• The State of Audiophile Music Downloads

    Music downloads have been around for a while now. Apple has sold over one billion songs through its iTunes store. Amazon has recently joined the party by offering songs at twice the bit rate of typical iTunes downloads. Some of the traditional record labels are also vying for the remaining pennies of your disposable income by offering 320kbps DRM-Free downloads. These options combined offer most of the popular artists one would find in a local record store, but none of them are aimed at the audiophile community. Fortunately the best is yet to come for audiophiles seeking everything from 16 bit / 44.1 kHz material all the way to 24 bit / 192 kHz and everything in between. Let's take a look at some of the download sites Computer Audiophile readers will enjoy.

     

     





    B&W Music Club

    The B&W Music Club is a unique music buying experience. You pay B&W $40 for six months or $60 for twelve months in return you can download the featured album of the month in Apple Lossless format. At first I resisted because I didn't want topre -purchase music I may not like. After reexamining the whole Club I was hooked. It feels like a luxury music buying experience. B&W offers interviews with the artist and videos about the making of the album. The videos also the importance of sound quality and all things audiophiles are interested in seeing. The music I've downloaded has been very good and I've hear the same from many other people including Computer Audiophile readers. The music thus far has been 16/44.1. The B&W Music Club is definitely not one of those audiophile quality ventures that totally disregards the quality of the music. So far the Club offers both good sound and good music.

    From the B&W site:


    * B&W commissions each artist with the creative guidance of our partners at Real World [Studios].
    * [B&W] then pay that artist an advance and finances the creation of the recording, and associated content, at Real World Studios.
    * Each album [B&W] commissions is offered for one month as part of the B&W Music Club.
    * Following an additional month, the rights to the album returns to the artist, who is then free to arrange a more traditional release deal with anyone they choose.



     

     




    High Definition Tape Transfers

    High Definition Tape Transfers offers rare classical recordings in real 24/96 FLAC high resolution downloads. Even if you're not a Classical music fan I recommend downloading an album or two. The quality is very good. You may be surprised at how a very good Classical recording can really make your audio system sweat. Current music categories include Chamber Music (1 album), Concertos & Solo Instrument Orchestra (7 albums), Symphonies (21 albums), Orchestral (20 albums), Vocal (5 albums), and Baroque (1 album). The high resolution 24/96 downloads are $12 per album and include high resolution album art.

     

     




    iTrax

    Mark Waldrep's iTrax site is one of the only sites to offer complete digital (end-to-end) high resolution 24/96 downloads. In addition to 2-channel stereo downloads iTrax also has a host of multi-channel albums in high resolution. iTrax is one of those sites where the letters HD really mean high definition, as in 24/96. The letters HD have been so watered down on other sites offeringredbook 16/44.1 quality that we may need some new terms in the audiophile lexicon. Currently iTrax has a limited selection of forty-five albums in several genres such as Rock, Jazz, Vocal, Country, and Blues. A 24/96 stereo version of a complete album will run you about $22 with the 5.1 version running about $28.


     

     







    HDTracks

    HDTracks was founded by David and Norman Chesky and has the largest selection of audiophile recordings available for download. HDTracks has about 400 artists and over 100 labels to choose from. Most of the content is good quality 16/44.1. The recently added 24/96 store has about 60 albums and continues to grow weekly. Of note are the Reference Recordings 24/96 albums. This is a good opportunity for people to try the 16/44.1 and 24/96 version of the same album and hear the difference in quality on their own system. The 24/96 albums are downloaded s FLAC files and sell for $16. The 16/44.1 albums are available as AIFF, FLAC, and a 320kbps mp3 version is also available. All sell for $13 and come with full album art and liner notes in PDF format.



     

     





    Linn Records


    Linn Records offers downloads from seven record labels and literally hundreds of albums in the Jazz, Classical, and Rock / Pop genres. The Linn online store is the most polished of the music download sites. It even offers complete NAS drivespre-configured and pre -loaded with all the Linn Studio Master tracks. Linn Records also offers the widest range of download formats. Here is a sample from one album and the corresponding prices. The Linn store is certainly not inexpensive but the selection and options are very nice.

    Studio Master 5.1
    FLAC 24bit 88.2kHz 4,188.7MB $32.00
    Studio Master
    FLAC 24bit 88.2kHz 1,758.3MB $29.00
    Studio Master
    WMA 24bit 88.2kHz 1,757.7MB $29.00
    CD Quality
    FLAC 16bit 44.1kHz 470.2MB $15.00
    CD Quality
    WMA 16bit 44.1kHz 463.8MB $15.00
    MP3
    MP3 320k 44.1kHz 217.9MB $12.00




     

     






    2L


    2L (Lindberg Lyd Ltd) is a Norwegian site that offers a few high resolution downloads and some physical media. 2L has offered the first audiophileBluray disc for quite some time. The site can be a little hard to navigate and offers about 50 albums for download. Some albums are 24/96 while others are 24/192. Almost all selections are also available asSACDs or CDs. A note on the 2L site says, " Purchase of FLAC24/96 includes access also to 320 kbps MP3. Please allow 24 hours for manual delivery of access code per e-mail." This is a little different from the previously mentioned download sites. It appears that the download may not be available shortly after purchase.



     

     





    MusicGiants - 99% DRM'd content, but many popular artists available. Must use Windows operating system.


     

     






    Naxos Music Library - All streaming content, huge selection. Subscription required.



     

     




    Classics Online - Very large selection. Only 320 kbps mp3 downloads.


     

     





    Deutsche Gramophone - Large selection of really good music. Only 320 kbps mo3 downloads.


     

     




    Gimell Records - Limited selection, but several different file types to download including 24/96 Stereo and 5.1 mixes.


     

     








    Pristine Classical - Not the largest selection, but some 24/96 FLAC downloads of Jazz, Blues, and Classical. Hard to navigate.


     

     






    Internet Archive - Giant selection of live recordings form 16 to 24 bit and many sample rates. Much of this is FREE.


     

     

    This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the great download sites. Please add on to this in the comments below!

     

     
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi David - Thanks a lot for the post.
    1. Elprior's Avatar
      Elprior -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      excellent list of yours.<br />
      <br />
      Naim is also starting to sell hd tracks as wav files.<br />
      Unfortunately, this is (very) limited to 2 albums so far.<br />
      The good news is that this label is usually quite good.<br />
      Wait & Hear.<br />
      <br />
      As for 2L, there is a wonderful test bench page (http://www.2l.no/hires/index.html), where you can download a variety of samples from 2L stocks in different formats (although the strange DXD one won't necessary be on your top list). That represents a good opportunity to test the different resolutions qualities.<br />
      <br />
      Elp.
    1. RC's Avatar
      RC -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      I wonder if you've heard any suggestion that Emusic.com could ultimately offer lossless music. They have such a vast, appealing catalogue, especially of jazz recordings, that it would seem a natural area of diversification. At present, unfortunately, it's all severely compressed.<br />
      <br />
      Maybe lossless is too much a niche market in the iPod era, but all the competitive options springing up seem to imply new opportunities for an existing mp3 merchant. They already have the infrastructure and contracts could be renegotiated.<br />
      <br />
      Thoughts on this? Do you have any sense that some labels might resist lossless downloads as a last raid on the dwindling CD market?
    1. jaems-kun's Avatar
      jaems-kun -
      May I recommend http://www.klicktrack.com ? It's 320mp3, but it's a personal favorite of mine <br />
      <br />
      -j
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi RC - Thanks for the emusic link. It is impossible to guess what the labels are thinking. Some of them are so forward thinking and others are not even thinking!
    1. dodren's Avatar
      dodren -
      FYI, I notice that Linn Records now has at least four albums available for download in 24 bit 192 kHz. They sound wonderful.
    1. alcina's Avatar
      alcina -
      http://www.magnatune.com<br />
      Offer various download (or streaming - only advantage is there are no adverts at the ends of the tracks) options at variable prices. Classical (esp. pre 1800), World and Jazz largely. 50% of what you pay goes to the musicians, 50% goes to Magnatune. Offers only certain artists/albums. You can listen to the entire album/track as a "hi-fi" mp3 (with an advert at the end) before you buy, not just a sample. Purchase downloads as mp3, FLAC, WAV and AAC. No DRM. Not a standard catalogue, they don't deal with big labels, but very interesting. Offers a "free song of the day" mp3. Personally I'm a big Nick McGegan fan and it is through his recordings with the Philharmonia Baroque that I came across this site.<br />
      <br />
      Alcina<br />
    1. blessingx's Avatar
      blessingx -
      Thanks for the list. I was unaware of the B&W Society of Sound Music Club and have since signed up. So far so good with ALAC or FLAC downloads. Like their emerging artist focus.
    1. signorBianchi's Avatar
      signorBianchi -
      Deutsche Grammophon has 16/44.1 flac downloads too. Just FYI.
    1. nwjg's Avatar
      nwjg -
      Downloaded these two 24/96 shows today:<br />
      <br />
      http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=collection%3A%22PhilLeshandFriend s%22%20AND%20%28phil%20lesh%29%20flac24%20and%2096 k<br />
      <br />
      Really quite good if you like audience recordings. There is a lot of venue info in the recording which, to me, helps to recreate the live event. And I've been to more than a few of these shows. <br />
      <br />
      There is more music here than you could ever listen to.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. pwhinson's Avatar
      pwhinson -
      When I try to download the samples from the test bench page, my mac appears to try to stream the files in quicktime. I can remedy this and simply download the files?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Right click the link and choose download.
    1. nwjg's Avatar
      nwjg -
      I just click (left click) on the link to the right of each song and a download window appears.
    1. pwhinson's Avatar
      pwhinson -
      Dumb dumb here. On the mac I had my rodent setup incorrect so that both right and left clicks were "primary" clicks. Thanks.
    1. andrewjpeterson's Avatar
      andrewjpeterson -
      Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!<br />
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    1. roccoriley's Avatar
      roccoriley -
      Well...for what it's worth, Naim and Linn both have a bunch of Hi Res stuff available on their webs.
    1. almaatakz's Avatar
      almaatakz -
      so far I have tired Linn Records, Naim Records and B&W Society of Sound.<br />
      <br />
      To my taste both Linn and Naim offer a reasonable selection of music with some excellent albums. <br />
      <br />
      SoS has been a disappointment for me, due to very limited choice of music.<br />
      <br />
      Sound quality was good on all of the three sites I tired.<br />
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      almaatakz commented... <em>"SoS has been a disappointment for me, due to very limited choice of music."</em><br />
      <br />
      The Society of Sound is NOT a general purpose download site - as Chris described above it's a "music club" where they offer a single recording each month. As a bonus they now allow you to access music from previous months.<br />
      <br />
      It can not be compared to a general purpose download site such as Linn or Naim.<br />
      <br />
      Eloise<br />
      <br />
      P.S. you really have a downer on the SoS don't you ... making basically the same comment in two threads!
    1. almaatakz's Avatar
      almaatakz -
      -------- P.S. you really have a downer on the SoS don't you ... making basically the same comment in two threads! ---------<br />
      <br />
      Indeed. I wanted to like them so much but was very disappointed. It's not that they do not have enough music tracks/albums on the site. It's that I did not find much music in their music tracks... ;-(<br />
      <br />
      What did others think?
    1. ted_b's Avatar
      ted_b -
      Not great pricing, but not usery either.<br />
      <br />