Why I still buy CDs (and why that might be changing soon)
Amongst my friends and family I'm considered something of a geek; always playing with technology and fiddling with new and interesting things. It's therefore surprising to them, when many of them have already adopted Spotify and download music from iTunes, that I remain resolutely Luddite about music downloads.
Readers of this blog will know, however, how I like the music in my digital music collection. The audio must be high quality, at least CD quality. I also see my music collection as a long term investment. I don't want to re-purchase the same recordings and releases simply because they are available in different formats (that's a wheeze the music industry has gotten away with several times before). Of all the mainstream online sources to purchase music, none offer at-least CD quality. iTunes offers music in 256kbps downloads. Spotify offers 320kbps Ogg streaming. Neither are high quality enough nor flexible enough to future proof my collection.
To achieve at-least CD quality I need music in a lossless format, encoded from a source which is CD or better (lossless merely mimics the quality of its source, so better-than-CD quality is possible).
To me, with a fairly hetrogenous home music network, it's all about FLAC. FLAC is the only format that is strongly cross platform (at least for the platforms I use), compressed, and still offers the possibilities for tagging, organising and working with art that the other formats such as MP3 and MP4 offer.
So can I buy lossless? Can I F... LAC
Can I purchase FLACs online? Well, yes, from a number of sites, but the selection is limited. Most of the websites selling FLACs are niche music sites, such as HDTracks or Bleep. If you happen to be looking for an album or song they are selling that's great, but the coverage overall is poor. Most sites seem to concentrate largely on music that a stereotyped audiophile may enjoy (think prog rock or classical) and not a wide variety of contemporary styled new releases.
So, when 7digital announced they would start selling FLACs in August last year I was pleased I would soon be able to download contemporary and mainstream music in all their lossless glory. Now, just a month ago I wanted to buy Katy B's On A Mission, Bon Ivor's Bon Iver, Bon Ivor and Wild Beasts' Smother. I visited 7digital's FLAC store. What did I find? Nine releases. In total. And one of those was N-Dubz.
All credit to 7digital for setting up the store at all, and seeing past the audiophile stereotype (but N-Dubz for chrissakes!), but they still have a long way to go. With this fresh in my mind it was a pertinent coincidence, then, when I bumped into Paul Shannon from 7digital at a recent MusicBrainz mini summit. Paul works in development at 7digital and informed me during our chat and a later email conversation that it's as much about the technical work as getting permission from labels:
Getting the agreements with them [the labels], and getting them to allow us to market different formats for the same price is an issue but the main thing that is holding us back is the sheer amount of data involved. We're currently working on ways to get the uncompressed files into our infrastructure so that they can be effectively delivered to end consumers - we have all the FLAC in our ingestion archive but that's a long way from having it catalogued and available for download. Once it's in our distributed file system we still have to consider the load and bandwidth required to permit downloads of our 17 million tracks in files 10 times the size!
Sounds like Paul and 7digital are actively working on this... which bodes well.
Back to CDs
But all that's in the future. For now, I still have to buy CDs to achieve my high quality, future proofed music collection, but I suppose at least I have a built-in physical backup this way!
I'd love to buy lossless music online. I really would. FLAC, WAV, AIFF or Apple Lossless; I don't care (I'd be able to transcode anyway). Just give me the lossless!
Thanks to bobbigmac for the image above.