Classical music recording label Deutsche Grammophon just recently launched an online music store offering internationally available DRM-free MP3 downloads of over 2,400 albums from its catalog, including many out-of-print recordings. This is good news for classical music lovers; but not so much for audiophiles.
As a classical music listener and an "audiophile" (at least by most definitions of the term), my reactions to this news were mixed. On the one hand it's great to have all this classical music content available in downloadable form; on the other hand, it's only available in a lossy format (MP3) - albeit encoded at 320 kbps - and not priced below the cost of many existing CDs.
To me, this is similar to the situation with e-books - a format that has yet to prove a success. As someone with way too many books taking up space in my apartment I've looked into the idea of buying e-books at various times, but have always been put off by the fact that they're priced almost the same as the hardcopy print books.
The same with downloadable MP3s. Sure, I probably can't tell the difference between a 320-kbps MP3 file and the original uncompressed recording, but I won't be inclined to buy the MP3 when I can get the original recording on the CD for the same or less and encode it losslessly myself.
It's true, and a little disconcerting, that most people seem perfectly happy purchasing lossy files through sites like iTunes to play on their portable music players, without caring - or perhaps even being aware - that those files are not the same quality as the music on CD. I, however, would like a choice - such as that offered by the Eagles on their online store for their latest studio album Long Road Out Of Eden, which is available in both 256-kbps MP3 format and in the lossless FLAC format.
I realize that part of the reason for offering only lossy encoded files in an online music store is related to site bandwidth and keeping download speeds as fast as possible. However, with classical music in particular - which generally could be expected to compress well - the difference in file size between a 320-kbps MP3 and a lossless FLAC version of the same material is probably less than it would be for most other types of music.
Still, this shouldn't be taken as too much of a knock against Deutsche Grammophon - after all, the fact that they've launched the site with the features it has is commendable. And according to an article in Stereophile about Deutsche Grammophon's new online store, there are plans to eventually make some products available in better than CD quality. Now that sounds like something worth waiting for!
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