Buy MP3 Music? Is It Time To Start Buying High Quality Lossless Music Download Formats?

apple-ipod-first-generation-mp3-playerWhen MP3 players started appearing in 1999, (yes, it has been ten years..) everyone was limited to low quality MP3 files to use with their player, as people were limited to dial-up internet connections which cost by the minute and jammed every phone line in the house. To have to download huge audio files would have been inconvenient to say the least. The answer? Compress the audio into files no bigger than a few megabytes.

Great solution for the 90’s, but what about now? Every house in Britain will have at least 2MB broadband by 2012. The majority of houses in Britain enjoy high speed internet anyway, yet we’re still using the same crappy small music files! If you buy music in iTunes, you’re still downloading compressed AAC files at 256kb/s.

So why can’t we easily buy CD quality audio downloads?

If you extract songs off a CD with no compression at all, you’re probably looking at a file that’s at least 30MB big for a standard song, and I’ve encountered much bigger. To maintain quality, but save space at the same time, you can encode songs in a “lossless music” format. A common format is FLAC, (Free Lossless Audio Codec) but it isn’t supported by many mainstream MP3 players, and iTunes can’t read FLAC files either. To address the issue however, Apple created their own format, simply called Apple Lossless.

If you go into your iTunes preferences, go to “Import Settings” (Under the general tab) and you can choose what format you want to import your songs with. This still leaves us with one problem though; you probably don’t want to buy CD’s to import one or two favourite songs into your iTunes library losslessly. There are some sites where you can buy music in FLAC or WAV, but none are as comprehensive and as easy to use as Apple’s iTunes store. If you don’t mind stepping on the wrong side of the law, there are thousands of CD’s floating around P2P networks in FLAC, which you can then convert into Apple Lossless if you want to use in iTunes.

Whether we’ll actually see lossless songs in iTunes any time soon is another matter entirely. Apple have a monopoly in the online music industry as it is, so it may not be financially sound for them to spend a lot of extra money on additional server storage and bandwidth just to offer CD quality downloads, and if they do, you can be sure the cost will be passed on to us consumers…

Have you got any thoughts on this? As storage is becoming increasingly cheap, shouldn’t we now look to be getting full and complete sound quality for our music? Or are people less concerned with quality and would like to just have the convenience of listening to music streaming services like Spotify? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below!


  1. John Cryer says

    I would definitely buy music online in Apple Lossless format. I very rarely buy music online because even with my aging ears and brain, I can hear the difference – certainly between 128Kbs MP3 and Apple Lossless. With higher bitrate MP3s it becomes harder to discern the difference, but even still – why would you pay almost the same $ for a “degraded copy” of the original CD? I guess many people just don’t care and that’s why Apple continues to do so well with its iTunes store. If there was some competition to Apples iTunes store offering lossless format music that was somehow compatible with iTunes/ iPods, then that would quite possibly force Apple to make Apple Lossless music available. I’m sure they have debated this internally and might even have some plan to do it in the future – but they probably cant gauge the demand, and they don’t need to risk the investment if there isn’t any competition. As internet bandwidth broadens/ becomes more reliable, and as storage costs get lower and lower, it will make more and more sense for Apple to do the right thing for the audiophiles and make the commitment to Apple Lossless on their iTunes store.

  2. John Thompson says

    I completely agree. At present, Apple can get away with selling sub-standard quality tracks, because a lot of people don’t know the difference, and a lot of people own old low capacity iPods. If competition emerges selling lossless tracks, it will force Apple to do something about it, especially if said lossless tracks were reasonably priced…

  3. says

    ‘Mindawn’, ‘HDTracks’, ‘Magnatune’, are great alternatives for those looking for new and extraordinary music. Needless to say that FLAC is one of the supported formats in those stores. I forgot to mention ‘MusicIsHere’ as well.

    HDTracks seems to be a great choice for music lovers, but my complaint about this store is that you should be USA resident to enjoy the store. Another thing that’s anoying. Territory restrictions for music. Isn’t music supposed to be enjoied by everybody in every part of the world? I’m sure that there are many people like me, willing to buy for some nice music in first class quality. But these obstacles put a resounding question into my mind: How much did the music win with such a big revolution called internet. Nobody seems to care. Even the mainstream seems resistent with changes, iPods, iRivers, Sansas and beyond. And of course, very few deserves appreciation on the mainstream arena. And for those, it’s better to spend some cash and buy the CDs, and bring to our computers in the format we want.

    May this story have a happy ending soon.

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