Stereophile's Products of 2007 2007 Editor's Choice
Linn Records & Music Giants DRM-Free, High-Resolution Downloads
A very different product category for my personal award of 2007! When I want the highest sound quality, I still reach for a physical disc: LP, CD, SACD, or DVD. But these days almost all of my more casual listening—when I'm writing, for example, or working on the Stereophile website—depends on a WiFi music player accessing my iTunes library. I began with the inexpensive Squeezebox from Slim Devices (now owned by Logitech), which was my 2006 "Editor's Choice," but following Wes Phillips' enthusiastic review of the Slim Devices Transporter last February, I bought one for my main system and relegated the Squeezebox to my bedroom. The advantage of the Transporter is that it can handle high-resolution music files recorded at 96kHz (though not at 88.2kHz). Until recently, however, few such files were available, other than those I'd recorded myself as part of my Stereophile Recordings activities.
Now there are two sources of hi-rez music files: Super HD from www.musicgiants.com, and Studio Master from www.linnrecords.com (footnote 1). The high-quality downloads from these companies are entirely (Linn) or mostly (Music Giants) free of Digital Rights Management (DRM), and are available as FLAC or WMP (Linn) or Windows Media Player (Music Giants) files. The Linn downloads are all taken from their own catalog; Music Giants offers music from labels including ABKCO, EMI, Fantasy, OJC, and Telarc.
A Mac guy, I have so far purchased and downloaded hi-rez files only from the Linn website—the 24-bit/96kHz FLAC files of the Mozart Requiem, with Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, took just under an hour via my home DSL connection. The results sound superb. And because the files are free from DRM, I can burn them to DVD-Audio using Minnetonka Software's inexpensive Discwelder Bronze program. Next, I need to set up a PC so I can download Music Giants files; I will report in a future issue how I get on.
In the meantime, my hat is off to these two companies for leading audiophiles—and me!—into the brave new world of high-resolution downloads.—John Atkinson
Footnote 1: Since this article appeared in print, Mark Waldrep, of surround specialist Aix Records, has launched iTrax, its own program of hi-rez downloads.