Napster Upgrades Music Service to 3.5

Napster on Wednesday rolled out version 3.5 of its digital music subscription service, upping the quality of song downloads and adding personalized recommendations through a "Playlist of the Day." Napster has also cleaned up its user interface with simplified navigation.

All songs in the Napster catalog will now be available in a 192kbps bitrate rather than 128kbps, following the lead of Yahoo's Music Unlimited service. Yahoo stormed onto the online music scene earlier this year with lower pricing and higher quality downloads than competitors Napster and Real.

"Napster now includes simpler, cleaner navigation, substantially enhanced audio fidelity and unique new features that create an experience personalized to the musical tastes of each user," said Napster CEO Chris Gorog in a statement.

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Recommendations have also played a major role in Yahoo's service, with the company integrating technology from its Launch music site to suggest related artists. Likewise, Apple's iTunes recently added a beta of "Just For You" that recommends four albums and ten individual songs.

Because of its subscription model, Napster and Napster To Go users can simply re-download their songs in the higher bitrate for no extra charge.

"The kbps change highlights one of the advantages of subscription services. Napster customers with subscription accounts get the benefit of better quality with no loss," Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

"But people purchasing tracks, whether from Napster, iTunes or any other service, only have what they paid for. If the buying customer wants the higher-fidelity version, he or she has to pay up again."

Pricing will not change for version 3.5; a standard Napster subscription costs $9.95 per month, while Napster To Go runs $14.95 and adds the ability to copy songs to over 50 portable music players, but not Apple's ubiquitous iPod.

Napster 3.5 is available for download from FileForum.

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