Linn Records audiophile downloads are superb. These are the best audiophile downloads available today. How else can I say I highly recommend their albums. Linn Records is a subsidiary company of Linn Products who produces Hi-Fi audio components including the Linn Klimax DS digital music player. Linn offers a wide selection of audiophile recordings in the genres of Jazz, Classical, and Scottish. My journey into audiophile downloads began at their website shortly after they were featured in The Abso!ute Sound. I was skeptical at first, but the thorough information Linn provides, answered any question I came up with. What formats, how large are the files, how do I play them, DRM?, etc... I figured if I was going to pay $30 for an album I had never really heard I better be satisfied before and after the purchase. So, I purchased and downloaded Claire Martin's He Never Mentioned Love in Linn's Studio Master FLAC 24bit 96kHz format. Not only does this album sound spectacular, the songs are great too. I plan to publish a full review of it later. Overall the experience couldn't have been easier and more satisfying. Great music and great sound, an audiophile's dream.
Let's start with the Linn Records website. They have a excellent descriptions and documentation and even offer test files to download. They have articles on getting the best out of your downloaded music and a beginner's guide to downloading music from their site. You can also see a list of just their highest quality downloads available. They have really thought of everything and are leading the way in the audiophile download category. If the other labels offered this type of service I would be elated.
What types of files / formats do they offer? Here is also what separates Linn from the rest of the (small) pack. Music Giants is not in the same league, but iTrax (review coming soon) is a close second to Linn. Linn offers Studio Master FLAC, Studio Master WMA, CD quality FLAC, CD quality WMA and MP3.
Here are the detailed descriptions straight from their site:
Studio Master FLAC?
If absolute sound quality is what you want then this file is best for you.
FLAC files are lossless at various high bit rates, for example, 48KHz, 88.2KHz and 96KHz (check each title for actual details). The quality is identical to that of an SACD (Stereo only). The format will be dependent on the actual recording method we used originally. No DSD files are offered as it is not possible to play them back on a PC so an equivalent PCM format is offered. These files offer true "studio quality" and are what was used by Linn to produce the production version of our CD releases. FLAC files can be imported into many media players, such as the Klimax DS digital music player, but unfortunately Microsoft does not yet support high bit-rate FLAC, so these files will not play in Windows Media Player. There are many other FLAC players available such as Media Monkey and Foobar. FLAC Studio Masters play in Play and VLC, but not in Cog or MPlayer. It is however very easy to transcode FLAC to several other lossless formats.
Studio Master WMA
If absolute sound quality is what you want then this file is best for you.
WMA files are lossless at various high bit rates for example, 48KHz, 88.2KHz and 96KHz (check each title for actual details). This download is offered for those who desire the best sound possible. The quality is identical to that of an SACD (stereo only). The format will be dependent on the actual recording method we used originally. No DSD files are offered as it is not possible to play them back on a PC so an equivalent PCM format is offered. These files offer true "studio quality" and are what was used by Linn to produce the production version of our CD releases.
CD Quality FLAC?
If CD sound quality is what you want then this file is best for you.
FLAC is a lossless format allows us to compress the music in a lossless manner ensuring that you get all the benefit of a full bandwidth audio performance, but with a file size that is around half that of a normal CD.
FLAC files can be imported and played on a variety of media players, such as the Klimax DS digital music player. To play these files in Windows Media Player you first need to download a filter such as the one at Illiminable.
FLAC files can be played back flawlessly on Macs in OS X. Examples of playback tools are Cog, MPlayer, VLC and Play.
CD Quality WMA?
If CD sound quality is what you want then this file is best for you. ?WMA is a lossless format allows us to compress the music in a lossless manner ensuring that you get all the benefit of a full bandwidth audio performance, but with a file size that is around half that of a normal CD.
If you are a PC user it is simple to download WMA. WMA can be imported and used directly in most PC audio programs including Windows Media Player and iTunes.
WMA files can only be imported into iTunes on a Mac once converted to a Mac friendly format. The files can be played on a Mac, but in a limited way. The Microsoft website has further information regarding playing these files on a Mac. We wanted to offer Apple lossless too, but have been unable to get the rights to do this. You can also use "Switch", an audio conversion utility produced by NCH Swift Sound to convert them to aiff or wav type files which can then be easily imported at full CD audio quality in iTunes.
This file type should work with all computer types including PC, Mac and Linux. This is similar to what most other download sites refer to as "CD" quality. In fact, what they normally mean is that the file is digital, most other compressed music delivery sites deliver very poor audio quality. The audio that we offer is compressed but only to the point that sound quality doesn't suffer unduly (320kbps compared to other sites which are 128kbps).
If the download speed of your internet connection is a concern then this file is best for you. This type of download file is the only one to consider if you have dial up, the others are much too large to download over a dial up connection.
With this selection of formats there is something for everyone, but most important to us are the Studio Master files. Since am using a MacBook Pro and I downloaded the Studio Master FLAC files I converted the album to an iTunes friendly format. I used the MAX (Macintosh Audio for OS X) application to convert them to AIFF files like the rest of my library. If you want to listen to the FLAC versions just use an application like Cog, it works great for me. The MAX app will convert the files and add them to your library on the fly. Very cool. After conversion the files are over 4000 kbps. Just a little bit higher than iTunes AAC at 128 kbps :-) Using an external firewire 800 hard drive I had no problem with the large file size. My 60 GB iPod (generation 5) will not play the files, but in reality there would be no benefit anyway because of the inferior quality produced by the iPod. ( FYI - I tried to sync them to the iPod but Itunes said it wold not transfer the files because they could not be played.) Bottom line, download the Studio Master files and down-convert from there if you need to. Sure the price is a little steep at $30, but definitely worth it. Considering how much money most of us have put into our playback systems $30 would not even cover the sales (VAT) tax on our power cords.
Now to my one complaint about the Linn experience. Downloading the files. Linn does recommend using a download manager to get all the files, but I didn't want to waste anymore time so I disregarded the advice. When I got to the download page the only option Linn provides is to download each song individually. I was hoping for a large zip or tar file to click on and let download for a while. One positive is that you can click each file and they will all download at the same time in individual streams. Still, this can be a pain because "stuff" happens and baby sitting 10 downloads can cause a little anxiety. Fortunately Linn has a fat pipe and the files come down pretty fast. Clicking all at the same time did not slow them all down. I am guessing they throttle the download speed of each file behind the scenes to allow for this.
If you haven't purchased any audiophile downloads from Linn yet you are missing out. Fortunately the website is open 24/7 and you can head over there right now to start your collection of Studio Master albums. Be sure to let us at Computer Audiophile know what you think of the whole experience and the quality of the downloads. It would also be nice to start a list of albums people have downloaded and what they think of them. I will start the thread in the Audiophile Downloads section of the forums and hope to see all of you there shortly. (link to thread).