If you choose iTunes for your music service, you'll get one thing no other downloading/listening service will give you -- access to The Beatles' music catalog. (Photo Illustration by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Q: I need help on a good music program. I would like to buy (not free sites such as Limewire) and download only music I desire. I hear folks talk about iTunes, but that and VCast seem to be directed to my cellphone. I want to download to my PC. Other people talk about Amazon, Walmart, iPad, etc. I am not a computer expert, but all these different sites have confused me. Here's what I need: Your expertise on a site that has a big choice of music so that I can buy, download and put on a CD.

—UConn Bob

A: Online music choices are constantly changing. New services pop up (Hi, Sony's Music Unlimited), some disappear (R.I.P., Walmart Music and Yahoo Music), and the ones that are left standing are always expanding or otherwise tinkering with their offerings. Yeah, it's an overwhelming topic, especially if you want to listen to music on the go. You mentioned VCast, which is only for Verizon Wireless subscribers with certain phones.

But since you just want to download to your PC, things are simpler.

We'll look at some of the bigger music services. First, the commonalities: Songs cost 69 cents to $1.29, though you'll generally pay 99 cents or $1.29 for the most popular songs. Albums go from $5 to nearly $20, depending on the album and the file format: Amazon's and eMusic's MP3 files will be cheaper than their competitors' songs, which will have better sound quality because they are less compressed, digitally.

Some of the services below offer free trials, ranging from seven days to 30 days, but be careful: You'll have to enter a credit card to start your trial, and after the trial period, your card will be bill automatically if you don't cancel, so don't forget to cancel any service you don't want.

Amazon MP3 Store


Good: Searching for and downloading music is as easy as typing in the song you want, listening to a snippet to hear if it's the version you want, and clicking on the "Buy MP3" button. Your purchase, an MP3 file, will download to your desktop. Download and use the free Amazon Cloud Player to play back your music through your PC speakers.

Better: To speed things up, you can download the free Amazon MP3 Downloader, which will automatically move your purchase into Windows Media Player on your PC, so you can better organize your songs. Make sure you have the latest version of Windows Media Player by going to windows.microsoft.com and typing "download windows media player" in the search box.

Best if you: Later decide to take your music on the go; every portable music player can play music that's in the MP3 format.

Not so great if you: Are an audiophile. The MP3 format doesn't sound as crisp and clear as music you'd buy on a CD, but if you're listening on your PC's tiny speakers, you'll hardly notice.

Apple iTunes Music Store

apple.com/itunes (click the "Download iTunes" button)

Good: With the biggest catalog of songs to sell, iTunes Music Store will have songs that competitors won't. The iTunes software makes it super easy to organize your music, burn it to a CD, and transfer to an iPod, iPhone, iPad or Shuffle, if you have one (or more).

Better: The AAC format of iTunes purchases sound better than MP3 songs. Something to think about when you want to listen to your music on something better than your PC speakers.

Best if you: Love the Beatles. It's the only music store that has the Fab Four.

Not so great if you: Later buy a portable music player that's not an iPod Touch or other iDevice. If you don't have AAC or MP3 versions of your songs, the songs won't transfer to an iDevice (though your iDevice can download software that will play certain music wirelessly. See Napster and Rhapsody below).