We can now add HDtracks to our list of online music stores that offer true CD quality tracks and albums. I just discovered them a few days ago and they offer music from a wide variety of independent labels. There's an impressive list of artists, including Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, John Prine, Aaron Neville, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Jean-Luc Ponty, Gary Burton, Norah Jones, Chuck Mangione, Patricia Barber, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Robin Holcomb, and on and on...
You have a choice of these download file formats (in decreasing file size order) - AIFF, FLAC and 320 Kbps MP3s. And this is something the other music stores should also provide - they include a very nice PDF file with all the cover art and liner notes. Oh, and of course, all the tracks are DRM free. In the near future they will offer select tracks in high resolution 24bit/96KHz formats. Hopefully, this will include some surround recordings.
HDtracks was founded by David and Norman Chesky of the audiophile record label Chesky Records. On their 'About' page they state: "In an age when there is a computer in every home, we have grown accustomed to accessing music at the touch of a button. But, what about the quality of that music? Why should the sound suffer because of convenience? With HDtracks, we have discovered the way to have it all: world-class music, unrivaled sound, and files that play in any environment."
They have a free sampler album (there's a link on the front page of their website), so I decided to test out their download process. After registering (don't worry, it's painless), you get an email that includes a link to the freebie. I can't remember all the details because it was a few days ago, but once I clicked on the link and followed the instructions, a little download program (Java applet) started and displayed the default settings for destination folders, etc., and provided a big button to start the download. Each track was listed and a progress bar indicated that the downloads were very quick. This was for the FLAC files. Overall, I was pretty impressed. HDtracks seems to have done it right, a great selection of music and their download process was very quick and easy.