Better Than CD and Sometimes Free
You say youve got a computer- or
music-server-based digital music setup that can go beyond CD's 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution
and you want to know where do you find high-resolution files to download and play? Here
are more than a dozen sites where you can download music at better-than-CD resolution, and
some of it doesn't cost a cent.
My first stop is always HDtracks. It is the best site of all
for high-resolution files, especially if you are a newcomer to downloading. It is utterly
simple and foolproof to use. It provides an excellent and rapidly growing library
encompassing all types of music and dozens of labels, and all of the music is priced
reasonably. High-resolution 24-bit/96kHz album downloads are generally $15.98, but you can
download individual tracks, songs or compositions at a proportionately lower cost. With
HDtracks' built-in download manager, its a snap to get your albums. I've found
HDtracks to be the fastest of all the sites, and all of the albums are DRM (Digital
Rights Management) free, so you can use and play your downloads as you see fit.
You can also get your feet wet at no cost, as
HDtracks offers an excellent free sampler. After the sampler, try one of the Reference
Recordings or Chesky files, and you'll be hooked. It is also possible to get the free
sampler at CD quality, making for an interesting comparison. HDtracks offers a number of
downloads billed as CD quality, but to my ears they usually sound a little better than
that. New titles and labels are added weekly.
If you enjoyed the HDtracks sampler and are still
looking for more free downloads, there are other possibilities. B&W
Music Club offers a few. Near the bottom of the overview page, highlighted in yellow,
click on "sign up for a free three-month trial." This will give you a free
EP-length download once a month for three months. If you decide join the club, the rates
are very reasonable.
Another interesting and unique site offering
entirely free downloads is the Live Music Archive, where you can seek out live concerts by both
famous and unknown bands. All of these downloads are sanctioned by the performers, so you
wont be stealing anything.You will even see a section of 24-bit FLAC downloads. This
site requires patience and the spirit of discovery because there is so much music
available. But if you snoop around, you can find some really good stuff, like live Dave
Getting what you pay for
Linn, which has always been an innovator in audio hardware, has a good
site with high-resolution downloads. Linn's own label is featured, but the company is
beginning to add some indie labels, most notably Acousence, which has released some really
outstanding sonic spectaculars. You can read about them at the labels home
page, though you must order the music through Linn. The Linn site offers some surround
tracks and some variation in its download formats, giving you a choice of resolution and
file type. I found the downloads moderately easy to get onto my computer, but the site
has, at this time, no download manager, so you might need to use one of your own if you
are downloading a large number of files. The site has a very good help section that
explains just about everything you could possibly want to know. The only downside is that
the downloads are among the most expensive.
Mark Waldreps iTrax offers primarily AIX and 2L
recordings, and it is one of the sites to list surround-sound versions as well as stereo.
The selection is fairly limited, but its unique in that all the original recordings
are 24-bit/96kHz and you wont find AIX recordings as downloads anywhere else. The
site has a newsletter and editorials that discuss topics of interest to those who
download. The downloads are not cheap, but they are worth the price.
Chandos has just upgraded most of
its titles to high resolution. The bulk of the offerings are recordings on the Chandos
label, which has a choice catalog, but there are also quite a few other labels as well,
including Naxos, crd, Nimbus, Saydisc, and Centaur -- over 45 labels in all. Not all of
these labels' selections are available in high resolution yet, but most are and the number
is growing. I downloaded a recording of Holsts The Wandering Scholar that
sounded splendid. The costs are fairly high, and, because the prices are listed in British
currency, they are liable to fluctuate depending on the strength of the dollar at the time
you order. I found searching this site a little more difficult than some. Its easy
to find a listing by composer, but within that classification it might take a little while
to find a particular work.
HD Giants has some good downloads
and reasonable prices, but too many of the titles are not DRM free. The company is working
on this, I am told. One of the best reasonably priced downloads I have found is a single
title, Circus Money from Walter
Beckers site. I downloaded the high-resolution file and was so impressed with it
at home that I burned a CD to use in the car. I believe we will see more and more artists
selling downloads direct like this.
has only one artistic group, the Tallis Scholars, but the site offers a wide variety of
formats for high-resolution downloads and the best explanation of all the sites on how the
formats vary and how much time typical downloads take. Click on "downloads" for
a drop-down screen that offers each type for you to click on and get complete information.
The Gimmell downloads are pricey, but they are of exceptional quality.
High Definition Tape Transfers offers 24-bit/96kHz downloads created
from reel-to-reel master tapes. There are some gems available at very reasonable cost.
Then when youre ready for the ne plus ultra of download samples, go to Kent
with Sound site and download the two samples from his latest jazz compilation.
Ive heard a lot of downloaded music, and I can tell you that it doesnt get
better than this.
These just in
Here are some sites that have just come to my
attention. Ive not had time to check them out thoroughly, but they look
I picked the 2L release Divertimento as the best of
the year for 2008. This label's recordings have always proved to be outstanding. They are
available as 24-bit/96kHz files on HDtracks, but they are also available from the source,
and in more varied configurations, including surround sound. There are free sample tracks
you can download here as well.
The Magnatune site appears to offer the most exotic selection of them all,
ranging from the American Bach Soloists to indie rock. According to the blurb, this site
offers everything from MP3 to FLAC, so some of the music must be in high resolution. The
site has a singular pricing policy whereby the user gets to pick the price, either on a
monthly basis for unlimited downloads or per download. Fifty percent of what you spend
goes to the artists.
Passionato looks like a most interesting site. It offers recordings
from major labels like Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Verve, Philips, and EMI, and all of the
files are DRM free. There is a powerhouse staff -- all folks who have been successful in
the recording industry for some time. This is, in my opinion, one to watch, especially
because at this time only UK customers can download from it. That's sure to change.
You can probably find even more sites on your own
by doing a Google search. Its not an exaggeration to say that the digital-download
business is mushrooming so successfully that sites are popping up every week. In these
early stages, you will find many downloads through exploration. There really is a lot of
gold in those hills, so happy hunting.