ABi was recently mentioned in this New York Times article which discusses file format compatibility issues associated with upgrading your MP3 player. From this, I have received an influx of emails commenting on the article. Most of the negative emails were poorly written rants with no valid arguments. However, I would like to thank the few people who have written intelligent rebuttals with valid points to the article and this site.
In this post, I would like to elaborate on some of the points in the article as well as share some of the more intelligent responses.
First off, I think that anyone who is downloading DRMed tracks for purchase is paying a premium for a mediocre product with a limited freedom to do what you want with it. I don’t care if it is Apple’s FairPlay or Microsoft’s PlaysForSure. They both suck for two reasons: they sound inferior at the encoded bit rate and you are limited on how you can listen to them.
As the article discusses, purchased music is encoded at 128 kbps to 192 kbps. Granted, some encoded formats sound better than others at the same bitrate, but they are all a lossy format, throwing away some of the music to make the file smaller for download.
The download services also limit how many times you can burn it to CD or how many computers you can listen to it on. Sure you can burn it to a CD and then do what you want with it, but you still have an inferior sounding CD. If you were to burn the downloaded music then rip it again to the same format, it would be worse then what you started with due to noise introduced during the re-burn process. It is like making a photocopy of a photocopy.
Not All DRM is Bad
The only DRM I would support is the unlimited services like Napster To Go or Yahoo! Unlimited. $5 a month to access a nearly unlimited library of music, how can you loose? Even Napster’s $15 or so a month is a good deal for nearly everything you ever want to listen to. Think of DRM subscriptions as XM radio that you control. You pick the music and when you want to play it.
The best way to avoid the headaches of DRM is to buy the actual CD. By owning the actual CD you have the freedom to convert it to the format of your choice- anytime, anywhere, and on any player.
Most of the time you will pay the same or even less for the actual physical CD than if you downloaded it.
The best place to get new music CDs is Circuit City or Best Buy; that’s where they are the all around cheapest. Both retailers sell them as ‘loss leaders’ making little to no money to get you in the store to purchase their electronic goods. If you can wait, eBay or Amazon’s used store is a great place to get cheap CDs. Even brick and mortar used CD stores are a good place to get older CDs at a bargain price. I stay clear away from mall retailers such as FYE; $19.99 for a new CD is robbery. If you are spending less than ten bucks on a full length CD you are doing well.
Stuck With Apple Stuck With Microsoft
Dennis writes this in an email and points out this insightful article about Microsoft lock-in tactics verses Apple lock-in tactics:
With Apple and its iTMS/iTunes/iPod combo, you have a choice between Mac and Windows, a major investment as compared to an MP3 player.
With Microsoft and its PlaysForSure initiative, you have your choice of MP3 player, but zero choice of preferred computer platform. You’re stuck on Windows, which I don’t like!
Apple and Microsoft are guilty of lock-in, just at different levels!
Agreed. I don’t like Microsoft’s lock-in tactics either. Having to choose sides I choose PlaysForSure for the fact that this is a site dedicated to digital audio players and not computer OSes. A person who owns a digital audio player probably already has chosen their OS. A solution to this is as discussed before: avoid DRM.
AAC the Betamax Cliché
Some of the emails ranted about the fact that AAC is a better format than MP3. It is, kind of… It is a matter of sound quality verses file size. The AAC format is more efficient at compressing music than MP3. This means that the AAC format will take up less space than the identical sounding MP3 file. When digital audio players only had 32MB of space, compression quality was an issue. Today however, when music players commonly have more than 40GB and the increase in file size is marginal, compression efficiency is negligible.
This brings us to the modern day Betamax verses VHS analogy. Yes, AAC is more efficient, but it is not the widely aacepted format. AAC only plays on an iPod (and a few other very scarce Panasonic audio players). Why not use a just as good yet slightly bigger format like MP3, which can be played on nearly all digital audio players? You will never see a widespread adoption of AAC. Stick with a format that you will be able to play on your non-iPod as well as the iPod.
Response to the Hate Mail
This site is here to present the other options, not to bash and hate the iPod. So don’t come here bashing this site with no supporting facts just because it goes against the grain. If you want an iPod, go buy one! Don’t waste our readers’ time as well as your own by spreading your uninformed rhetoric.