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Classical music site offers DRM-free FLAC downloads

The real beauty of downloading music is its immediacy and convenience. Not only can you try out a sample of the song first, but you can also download the whole thing in a matter of seconds.

I, like many others, have become something of a downloadaholic. My iTunes collection has grown into an eclectic colossus of just about every genre, including many a long-forgotten classic.

I'm only a recent convert to classical music, and I'm certainly no connoisseur. The lush solemnity and booming cannons of the 1812 Overture sound just fine to me on the standard compressed128kbps MP3 file.

Roll over MP3s (and take the FLAC)

However, a company called Passionato has launched a website dedicated to people with a much better ear than aural philistines like me. Here you can download 320kbps files, many of them with lossless FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec).

Passionato's founder is James Glicker, a former president of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

"Online music stores have typically offered MP3s at 128kbps, ie very compressed files, which is fine for pop music but it's not exactly high-fidelity," he told the BBC.

"We are offering 320kpbs and also lossless FLAC."

FLAC gives you lossless audio data compression. Being lossless, FLAC does not remove information from the audio stream as MP3s do, so the integrity of the original audio source is not compromised. It is also well supported by many software applications.

Another boon is that all Passionato files are free from Digital Rights Management (DRM) which means they can be transferred to any computer or portable music players including the iPod and be burnt to a CD.

"The future of classical music distribution is online, says Glicker. The only thing that has stopped this inevitable shift from happening to date has been audio quality, plus the DRM issue."

Many classical music buffs have been slow to switch to digital, not because they are luddites who are scared and suspicious of this new-fangled computer malarkey. Neither are they convinced that the whole downloading business is the work of the Devil and that we are all going to Hell in a virtual handcart.

It is mainly because of the poor quality of MP3 lossy compression files, which many classical fans have shunned.

Despite classical music concerts attendances being on the rise, many traditional retailers are shutting down through lack of business.

The future well may well be online for classical music buying buffs and now they can download files that may even begin to do the great composers justice.

Tell Tchaikovsky the news.

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