots, Show and Studios. And Spotify’s family account doesn’t let you switch between users on a given device. That means depending on who uses the shared device ends up ‘polluting’ that shared account with their music, and doesn’t have access to their playlists.

No problem, I thought, and switched to an Amazon Unlimited Family plan. Surely that’ll work with Alexa?

Wrong. Same problem (for customers outside the US).

The “Amazom, switch account” capability which (seemed) to be the solution only works with Household accounts, and Household accounts only work in the US (and don’t cater for a sharehouse scenario with, say, three adults and a common device).

So, fail #1 for Amazon Music. It’s “family” capabilities don’t play well with Alexa. Support agree it sucks, but have no idea if anyone actually cares.

A dysfunctional family

Sometimes asking Alexa to find something isn’t quite right, so I thought I’d install the macOS Amazon Music app to help manage playlists and pick what to listen to in the home office. Well, it’s okay at the first, but the second … the only Echo device in the whole house it sees it the Echo Show 5, which while in earshot doesn’t have a speaker anywhere as good as the Echo Studio. When I spoke to support about this they suggested use my Echo Studio as a bluetooth speaker. Sigh, If I wanted that, I’d have got a Sonos home solution. Luckily the iOS and Android apps are able to cast to all the devices on my account (so hopefully the macOS devs can crib some code from them!)

In the car, it’s not much better as the Alexa capabilities in thge Music app and the stand-alone Echo Auto experience don’t play together well.

Alexa also (still) isn’t really smart… you can’t conversationally ask for something and have her help narrow the choice down to find the right track, and you can’t reliably ask for moods or genres - it often defaults back to Spotify for things I know I can manually select. Even asking to play “song like…” or “start a station based on…” don’t work.

Overall, that’s fail #2 for Amazon Music.

Music Discovery or Deja Vu

For me Pandora is amazing as pick a couple of songs or a mood and away it’ll go and surface new and familiar music for a week and you won’t get bored. Spotify also does a pretty good job with some organic evolution of their ‘discovery’ and ‘for you’ type playlists. Amazon Music … seems to have way less variety and when you’re listening to ‘station’ there’s no shuffle so it’s the same 20 songs on rotation until your brain implodes. When I compare the mood/theme playback to what even PlexAmp is able to do (their Sonic Matching is close to Pandora) it’s disappointing.

If Amazon Music had the ability to work directly with services like Last.FM it would have access to a wealth of my listening data that it can use to curate and personalise my playlists (I know there’s tools to do one off imports, but of course Amazon choose not to let you scrobble your plays without convoluted workarounds).

A-one, a-two, a fail #3 (sorry, couldn’t resist a bad music joke)

How’s it all sound?

One thing I can’t fault is the quality of sound - in general as good as Spotify across our various devices, and HD/Spatial audio on the Echo Studio is stunning. I’d love to have more music encoded for it, but that seems to be a rolling project and it’s really making a difference - if there’s one feature of Amazon Music I do tell people about it’s that.

Overall it’s disappointing, but we’ll probably stick with it for a little while longer - the quality is great, the catalogue has pretty much everything I’ve tried to play, and the ability to include my own music is simpler than Spotify (obscure Prince remixes mostly!)