Unique Hi-Rez Downloads

Two unusual download sites now offer high-resolution 24-bit files for audiophiles with a taste for adventure. The first, the UK's B&W Music Club, is a one-album-per-month subscription service that premieres complete, audiophile-quality albums in a wide variety of genres chosen and recorded by "curator" Peter Gabriel. The second, HifiTrack.com, is a Hong Kong-based site that offers Chinese and Asian traditional and pop music, Zen and meditation music, and Chinese-flavored Western pop, jazz, and classical.

"A lot of what we get to hear now is supercompressed," says Gabriel in the video interview viewable on B&W's site. "For those of us who strive to get things to sound good and full and rich, and really build landscapes from sound, it's very frustrating." The alternative, he points out, is to download uncompressed hi-rez files from the Web.

While the B&W Music Club has been active since May 2008, it has just added 24-bit FLAC versions of albums to its original options of 16-bit FLAC or 16-bit Apple Lossless (ALC). Although B&W recommends that iTunes users stick to downloading files in the 16-bit Apple Lossless format, iTunes will play 24-bit files as long as they've been converted from FLAC to WAV or AIFF. This conversion can be performed using one of several free programs downloadable from the Web.

Full membership in the B&W Music Club costs $59.95/year, which amounts to less than $3 per album. A free trial membership allows you to download a four-track EP for each of three months before committing to full membership.

So far, the Music Club has offered music by Gwyneth Herbert, Dub Colossus, former Suede frontman Brett Anderson, guitarist Tom Kerstens, 16-year-old classical piano prodigy Benjamin Grosvenor, the Mercury Prize-nominated Portico Quartet jazz ensemble, and an EP from Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. On tap is The Afrobilly Sessions, a world-music album by Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara. All albums are recorded at Gabriel's Real World Studios, near Bath, England. Artists receive free studio time and mixing sessions, and, two months after their albums are made available on the site, get back the rights to their recordings.

HifiTrack.com is a different animal altogether. In addition to hard-to-find recordings of traditional Chinese instrumental music for soloists or groups, played on guqin, zheng, erhu, flute, and pipa, you can find authentic Chinese-opera recordings performed by traditional-style musicians of high standing. Some tracks and albums are suggested as being especially conducive to meditation and Zen practice. One example is The Pinehill Waterfall, which offers traditional Chinese music immersed in New Age soundscapes of birds, rain, and running water.

At the other end of the spectrum are HifiTrack's recordings of male and female singers. Here, Western and Eastern idioms sometimes make strange bedfellows: traditional Chinese harmonies are framed by techno beats and synthesized sounds from Western club scenes of the past and present. You'll also find beautiful music by artists who record Direct Studio Master WAV files. One of these artists, Han Hong, a Chinese pop singer of Tibetan origin, has won more than 40 awards on the Chinese pop charts.

All HiFiTrack selections are downloadable in WAV format. Some 24-bit/96kHz and 24/48 files are also available, as well as free 30-second sample clips encoded at 320kbps.