Bust and Booms on the Download Front

With good news to share about new downloads, let's dispense with the downer first. As reported by Twice.com, HDGiants, aka MusicGiants, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in US Bankruptcy Court on May 18. Although the site, often praised by Stereophile as a leader in CD-quality and high-resolution music and video downloads, still appears to be operating, the layoff of its sales and marketing staff raises serious questions about its future.

Given that no one was answering the company phone or fielding emails at press time—three of the four email addresses listed on the website's contact page are no longer operable—it was impossible to confirm the report by a former executive that only CEO Scott Bahneman and perhaps one technical support person are still on the job. Cause for the crash is attributed to the inability of the company's private investors to agree on terms for raising additional capital.

Although downloads from many of the major labels signed to MusicGiants are available through other sites, if not always at full CD quality or higher, the bankruptcy presents a potential problem for audiophiles and home theater buffs whose music and/or A/V servers are equipped with HDGiants software. Qsonix, Niveus Media, Paramount, and HDNet must be none too happy.

Universal Access: For those who do their own downloading, the Universal Music Group has some great news. Universal Classical has taken the next step. Since December 2008, over a year after UMG first began offering its entire classical catalog for download at the highest MP3 quality (320 kbps), the company has offered select titles in CD lossless FLAC. That list has now increased to over 150 new titles, with Deutsche Grammophon's entire catalog of more than 2800 albums promised for download "in a month or two."

Get that? The entire UMG classical catalog will be available in the FLAC format sometime this summer. That includes all live DG Concerts from some of today's finest organizations that are only available in download form.

DG is also insuring that CDs deleted from its catalog will remain downloadable. This includes older CD releases that were out-of-print before iTunes and the DG Web Shop began carrying them. 1051 formerly out-of-print albums are now available.

Yarlung Goes Linning: Yarlung Records has become the first American label chosen by Linn Records of Scotland to offer high-resolution, 24-bit downloads on the Linn site. One of the first titles available is Martin Chalifour in Walt Disney Concert Hall, mastered by Steve Hoffman/ The recording session, covered in the October 2008 issue of Stereophile, found Chalifour, Principal Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, playing four extraordinary violins: Nathan Milstein's "ex Goldmann" Stradivarius, Jack Benny's "Joachim" Strad, the "ex Sigmund Biel" Guarneri, and a 1995 Michael Fischer based on a 1741 Guarneri. In addition, in Schönberg duets, Chalifour is joined by Maia Jasper playing an 18th century Lavazza. LAPO's pianist, Joanne Pearce Martin, plays a Steinway chosen by Hélène Grimaud. Check out the liner notes by Michael Fremer, Jim Svejda, and Yarlung's Bob Attiyeh.

Also available is one of Yarlung's most recent releases, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra 40th Anniversary concert. Conducted by no less a personage than Sir Neville Marriner, the CD includes Jeffrey Kahane playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto 1 and the world premiere of Pierre Jalbert's Chamber Symphony.

Naim renamed: Naim has imaginatively renamed its record label Naim Label and chosen a new URL for its website. Over 100 Naim audiophile quality CDs in multiple genres, including jazz and classical, are available for purchase. That includes more than 30 high-res 24/96 or 24/88.2 downloads available, complete with full artwork, with more increasing each week. Those not desiring WAV or FLAC files for some reason or another can instead choose 320kbps MP3s.