Down With DRM?

january 7, 2007

I am giving eMusic's 25 downloads/14-day trial a go. eMusic's big selling point is that they sell music without DRM (Digital Rights Management). Most iPod users are happy with their downloads from iTunes Music Store because it is easy and works great with their iPods. But, they don't know that their music is wrapped around with a DRM scheme (FairPlay) which limits where, when and how their music can be used. Want to use those files on any MP3 player other than your iPod? Forget it. You can of course burn the songs to a CD then rip the songs from the CD into MP3 format. That is a hassle and you will also lose out on sound quality (going from one lossy compression scheme to another lossy compression scheme = bad). eMusic is the second largest online music store. The first is of course iTunes. eMusic sells music from independent labels, but there are some big names also (BT was one that surprised me). They do not sell music per se, they sell subscriptions. The very basic subscription is $9.99 a month and gets you 30 downloads for the month. Unused downloads, unfortunately do not roll-over into the next month. The music is ripped using LAME 3.92 and the -alt-preset standard VBR mode. What does that mean? The sound quality is top notch. The average bitrate for a song is 192kbps, but since it can go higher or lower depending on what is needed, the sound is quite good. Compare that with the DRM-laced iTunes downloads which are AAC encoded at 128kbps. Apple can say what they want about how good AAC is, but the fact is that the more bits used, the better the sound. eMusic also has a nice download manager for Windows and the Mac.  It makes it easy to do one-click downloads of a song or an album.  If you don't want to use the manager, you can still download the song via any web browser.  It is your choice. Will I stay with eMusic after my trial runs out? I don't know, maybe. I don't listen to much radio, so top 40 music really does not mean anything to me. If I can find good music, then that is what I will listen to. So far, it looks like eMusic has a good selection of music from Rock, Electronic, Symphonic and Film Scores. Those mean a lot to me. I will have to explore the selection more. I have yet to explore the community features of eMusic and look forward to that. As it stands now, I am quite impressed with eMusic. And I know that if I do cancel my account after the trial, the 25 songs that I downloaded from them are mine to keep...forever...I don't need an account to keep them active. And one thing that I really like is their policy on redownloading music. If you have an account with them and you harddrive gives up on life...Then you can go ahead and redownload all your music without charge. Hell, if you accidentally deleted one music file, you can go ahead and download that file again without charge. The same cannot be said about iTunes Music Store. If you have a catastrophic harddrive failure and lose all the music you paid for, you will have to pay to get it all back. One...at...a...time.