Lunaya Pravda

26 November 2007

Entering the world of music downloads

I recently purchased a 30GB Creative Zen personal music player for myself. Tired of shuffling CDs in and out of the car, trying to change them while driving (dangerous and not fun), and picking and choosing what to take to work, I decided that a player big enough to hold my entire CD collection which can be plugged into my car's auxiliary jack would be ideal, particularly for the long road trip I'm planning next summer.

Having resisted the purchase for some time, now I wish I'd done it sooner. This thing is awesome. I can take all my CDs with me in a piece of hardware the size of a deck of cards, create playlists that fit my moods, and it's not likely I'll fill this 30GB monster before it breaks or technology advances to the point I become tempted to buy a new one.

But I have one player-related complaint. While the hardware has evolved at break-neck speed, online music retail has not. iTunes still dominates the market, and with their draconian DRM attached to the vast majority of their offerings, I'm virtually shut out of getting anything useful from them, as you have to have iTunes or an iPod to USE their music, punishing those of us who have the audacity to buy a competitor's product.

And other online retailers have their own DRM, or they require memberships, or their bit rate is so low that I'd rather not bother with them. (I ripped all my music at 328 kbps--I want the quality to come through in the car's audio system.)

So it was with some hesitation that I began to research Amazon's new online music retail. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover their offerings--most anyway--come at 256 kbps, which is more than decent, and they don't sell anything with DRM attached. That means I, the buyer, can use those songs in any manner I see fit. I can burn them to CD, upload them to the Zen, or just keep them on my PC and play them with whatever software floats my boat.

Amazon's selection still lags behind iTunes; obviously there are some labels that aren't likely to negotiate DRM-free offerings with Amazon. And their purchasing interface isn't nearly so friendly, given that iTunes has had several years to perfect their one-click and shopping card methods for downloading music. For example, if you buy individual songs, you might very well see a bill for $0.89 on your VISA or debit card. But if you want to buy a whole CD, you have to download a special add-on that reads your shopping cart. It's clunky, but I don't doubt Amazon will move full-speed ahead if the market responds to their offerings.

But the 256 kbps bit rate music I downloaded sounded just fine in the car and on my PC, and I LOVE the complete absence of restrictions. Plus, much of their music is cheaper than iTunes ($0.89 per song versus $0.99).

I don't plan on buying a ton of music online--just songs here and there when I don't want the entire album--but so far, I'm impressed with them as an alternative to Apple's anti-freedom stance toward audiophiles. In a retail industry lacking in options, it's refreshing to see a company with that kind of resources wading in.

iTunes can go pound sand.

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