buying music in high-resolution audio formats

Joni Mitchell’s Blue on vinyl has a distortion at times behind her voice and piano. Time to buy a digital track and see if it’s still there. What the heck, go big and get the 192 kHZ 24-bit FLAC high-res audio. whatNerd has a list, “The 7 Best Sites to Buy Lossless and Hi-Res Music”:

  • Bandcamp: it’s a great resource to directly buy music from new musicians without going through a label, but Ms. Mitchell isn’t on it.
  • Acoustic Sounds. “alas we’ve reached the decision to cease operating our Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez digital downloads service”.
  • ProStudioMasters: album available for $25.99 released May 28, 2013
  • NativeDSD: not available. I’ve blogged that DSD is supposedly an awesome format for a digital master, and some obsessive Roon users re-encode all their music to DSD 512 before sending the bits to their music player, but it seems mostly classical tracks are available to buy in DSD.
  • HDtracks: album available for $26.48
  • 7digital: it only has her later Geffen releases, and only in 16-bit 44 kHz FLAC format.
  • HIGHRESAUDIO: seems to be a UK site, only has The Reprise Albums boxed set and Blue outtakes, unclear what formats it offers but has a badge for the dubious proprietary MQA format, and “due to territorial constraints and also different releases dates in each country you currently can`t purchase this album.”
  • Qobuz (the high-res streamingit across service also offers a store for downloads): album for only $22.09 , even cheaper at lower resolutions. The big plus is you can buy individual tracks.

So Qobuz it is, $5.18 for “All I Want” and “My Old Man.” This may seem like a lot, but I was paying more for 45 RPM singles in today’s money (The $1 a single cost in 1970 is now worth about $7). Alas Qobuz has a $0.52 fee for paying with PayPal. The two songs are 70 MB each, about 10 times bigger than a quality MP3 encoding!

Sounds good…

There’s still a bit of soft crackling-but-not-like cellophane behind her voice 😢, though much less behind the piano. What’s going on? I’ve heard it on a friend’s high-end stereo too. Is this intermodulation distortion in audio systems or is it inherent in the recording? Otherwise the digital soundstage feels wider: there’s none of the overlap of the left and right channels that you get when two angled walls are pushing a diamond on a thin cantilever from side-to-side. The details are clearer than my vinyl, but it doesn’t have that vinyl warmth… which might just be the rolled-off treble and overlapping stereo channels. Who knows. I just want songs I love to sound amazing without worrying about the details.

Own or stream?

I really should upgrade to Qobuz from YouTube Music (formerly Google Play Music YouTube Gold Red Premium) so I can listen to music in hi-res audio without buying the track, and get a discount if I do buy it. Especially now that YouTube family membership is $23 a month. But then I read comments on another YouTube video about music from all the people complaining about incessant ads. By paying I never see any ads, even on a Roku TV streamer where I can’t run the great uBlock Origin ad-blocker for Firefox.

Digital taste test

I should buy the MP3s of the songs and do a blind test to see if my aging ears can tell the difference. But there are confounding factors: the higher-res audio files might be mastered a fraction of a dB higher because undetectably louder always sounds better (the Beatles on USB did this with the FLAC versions), and it’s unclear if the high-res Blue files are from the remastered album or the original.

The aluminum "The Beatles USB" apple with the USB flash drive removed.

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