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Lossless music goes High Street

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British digital download store 7Digital is expanding the range of lossless music available for download. Albums will now be available in the industry standard FLAC format from artists such as Radiohead and Enya - in some cases cheaper than the MP3 equivalent.

Both 24-bit and 16-bit versions will be available; FLAC is a container format, and can handle both. 7Digital's prices start at £9.99.

Currently lossless formats aren't available from any of what you might call high street digital download stores. Both Apple, the leading download site, and Amazon only sell music in compressed lossy formats.

Yet dozens of specialist sites cater to music lovers, as do many small indie labels, and have done for years. Veteran electronic music sites Bleep and Beatport both launched in 2004. The former offers FLAC and the latter WAV and FLAC formats to DJs and dance music fans. Linn Records caters to jazz and classical fans with music from over a dozen labels.

Two more US-only stores, iTrax and HDTracks, specialise in high quality digital downloads. At iTrax there's an informative article explaining why HD digital formats often disappoint: because of filters applied during the "upmastering" process, the result loses audio fidelity.

In a statement 7Digital founder Ben Drury said, "Internet connected music devices that provide a ‘better-than-CD’ quality sound are becoming commonplace in the home. These devices rely on higher quality digital music downloads to provide superior quality music playback, and appeal to a broader base of consumers beyond the average audiophile."

Yet FLAC remains an industry standard without big industry support. Neither Windows 7's Media Player nor Apple's Mac OS X iTunes support FLAC playback - in each case, you need a plug-in. Microsoft prefers the lossless version of WMA format. Perhaps this can change - but it requires people voting with their wallets.

Here's a radical idea: why can't the industry sell lossless music and include a physical backup with it? The two could be bundled together.

The whole package could come with a nice booklet written by a proper writer who tells you interesting things about the artist or their music, and include decent shots from a professional photographer. Perhaps it could include lyrics or a music score or even some original artwork. The artwork could be enjoyed in its own right - and even help enhance the artist's brand.

Sounds too good to be true. I doubt it will ever happen. (That's enough sarcasm - Ed) ®

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