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Roll Over Beethoven (and Tell Tschaikowsky the News)

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on November 27, 2007

Classical music lovers like myself are finally getting some respect in the digital world. One of the oldest companies in the music business, Deutsche Grammophon, now a division of Universal Music Group, announced it was making a catalog of 2,400 classical albums, including 600 that are out of print, available for high-quality, DRM-free download from the DG Web Shop starting Nov. 28.

Even better news, at least for those of us in the depressed dollar zone, is the pricing. Individual tracks will be priced from 1.29—either dollars or euros—and full albums will be 10.99-11.99. The format will be 320 kilobit per second MP3, which is very close to full CD quality.

Now if they could only do something about us having to refer to the movements of a Mahler symphony or of a Beethoven quartet as “songs.” Or about metadata that that can’t decide whether the “artist” is the composer, the conductor, the soloist, or the orchestra.

Reader Comments


November 28, 2007 8:32 AM

You misspelled "Grammophone"!


November 28, 2007 9:41 AM

Almaviva- perhaps you should check Deutsche Grammophon's website before wrongly "correcting" the author if the article. Mr. Wildstrom is correct.

Nathan Websterson

November 28, 2007 9:43 AM

It's German, Deutsche Grammophon,, and the English spelling is gramophone, with one m.


November 28, 2007 10:01 AM

Hey Almaviva, You are the one with the misspelling. He wrote down the name of the German company and not an English word. The full name of the company is Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft. Oops, your slip is showing.

The point of the story is that the music is now going to be available, although at $1.29 a track you won't find me buying from them any time soon.

Steve Wildstrom

November 28, 2007 10:40 AM

@almaviva--Actually, we were both wrong. I've corre3cted it to "Grammophon," the German spelling that DG uses.


November 28, 2007 10:59 AM

I think Almaviva was joking. (I hope Almaviva was joking.) Anyway, this is great news, and great that the service getting wide media attention. It goes without saying that Deutsche Grammophon has a huge catalog and an excellent reputation for high standards of audio fidelity. It's great to see them offer both without compromising on a less-supported file format.

I'd love to see Ogg Vorbis downloads, but it's iPod-unfriendly; I'd love to see AAC downloads, but few other popular portable digital music players support the format. 320kbps+ MP3s is a great compromise. Pricing plan looks fair, too.

Not sure on the design. Storefront looks nice (though the DG Web Shop logo is a bit brash), but the layout seems a bit higgledy-piggledy and there's little consistency on the subsequent artist and album pages. I'm sure it'll be refined in time, though.


November 28, 2007 11:05 AM

Also, I'd like to use the word "great" some more. (Great Scott.)

Great stuff.


November 28, 2007 12:07 PM

320 kbps MP3 is not "very close to CD quality", though it is better than 192 kbps or, worse, 128 kbps. Full CD quality is 1.4 Mbps, or 4.4 times greater than the DGG bitrate, and the sound quality is certainly notably better. Not a factor if you're listening on portables with headphones but a big factor if you're burning to cdr and listening on a good stereo. No thanks, as far as I'm concerned. Now what do we have to do to get DGG to provide losslessly encoded downloads, which really are at CD quality?


November 28, 2007 12:45 PM

Why would anyone who cares about audio quality buy an mp3 at any bitrate? It is a lossy compression algorithm, so music is lost. Why not ask DG to make the content available as flac files? That way we could at least get CD quality sound.

Manuel Pagan

November 28, 2007 12:47 PM

Great news! Now if they would only offer FLAC's...


November 28, 2007 10:31 PM

It's nice to see DG getting into the digital download business. The store's nice enough to shop in - I like the long previews you get - *but*... downloading a track I've purchased has proven impossible so far. Clicking the download link just causes Firefox to try and fail to play the track; right-click > Save link as... also fails. Naturally, there's nothing but a useless help page and no contact info.

Fortunately, this was just the free track I got for signing up for the DG newsletter. But they're going to have to make downloading a lot easier before they get my money. amazon's got the right idea here -- if you just buy an individual track, right-click > Save Link As... and you're done.


November 28, 2007 10:35 PM

Robin & Cecil: 320 kbps was used because this is the highest bitrate MPEG-1 layer 3 standards provide for. Choosing a higher bitrate would mean choosing a different--less widely compatible--file format.

The issue isn't that better file formats don't exist. The issue is that MP3 is support is practically universal.


November 29, 2007 6:10 PM

I was able to download the free track I ordered today. It seems that you have to wait for the confirmation e-mail from the shop before you can download (took about five hours, I think), even though the track shows up in "My Downloads" immediately. Might be first-day kinks or because I was using a promotional voucher; hard to tell.

Overall, not a bad experience. I might buy individual tracks from the store (though I think five hours is a bit long to wait to be able to download a digital file you've purchased online; maybe I've just become too impatient), but I'll probably go the CD route if I want an entire album.

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