Tick...Tick...Tick...Tick...Rip

You're probably familiar with Amazon's AutoRip feature. When you buy certain CDs from Amazon, you also get free access to a cloud copy. Now, Amazon has extended the feature to include sales of many vinyl records. When you think about it, a ripped vinyl file is a much more valuable than a ripped CD file.

Launched earlier this year, Amazon's AutoRip for CD has proved to be a convenient perk. It's nice to keep the plastic disc, for example, tucked away safely for home playback while the file travels the world with you. On the other hand, the perk isn't all that valuable; how tough is it to rip a CD?

But now AutoRip extends to any vinyl purchased from Amazon during the last 15 years. (15 years? Wow. I didn't realize vinyl has been around that long.) This perk is quite valuable. Ripping vinyl is relatively painful, what with the needles and all. Getting a no-fuss, no-muss file is terrific.

The fine print: When you buy an AutoRip-compatible vinyl record, a digital copy is placed in your Amazon Cloud Player library. You can listen to the files on your own device, using a Cloud Player. Compatible products are marked with an AutoRip logo. The feature automatically extends back to when Amazon opened its music store in 1998; check your library – the copies of your CDs and LPs are already there! These files do not count against the storage limits of your library. The files are MP3 at 256 kbps. That's agreeably hi-fi, but probably not sufficient for lots of vinylphiles who would prefer FLAC.

Another extremely interesting tidbit: when you import a file from another music service such as iTunes to your Amazon library, Amazon kindly places a 256 kbps file there as well – that is huge if you have lots of low-res (such as 128 kbps) files.

I'm pretty sure that Amazon doesn't have cubicles full of people blowing dust from grooves and dropping needles on AR turntables; the files they give you are most likely a master supplied by the record company. In fact, in many cases, when you buy a vinyl record from anywhere, you already get a digital file. But AutoRip is a terrific way to get a copy of older vinyl content.

Analog purists will never touch any file, knowing full well that a digital music file is an abomination. But for us lesser mortals, it's a handy option to have around. All in all, Amazon's vinyl AutoRip is a good thing. It

The whole disc thing certainly isn't dead yet. And in fact, there will probably always be something like physical LPs, CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays for the simple reason that some people will always like to get something tangible when they buy content. Plus, shelves of heavy plastic things always make moving a lot more fun. But, the larger trend is undeniably toward virtual libraries. Services such as AutoRip are clear markers of the transition taking place, and are helping physical content to stay relevant a bit longer.

Meanwhile, you can buy vinyl with confidence. If you accidentally scratch the disc, you can always use the file to press a new one. Provided, of course, that Amazon starts selling cutting lathes.

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