Download Lowdown Page 8

Where the Bits Are

Squeezing music to play at 128 kbps or less doesn't make sense in today's world of broadband access and high-capacity hard drives. Music lovers looking for better sound quality (and higher bit rates) will want to check out BuyMusic at with its 256-kbps tracks and MusicGiants, which has tracks approaching 1 megabit per second - guaranteeing that the music will sound indistinguishable from the CD.

About a third of Buymusic's more than 600,000 tracks are available at 256 kbps, and the price stays the same no matter what the bit rate. Songs are offered in the WMA-DRM format and priced from 79¢ to 99¢.

At $1.29 a track and $15.29 an album, MusicGiants offers the most expensive music on the Internet. Once you pay your $50-a-year license fee to use the software, you're issued a nonrefundable $50 credit toward purchases. What you get is high-fidelity digital music in the WMA-DRM Lossless format at between 700 and 1,100 kbps. During playback, a color-coded Fidelity Meter appears in the corner of the screen. Downloads that fall in the red zone are deemed inferior, yellow ones marginal, and green ones superior. Music­Giants likes to point out that any track you buy from iTunes, WalMart, Napster, and even BuyMusic will play in the red or yellow zones.

The site was in prerelease form when I checked it out, and the music was mostly from the EMI catalog, which includes the Rolling Stones. But MusicGiants expects to have a variety of selections from all the major labels available when it starts up by the time you read this. Each track I listened to sounded rich and full, the way a fine recording should. These might be the first downloads even an audiophile could love.

Last Note

While the iTunes Music Store was our favorite download store last year, Yahoo Music Unlimited steals the show this time around with its flexible interface, customizable streams (my "love" station has hundreds of songs cued up), and price-shattering subscription plan, along with the most inexpensive downloads. Stop me before I gorge myself on too much music.

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