Dr. AIX's POSTS — 07 June 2013

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I noticed yesterday at the 2L and Channel Classics websites that the pricing of digital music downloads is approaching that of collectable vinyl. The price rises as you make your way through the numerous formats that are available on these sites. I thought my iTrax.com site provided the most options for customers to choose from, but it seems others are getting into the act.

Here are the formats that are available at Channel Classics, well-known classical label based in the Netherlands. If you’re an old school, physical format fan, then you can purchase the “Physical CD”, which turns out to be an SA-CD with a hybrid CD layer. The price for a disc is around $22. And the physical disc provides normal CD standard definition playback as well as the multichannel DSD 64 version.

In another block of the product page, you can purchase DSD downloads in either stereo or multichannel. These are the native source files taken from the masters. The price for a master file in DSD is marked as $39 but they’re on “special” for $33.15 right now because of the exchange rate.

The third (of four) format blocks on the website provides something that Channel Classics calls “High Quality Downloads”. The entire album can be purchased in “Studio Master HD”, “Studio Master”, “CD Quality” or “MP3 at 320 kbps”. I’m a little confused by the designation “HD”. The folks at Channel Classics reserve this moniker for the 192 kHz/24-bit FLAC file but don’t include it for the 96 kHz version. I’d be curious what their definition of High-Definition audio is.

All of the “High Quality Downloads” are derived from the DSD 64 master. As I reported on this site previously, a standard DSD 64 master has its noise shifted “out of band” as required by the 1-bit DSD specification (actually they are using 4-bits for dither but whatever). So there really isn’t anything useful in the ultrasonic range of a recording made in DSD 64.

If you want the 192 kHz/24-bit FLAC file (from the DSD 63 file converted to PCM and then compressed using FLAC with metadata), you’ll pay $26. For $4 less, you can opt for the 96 kHz/24-bit FLAC version. Another $4 dollar less gets you the CD version and for around $12, you can download the MP3 file at 320 kbps. I’ll drill further into the spectragraphs that I did yesterday for all of the downloads that I acquired from Channel Classics in another post, but I can tell you that the frequency response of the 192 and 96 kHz files are IDENTICAL! There is an obvious roll off that has been applied to the DSD converted source. I’m not surprised because the DSD 64 file has nothing but noise above 30 kHz anyway. The 192 and 96 files don’t sound any different because the added frequency range provided by 192 kHz doesn’t have anything to work with. In fact, there’s not much that a standard CD couldn’t deliver with the rolloff required by DSD 64.

Moving on to the last and final format box, we see the individual tracks for sale in each of the formats mentioned earlier in the “High Quality Downloads” section. The individual tracks are not available in DSD 64. You have to spring for the full album if you want DSD.

Tomorrow, I’ll break down the pricing on 2L’s download pages. They have even more formats to choose from!

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(3) Readers Comments

  1. Mark,
    it’s interesting that you chose this topic for your latest post. And frankly, I am puzzled by the radically different pricing when one compares physical media with download offers. And this is not only restricted to Channel Classics (actually, I haven’t checked them out before).

    What I compared was the price for your own AIX records discs and the downloads you offer on iTrax. Let’s take, for example the Banda Brothers: Primavera.

    I can get the Blu-ray disc for $35+shipping from AIX Records. I tried to find out what mixes and audio formats are on this disc exactly (unfortunately, the AIX Records web page is not very specific in that respect). I found this list in a review on Audiophile Audition (audat.com):

    Audio: PCM 2.0 (96 kHz/24-bit); Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (96 kHz/24-bit) (Audience Mix or Stage Mix); DD 5.1; 2-Channel FLAC (96 kHz/24-bit); MP3 (320 kbps); Headphone Surround Mix (48kHz/24-bit)

    Now, when I buy the stage mix, the audience mix and the regular stereo mix on iTrax this will cost me a hefty $60.97! And if I want the Headphone xi mix as well, I have to pay another 12 bucks (to be fair, the Blu-ray only contains it in 48kHz).

    Plus, I get a video presentation on the Blu-ray disc along with this. So what is the advantage of the download? I could have it right away and would not have to wait for a disc to be shipped to me. I would not need to use tools to rip the audio tracks for putting them on my music server. But apart from that the disc wins hands-down given the pricing for the download!

    I would think that for a download to be attractive the pricing should be made to not exceed that of the physical media. But as it is, given the choice to pay around 40$ for the disc with video or pay 70$ for the same audio tracks without video for the download, the decision is easy for me…

    Best regards,
    Oliver

  2. Oliver…you’re absolutely right. The very best value is to purchase the physical BD discs.

    They contain 6 different formats of the program: the HD-audio in 5.1 surround “stage” and “audience”, the 96/24 2.0 channel stereo mix and the Headphones[xi], HF FLAC Stereo and MP3 at 320 kbps.

    The world of downloads is very different…I guess because it’s new. Customers usually know what mix they prefer (which is usuallly the 2.0 PCM HD Stereo) and are OK with playing around $20 for. That’s commensurate with a stereo LP and a whole lot less than an analog tape transfer (which can run around $500!).

    I’m considering setting up some sort of locker situation for the download tracks when someone purchases the physical album. We’ll see how that goes.

    The reality is that iTrax.com is cheaper (depending on the format…much cheaper) than Channel or 2L…AND I believe the fidelity of the tracks is better. To take a DSD 64 and sell it for $39 for a single mix is crazy.

    I’m currently investigating the options as I redesign the AIX Records and iTrax.com sites.

    • Maybe allow all-formats access to a track for only a small amount more than the highest-priced single format. Or just allow all-formats access if the buyer pays for the top-priced format. Too generous?

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