There's been a lot of news about online music services and gadgets that will compete with Apple's iTunes and iPod. Of course everyone's heard about Microsoft's Zune and complimentary music store (for those people who are truly obsessed with everything Zune, take a look at the ZuneInfo.com website or Microsoft's little teaser site). Does anyone know what will happen to the Urge music service that was suppose to be the end result of a collaboration between Microsoft and MTV? I don't think that will be the service tied to Zune, but maybe I'm wrong. There's also the new player coming from Samsung which will be teaming up with the music service MusicNet. And, now MySpace plans to start selling music from unsigned artists. There's also going to be free downloads from SpiralFrog, an advertisement supported alternative to the pay-per-song iTunes model.
I'm not sure what the benefits of the new music services are... Is it an alternative to Apple's proprietary formats and DRM? I haven't read anything about higher fidelity or the addition of album liner notes and high quality album art.
Here's what I'd like: at least CD quality - or losslessly compressed CD quality, with high quality CD cover art (500x500 pixel jpegs or better) along with the information normally included with the album's insert at a reasonable price. I think $.99/track is too high for lossy compressed audio, like iTune's 128 Mbps AAC files. Especially when you compare it to the price of CDs purchased from brick & mortar stores. Besides, I still like to buy the whole album and don't understand why some people purchase only single tracks. If the artist can't put together a full CD worth of good tracks, then I don't buy the CD.
But, there is some good news, or reason to be optimistic about where digital music services are headed. There are a couple of music services listed over in our 'Links' section worth checking out. Both offer high bitrate audio tracks. The first one on the list, Magnatune, isn't really a "music service" like iTunes. They are a new type of record label that sells albums or tracks directly to consumers. You can download albums or tracks from Magnatunes in WAV or lossless FLAC formats. Unfortunately, you are limited to just Magnatune's artists - all of which are very good. So obviously you can't purchase music from popular artists that are already signed with the major labels. The other one, MusicGiants is a competing music service that offers lossless WMA files instead of highly compressed AACs or MP3s. MusicGiants also offers music from all the major record labels. I've also heard MusicGiants will offer high resolution multichannel surround recordings later this month. Since I can't play either SACDs or DVD-Audio with my system, maybe the multichannel surround tracks from MusicGiants will be a great alternative, especially if they are 24bit/96KHz or better. Hopefully they will also include album art and liner notes.
I'd like to hear what other people would like to see/hear from online music services. What formats and bitrates are you willing to accept? Do you want album art and liner notes? What price are you willing to pay? Or, are you satisified with purchasing and ripping CDs (which is what I do mostly)? Please let me know if you hear any news about high quality/higher bitrate audio from other services.