Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Online music stores

The UK magazine PC Pro has published a survey which says that people are not happy with online music stores. They find that:

  • They offer poor compatibility with portable players (i.e. iPod owners are tied to Apple’s store)
  • The DRM restrictions are too harsh
  • The sound quality is poor
  • The music itself is overpriced compared to buying the CD

There are also individual complaints about being billed twice for a song when there was an error with the store.

I think this sums up my general attitude towards online music stores. Most of them offer tracks at 128Kbps which is well below CD quality (the difference is especially noticeable when you have decent hifi equipment). 192Kbps is usually the best compromise but I think only Tesco (in the UK) offer that.

At 79p a song, a typical 12 track album is £9.50, about the same price as the CD in a number of shops which of course comes without the restrictions. You then get stores like iTunes which, if your computer becomes corrupted and you lose all your purchased music, insists that you pay for it all again. Sure, if you lose or break a CD you shouldn’t expect a replacement but it’s not like it’s going to cost them money replacing it, is it? And since most of the stores have user account systems there’s no problem with proving purchase.

The tie-in problem is something that bugs me as well. As an iPod Mini owner, if I want to be able to play back my purchased music it must have come from the iTunes Music Store. To me, this is a bit anti-competitive as I can’t go to another store which might have a higher quality version of the file at a lower price. I certainly shouldn’t have to carry around several players just so that I can listen to purchased music from different suppliers.

The music industry and the shops that sells its music really needs to focus more on the consumer if it wants to defeat piracy. I want to pay for my music, so that I can support the artists I enjoy. But often I find that I can get a better quality file with no restrictions on file sharing networks. That really should not be the case.


  1. allofmp3 is still around…

  2. I use all the time, if I can’t find stuff there I go looking on iTunes next, then elsewhere if I still can’t find it.
    BTW JHymn is your friend. I strip the DRM off all my iTunes purchases so I can do whatever I want with MY files.

  3. I’ve always found iTunes Store a huge let down and a suprising missed opportunity for a company like Apple.
    I have the usual gripes, they don’t carry a lot of my favorite artists. Usually artists are only added after they have become established.
    But my biggest gripe is with the sound quality, and not just because of the low-bitrate. Apple try to be forward thinking, push new standards. For instance they are pushing H.264 (or whatever it is) video in tigar. So why haven’t they pushed the envolope with music?
    Think about it, they are still 16bit 44.1KHz. But why? People don’t seem to realise that 44.1KHz is a very bad frequency for music. Music is mastered at either 48Khz, 96Khz or 192 Khz, all of which are multiples of each other. To get the music to 44.1Khz very loss making processes have to be carried out.
    The only reason CD’s are 44.1Khz is because of the original limitations of the media and because the head of sony at the time said that a frequency should be chosen that can get the whole of Beethovens 9th on the cd.
    So i ask you, why are apple still using 44.1Khz? I opportunity to get away from it has passed.

  4. There are some other services that i think are worth pointing out for making that little bit more effort.
    Though it is all swings and round-abouts as they are usually specific to certain genres.
    In the UK (i don’t know if they accept payments from abroad) i think should be shown as a great supporter of freedom.
    It’s run by Warp Records. My favorite record label, as they started out in Sheffield 🙂 and home to some quite famous electronic artists such as Aphex Twin, Autechre and Plaid
    They have all of Warps back catalogue as well as some other labels such as planet mu.
    What i love about them is that everything is presented on one page. You don’t need to download an app. There is no DRM. Everything is encoded using Lame VBR at around 256kbit (a lot of the tracks even have bpm and cueing info for DJ’ing). They even have some LP’s in flac. You can preview entire tracks at quite a high quality and with a waveform presented so you can skip to the loudest bits of the track.