Following Apple’s lead, Amazon now offers DRM-free MP3 downloads.
When I heard that Amazon launched MP3 downloads without annoying so-called Digital Rights Management (DRM) copy-protection nonsense, I was skeptical. (It’s my nature.) Not all MP3s are created equal. A 56 Kbps MP3 can sound as bad as an AM radio station in a 1966 VW Beetle car radio. And a 256 Kbps MP3 is indistinguishable from CD-audio. Using variable bit rate (VBR) makes the compression rate about 5:1 or 6:1 (and the file slightly smaller than Constant Bit Rate (CBR)). Apple’s iTunes primarily sells files at 128 Kbps (about 10:1 compression) which is noticeably worse than CD-audio.
Of course, shopping at Amazon is never quite amazing. You have to do the “Amazon dance” to get what you want. You know what I’m talking about. Multiple login screens, multiple screen views, horrible search engine, etc. You eventually get what you want, but it can be frustrating. It’s as if they’ve tried to recreate the chaos of the mall shopping experience on their website.
So back to my skepticism. I figured that Amazon’s MP3s would be lousy (lossy?) quality. But they are not. According to Amazon’s FAQ, most of the Amazon’s MP3s are 256 Kbps VBR:
“Bit Rate: Where possible, we encode our MP3 files using variable bit rates for maximum audio quality and smaller file sizes, aiming at an average of 256 kilobits per second (Kbps). Using a variable bit rate allows us to allocate a higher bit rate to the more complex sections of music files while using a smaller bit rate for the less complex sections. The average of these rates is then calculated to produce an average bit rate for the entire file that represents the overall sound quality. Some of our content is encoded using a constant bit rate of 256 Kbps. This content will have the same excellent audio quality at a slightly larger file size.”
Amazing! Too bad Amazon buries this info in a FAQ. It should be in neon lights (or the web equivalent thereof) on their website. Amazon also is not publicizing the AmazonMP3.com domain name.
If you poured whatever magic qualities Derek Jeter possesses (the kind that make him money in clutch situations) into the raw talent of Alex Rodriguez, then you’d have the perfect baseball player. And if you poured Apple’s marketing magic into Amazon’s huge warehouse of products, then you’d have the perfect shopping experience.
But the fact that Amazon is selling 256 Kbps VBR DRM-free MP3s rocks!
- The Analog Curse
- It’s The Metadata, Stupid
For the music that I have purchased, I want all of the metadata: the MP3s, the album art, the BPM data, the liner notes, the lyrics, the tablatures, the recording dates, the release dates, the artist’s history, etc. Today, I can’t get all of the metadata from a single source.
- The Dark (Gray) Age Of Music On The Internet
While there are a lot of choices for consumers, the current state of music on the Internet leaves a lot to be desired.