Regular readers will know that I am an enthusiast for digital downloads, but not the lossy-compressed, DRM-encumbered items on offer from iTunes or similar sites.
I was therefore interested to see that Linn Records is now offering audiophile downloads. Linn is a tiny label, but the brand is well known in hi-fi circles thanks to the famous Linn Sondek turntable and other high-end products. The label has put out some excellent recordings, such as albums by the Blue Nile and the jazz singer Carol Kidd, as well as classical music.
Linn is now offering digital downloads from its site. These include MP3, lossless WMA in CD quality, and perhaps most interesting, a “Studio Master” file which is also lossless WMA, but at a higher bitrate.
The various formats available are described here. Here’s a snippet:
This download is offered for those who desire the best sound possible. The quality is identical to that of an SACD. 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. Be sure to check compatibility with your PC sound card etc before you download a file and note that large amounts of storage space are required for each track.
Why not AAC? Linn notes:
We wanted to offer lossless AAC too, but have been unable to get the rights to do this.*
Well why not FLAC then? Still, this is a step forward, especially as no DRM is attached to the files.
The tricky aspect is actually playing the highest resolution files. They can be played in Windows Media Player, but obviously can’t be burned to a CD at full quality. You can back them up to a DVD, but not play them. Still, these are lossless files, so with a bit of effort it must be possible to create DVD audio disks and even get them onto Macs and iPods.
Here are typical prices, this example being the Brahms Clarinet Quintet:
Actual CD: £15.00
Studio Master (24-bit lossless WMA): £18.00
CD quality (16-bit lossless WMA): £11.00
MP3 (320kbps): £9.00
£18.00 for a “Studio Master” is expensive, but for what you are getting it strikes me as fair value.
Will this initiative be wrecked by piracy, or provide valuable new business for Linn? I don’t know; but it seems to be that piracy cannot get a lot worse than it already is. I hope it proves successful.
PS: interesting comment here on why Linn is not using DRM:
For now we have decided not to use any form of Digital Rights Management. This is because there are no commercially available systems that are platform independent and also because the only currently available system from Microsoft does not deliver a service level that we think you would expect to get. If in the future a suitable system is developed then we may decide to use it.
*I’ve now clarified with with Linn. Rights for AAC are not a problem; it’s Apple Lossless that is the difficulty.