At a press conference at the Sony Studios in Manhattan yesterday MusicGiants announced its music download service, the first to use the Windows Media Audio Lossless format. To access the service users must download the free MusicGiants Network software and pay a $50 yearly fee (which is redeemable in credit towards purchasing music) created to discourage the online musical bandit demographic from getting their sticky hands on the high-end service. Audio Lossless downloads reproduce music at up to 1100 kbps versus the 128 to 192 kpbs of your standard download services.
The files will run on any Windows Media Player 9 or higher, but in order to get the CD grade quality that's promised you'll have to buy a pro-grade sound card like the Lynx 2 which, at about $1,100, probably cost more than your PC. The alternative is to spring for the Sound Vault 400gig hard drive they're aggressively partnering with the service, and that retails for a whopping $9,500. The SoundVaultis meant to stand in your juicy home stereo arrayasanother component-even replacing your CD deck. The whole system as it exists now is geared towards the audiophile who almost gets off on dropping this kind of cash. For portable players, Samsung, Creative and Olympus all have media players that support these files. There were also rumors about a Microsoft portable media player in the works at the launch.
The superior sound quality does mean that MusicGiants will probably be able to attract artists who've held out from selling compressed files of their music online, whether it's The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or The London Symphony Orchestra. At the moment the roster of available music is still pretty impressive, with all the major labels signed on with the bulk of their biggest-sellers for this distribution. At the moment you're only able to get simple stereo files, but the principals assure us 5.1 is in the works, and (off the record) expect to have that deal sorted out by the new year.
Initial bottom line? Despite some pricey hardware issues, for those of us who fondly remember the richness, fidelity and warmth of formats like vinyl, and for whom thin, trebley digital files hurt our ears, this is the one to watch-and to listen to.If you love music, convenience and affordability still doesn't trump high fidelity.
Stereophile interview with MusicGiants president Scott Bahnerman [Stereophile]