Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Next Generation - high resolution downloads

Some good news to herald in - if somewhat belatedly- the start of the New Year: Linn Records, the label of the Scottish audiophile company, has launched what I believe to be Europe’s first high-resolution music download service.

Unlike other companies such as Naxos, who deceptively claim to offer CD quality when in fact what their Music Library provides is a low-fidelity 128kbps stream (CD is 1411kbps), Linn’s catalogue is available for download in true CD quality. Even more interesting, are the Studio Masters, of which there are only half a dozen at present, but which are available at the higher 24bit resolution. All are DRM free, WMA lossless media files and each download includes a Pdf file of the CD artwork, and presumably the CD notes.

This move is a highly significant breakthrough for the classical music (and the wider acoustic music) industry. With CD sales falling month on month the recording industry has been staggering along trying to reposition itself inline with consumer demand. Whilst the comparatively wealthy and agile popular music industry has been able to effect the necessary realignment with the emerging online market by implementing lossy (low-fidelity) downloads such as MP3 and AAC, the shrunken classical music industry has increasingly found itself left flailing behind; an unequal voice in an uncertain market.

And with good reason: if low-fi media files are able to represent the limited dynamic range of heavily compressed pop music tolerably well they are wholly unsuitable carriers for the broad dynamic range of acoustically recorded classical music. But without the support of the wider audio industry the classical music arm has insufficient strength to ensure the successful promotion of either DVDAudio (DVDA) or Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) both of which are excellent media for classical music. Linn Records is the first to meet this technological challenge head on.

Their website offers an extensive, at times amusing, yet straightforward explanation of how to get the most out of the service as well as the thoughtful inclusion of test files whereby users can identify potential difficulties before making a purchase. But at the same time it does seem to place an unwarranted emphasis on the files being “suitable primarily for use on a PC” - perhaps as a caution to the impenetrable difficulties often encountered by Mac users - but unfortunately this does suggest a certain circumspection about the relatively straightforward process of burning the files onto a CDR for use in a standard CD player. Likewise, while the site makes clear that the Studio Master files can be backed up on DVD it fails to suggest the use of DVDAudio authoring software such as Cirlinca or Discwelder that would allow users to play Linn’s recordings in a standard DVD-A player.

Anyhow, well done Linn!

photo: Phil Hobbs of Linn Records

1 Comments:

Blogger Guthry Trojan said...

Actually the latter suggestion is highly impractical due to the prohibitive cost of Meridian Lossless Packing software (MLP) which is essential for DVD-A authoring - it's currently available at the reduced rate of $2500!

Friday, January 26, 2007 1:46:00 pm  

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