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January 13, 2009
Is The Future of Recorded Music Downloading?
Call me a cynic, sceptic, neo-luddite if you like but so far I have not been impressed by the possibilities of music downloading. Perhaps surprisingly it is companies such as Linn Records and their larger Linn HI-Fi brother that have taken something of a lead in this area and they will be looked at as a leading model later. I say surprisingly because of the anti-digital stance originally taken by Linn in the early days of CD. Apart from the fact that you have no hard copy to back you up, unless you make them yourself, there is a lack of nice booklets which can tell you about the music and musicians of whatever musical genre. I do admit though that there is probably something of a generational thing here and as a student I would be aspiring to a music server.
Arcam FMJ Music Server MS250
On thing I have noticed as the internet has developed is the increasing ability of companies and institutions to pass expenses and time consuming jobs onto the customer. Skimpy little instruction books tell you to go online and print the full off for example. Adorno and Horkheimer discussed how people would work hard at their leisure time in their well known article on the Culture Industry. It seems to me that there is a danger of this happening here.
I do put most of my CDs onto iTunes which can be downloaded to my iPod but this isn't meant for high quality listening although investing in good headphones can dramatically improve the listening experience. If you want to listen to computerised music files in higher quality then they can be saved as FLAC files. However, even this loses out against a full surround sound SACD although Linn Records provide "Studiomaster FLAC" which is full surround sound. One might as well get the SACD and put it on some sort of music server if you want some convenience. The other thing is you can always sell the CD/SACD secondhand or give them to Oxfam etc. Second-hand CDs can be fun!
Advantages of Downloads
Linn Records give a list of advantages for downloading although I'm still happier to go for 'the real thing'. Here is a link to the FLAC website for those interested. I have to say I can see the commercial advantages for Linn records as much easier access to global markets could make a significant difference for them and/or other small record companies.
Being able to download invididual tracks is a big advantage if you just want to trial something. For the classical fan Classics Online run by Naxos records provides large numbers of CDs in downloadable versions. This gives smaller recording companies like BIS and Hyperion global distribution, however, there is currently only the option of downloading at 320 kbps which is the equivalent of CD quality. The downloads have the distinct advantage of being DRM (Digital Rights Management) free so you can put thm all your computers iPods etc.
For the Classics Online list of recording companies please click here
You can find BIS for example on a number of other download sites howver these are only available as MP3 files which aren't suitable for high quality reproduction of classical music. Here I strongly recommend you buy the CDs.
Problem of slow internet connections
With CD file sizes being compressed to around 300mb and presumably with full surround ones being significantly larger the future of music downloading is very much dependent upon the installation of high speed broadband services. Currently in the UK many people are struggling to get fast connectivity unless they are near an exchange. Another issue is that downloading masses of large files might incur extra charges from your ISP depending on your contract.
Well on the resarch done so far Linn is well ahead of the game as far as downloading is concerned. They appar to be the only company that can offer full surround SACD. This fits with the company Hi-Fi vision that the future is going to b downloads via high quality digital stream players. Accordingly they have produced a range of these players which go from relatively inxpensive to "high end".
The Linn DS (Digital Stream) Majik
As far as I'm concerned having back up is vital. Who wants to lose what could turn into terrabytes of music data? Perhaps companies like Linn will provide a back up on-line service for its customers? Despite my current scepticism I think that Linn is probably way ahead of the game as this will undoubtedly become the way in which people newer to hi-fi normally buy, store and play their music as so many people are used to downloading often pirated versions as quality and finance becomes available. But success on a global scale in the long-term is dependent upon hi-speed broadband.