Buying Wal-Mart DRM-Free MP3s on your Mac – A Review

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So, today Wal-Mart announced a couple of shockers.

1) They are selling MP3s – completely DRM-Free – from both EMI and Universal Music.

2) They’re encoded at 256Kbps.

3) They’re only $0.94 cents a song, or $9.22 an album.

So, these higher quality, cheaper songs, will play on any player, including your iPod – so dear Mac User – what’s to keep you from downloading them? Nothing, right?

Oh wait…their HAD to be a catch for us, didn’t there? I mean, SOMETHING had to make this a Microsoft only deal right?


The store – of course – only works in Internet Explorer.

So if you’re not running a virtualization program or boot camp, then you’re out of luck. Since I’m running Vista in Parallels, I thought I would give it a try and see how it worked.


Everything ran smoothly once I fired up Fusion and got into IE 7. The reason that you have to use IE is because of the DRMed tracks still in the store. A Windows-only Wal-Mart Download manager application is required to download your tracks after you purchase them.

I navigated through the DRM free tracks and found a small collection of 5 songs for $3.88 that I decided to purchase from a group I haven’t listened to in years called DC Talk. After selecting the album I wanted to purchase, I had to install the Wal-Mart Downloads manager…all of that went smoothly and without issue.


The music, however, took quite a while to download. I will assume that’s because this launched today, and it probably pretty busy right now…but you never know.

After the download completed, I grabbed the folder with the songs in it, dragged them to my iTunes folder in OS X, and they were imported into iTunes and ready to go.

They are now on my iPhone.

All in all – the process couldn’t have gone smoother. I don’t like Wal-Mart…but if you’re looking to save some money on your DRM free tracks, and get them at a higher bit rate – this is very easy for you to do if you have XP or Vista running in Parallels or Fusion.

Wal-Mart has thrown the hammer down. Apple needs to step up. $1.29 for the DRM Free EMI tracks suddenly seems very expensive.

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Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo is a stalwart in the tech journalism community, has been chronicling the ever-evolving world of Apple products and innovations for over a decade. As a Senior Author at Apple Gazette, Kokou combines a deep passion for technology with an innate ability to translate complex tech jargon into relatable insights for everyday users.

20 thoughts on “Buying Wal-Mart DRM-Free MP3s on your Mac – A Review

  1. Actually if you count the cost of Parallels/Fusion and Vista into the equation… It would take a very long time to break even buying the walmart versions. Besides, I doubt my ears could tell the difference in bit-rates.


  2. @TBM

    No one is telling you to go buy Parallels/Fusion and Vista just to get songs from Wal-mart.

    And the bit rates in the DRM Free tracks are the same.

  3. Michael,

    I was not suggesting that any one was telling me to, just that if you don’t already have these programs (as most Mac users don’t, and this is a Mac site after all) then this has to be factored in if you want to use the site.

    On another affront, the walmart site makes an asumption that if you are not using either Sin200 or XP that you _must_ be using 98, ME or NT (God help the barbarians, if you are using a non-MS product…)

    “We’re sorry, your operating system is incompatible. To provide the best download experience, we can no longer support Windows 98, ME or NT. Please visit again after you upgrade to Windows 2000 or XP. Visit our Help section for complete system requirements information.”

    And I was Firefox on FreeBSD… D’oh! (So that would be a downgrade to 2000 or XP 🙂


  4. @TBM –

    This is a Mac site for sure, but I think that Fusion and Parallels are very popular programs.

    I think more and more users have or will have these programs. In fact, these programs are one of the ways that it’s become so easy to convince Windows users that I talk to that they have nothing to fear when switching.

    So one of the things I want to be sure and provide on this site are tips and reviews for those new users who have just switched.

    Honestly the thing that I feel makes the current Mac line the – bar none – best set of computers in the world, is the fact that you can run Windows, Linux, AND OS X on them.

  5. OK, I’m confused. The big record companies have been bitching the Apple is trying to squeeze them by keeping the price of songs down, right. And Apple puts it back on the labels to allow DRM-Free music sales. So they do, but at a premium.

    I’m pretty sure Apple isn’t getting the extra $ for these DRM-Free songs. Which I personally won’t by, because I have iTunes/iPod and I LOVE IT… On a Mac by the way…

    Anyhow, so to stick it to Apple or “keep them from becoming” to powerful, some labels decide NOT to resign there contracts.

    Low and behold, NOW they are offering DRM-Free music for less at Wal-Mart. What the F***!!!

    Ok, what really pisses me off is the fact that these morons at the labels think the world revolves around them. All I want is to get my music at the same place, the same way. I will NOT jump all over the web to get my music. If I’m forced to do that, I WILL START STEALING!! And to this day, EVERYTHING in my library has been purchased (by me).

    Way to go big music labels. You’re pissing legitimate users off and you’ll start loosing sales if you keep this crap up.

    An annoyed, trying to stay honest music purchaser….

  6. Its not just the price and content that have made iTunes as popular as it is. Its the ease of use and I doubt any other site will get it down aswell as Apple has with the iTunes store and the iTunes player.

    Besides all these companies keep switching and making new services, MTV, Microsoft, you name it, they keep scrapping failed stores and starting new ones, ruining any brand recognition they may have gotten. Apple keeps everything relating back to iTunes. I doubt anyone will really stop Apple unless all providers pull their music.

  7. I recall that 128kpbs AAC audio was comparable to 192kbps MP3 back when I had both in my library. I would venture that the 256kbps MP3s being sold at Wal Mart are perhaps not quite as good as the 256kbps AAC non-DRM’ed encodings from iTunes (though the difference could be too small for the average, or even above average listener to detect). Anyone done an A:B test on these yet?

  8. Or you can buy a used CD of DC Talk for $2.99* and rip all the tracks at 320 VBR and it’s auto loaded on your iphone/ipod. It’s not the price – it’s the convenience. Will they get some sales? Sure … but enough to make much of a dent – no because it’s the CONVENIENCE of itunes. Honestly, 90% of people using iTunes don’t care that much about DRM because Apple’s is “invisible.” You can load it onto as many ipods as you want so who notices?

    The people who are fanatics about DRM know how to a) buy a CD, b) download it for free and c) are not that inclinced to shop at walmart anyway and d) hate the record labels anyway – so who’s your audience?

  9. “All in all – the process couldn’t have gone smoother.”

    Um, are you KIDDING me?
    You can’t use Firefox, you can’t use safari, you need to use IE, on WINDOWS, so you need to have windows, you need to download a custom app just to download songs?

    I understand what you are TRYING to say, but it could have gone WAY simpler – you could have been able to click on songs and download them after entering a password for the purchase, or something like that. They could have made a cross platform downloader, I can continue – but the hoops you went through to support Walmart were FAR from smooth…

  10. “Wal-Mart has thrown the hammer down. Apple needs to step up. $1.29 for the DRM Free EMI tracks suddenly seems very expensive”

    It’s not as if the iTunes Store gets the lion’s share of what the end user pays: the record label gets that.

    Maybe Walmart is shaving its margins pretty thin, possibly even taking a loss, to pull custom in. Or perhaps Universal is giving Walmart a more generous wholesale price to enable them to undercut Apple.

    Universal would certainly like trade to move away from the iTunes Store, because Apple insists on a lowish standard pricing. Universal, and the record labels in general, would prefer working with online retail stores who’d agree to variable pricing — i.e., who’d agree to push the price *up* on tracks/albums that people want badly … in effect, stuff that the labels have convinced the kids they want badly through their marketing.

    They might think offering Walmart and others a good deal on the wholesale price on at least *some* tracks would be a price worth paying to get people who do buy downloads used to going elsewhere than iTunes for them. That would undermine Apple’s power in negotiating terms with Universal, wouldn’t it? If that’s what this is about, those customers would be setting themselves up for a price hike, wouldn’t they?

    I’m not so keen on buying downloads that are watermarked, anyway. These MP3s, apparently, are:

    Contrary to the false rumours circulating when the iTunes Plus files were released they are *not* watermarked. They have a little metadata in ordinary MP4 atoms that is fairly easily removed and that seems to be to do with Apple’s administration needs not EMI’s “piracy” fears. That’s not, apparently, true with Universal’s MP3s: they *do* have watermarking — identifiers that are, so to speak, woven all through the audio content of the files.

    I don’t like that. Apple/EMI trusts me; Magnatune trusts me; the Linn Records download store trusts me; eMusic trusts me. But, apparently, Universal doesn’t.

    They can go and boil their heads. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I’ll buy Universal’s MP3s and further their schemes.

  11. How can you possibly even THINK about supporting Wal-Mart, a company that destroys human beings, destroys entire communities, and destroys the planet?

    Wal-Mart is one of the most evil corporations in the entire world, and before you write any sort of an article that even comes CLOSE to supporting them, you should rent the movie “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price”.

    You can learn more about the movie here:

    Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

    Wal-Mart is EVIL. And they are pulling many of their “same old tricks” again with this new music downloading pricing scheme.

  12. @ Etyan

    iTunes is an application that most users have to download just to buy the music too, so I didn’t consider that a big deal.

  13. Michael,
    The title of the article is buying Wal-Mart … on your MAC. No macs ship without iTunes, so no, no application needs to be downloaded. I stand by my point that the steps you outlined (Run Windows on your mac, run IE, and download custom apps on top of all that) is FAR from smooth or hassle free. It is “If I want to download Wal-Mart files on my Mac I have to run Windows”. You may already have a VM running on your Mac, but this rules out those who don’t, those with PowerPC based Macs. etc.
    I think you are disingenuous if you do not correct that statement.

  14. >>iTunes is an application that most users have to download
    >>just to buy the music too, so I didn’t consider that a big deal.

    Not only is iTunes already installed on all Macs, but it is -not- an application “just too buy the nusic too”, it’s primary purpose is managing a music library across machines/devices and playing music.

  15. @Eytan

    You’re allowed to think whatever you like. I’m not correcting a statement that is true with one that would be false. It was NOT a pain to download this with the resources that I already have on my Mac.

    This statement: “So if you’re not running a virtualization program or boot camp, then you’re out of luck.”

    from the article makes it pretty clear that you can’t do this without those things installed.

    I’m not going to write an article trying to make this look harder than it is. I don’t assume that there is anyone out there that is going to drop $80 for Fusion, and another $300 + for Windows Vista just so they can download music from Wal-mart.

    That’s ridiculous.

    The complete “all in all” statement that seems to be bothering you so much even says that this is only a good option if you ALREADY have Parallels and/or Fusion and Vista and/or XP.

    This is an Apple blog. About APPLE products. You can run Vista very well on any current Apple Computer – so we’re going to talk about that from time to time. There are users out there who want to do that. This article is written for those people.

    We’re not towing the “party line” here and treating Windows like an enemy on this site. If you already have those things in place this is a viable alternative to using the iTunes store – and very easy to use. There was no hacking or lengthy set of steps to go through.

    Yeah, I had to install a small program. Now that I’ve installed it – I won’t have to again – and I just might use this service again in the future if I want to download a Universal Music album or track DRM Free – because I can’t do that in iTunes.

    It doesn’t mean there is anything WRONG with iTunes. Wal-mart has entered the market with a very competitive deal, and it should be discussed. If Apple wants to keep iTunes the #1 place for music downloads, they need to keep the DRM-Free pricing the same as the DRMed pricing.

    Wal-Mart has managed to do it – so it can be done. In most cases, Wal-Mart gets away with this stuff because they have more volume than anyone else, but in this case Apple sells way more tracks than Wal-Mart – so I’m betting they can do this too.

    This is my opinion. If you don’t share it – more power to you…but please don’t pick part of a paragraph from this article and act like I’m trying to mislead my readers.

    The statement is correct as is.

  16. Duh….linux users, just use IE for Linux….easy enough. And yes, it works. If you dont’ know how get it or install it, why are you using linux?

    Also, you can use this on a mac. Yes, you can. Again…if you’re not smart enough to do it…then why why why!!!!????

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