I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

iTunes vs. Amazon

With a day off to go shopping from my chair (i.e., online), I began looking to see if I had missed any "Bach" from what I could find in digital downloads. My two principal places to shop would be the iTunes Music Store and Amazon Digital Downloads. I started at Amazon. I always look at what they recommend to me, thinking, "that must be all the classical they have." They love trying to force Keith Jarrett albums down my throat because I once told them I owned a few. This time around, I simply typed "Bach" in the search window, and it registered some 14K results. I've gotten through some 55 pages so far, looking at a lot of albums. Curious to know what some sound like, etc., I of course heard a lot of J.S.B. but also his sons. There's a lot of Bach out there. So, I found a recording by the London Baroque. It caught my fancy, and it costs $8.99 through Amazon. It's offered in their non-DRM, 256kbit resolution (mp3). Just to check, did Apple carry this album? They sure did. Somehow, despite Apple's store within iTunes, I found the Amazon searching experience easier. I'd never encountered this CD through Apple's interface (despite it being years old). Interestingly enough, Apple's cost is $1 more. Non-DRM (iTunes Plus), and same resolution (albeit in Apple's preferred AAC format). I compared other albums, such as those from John Eliot Gardiner's Bach cantata series. Amazon: $14.99, Apple: $19.98. Same file resolution. Here I am, an Apple fan (I carry the stickers on my car, the tattoos on my... (just kidding)). Isn't Amazon the clear choice? For a classical fan, it seems like Amazon just might be the clear winner. For your extra money, you could have Apple's AAC-encoded tracks, but, thus far it's only Apple that is suggesting they are in fact a better quality format. A true test, no doubt, would be to download one of these from each store, compare the results, and see what we have. Of course, it would be my ear against yours, and I am not sure you'd trust my ear. After all, I'm just a guy with a blog. If I had the resources, it would be fun to have a whole room full of folks and test them on the MP3 vs. AAC business. Or not, you could just save yourself some dough buying from Amazon, in lieu of buying plastic and aluminum CDs. Consequently, I think if I found a recording that was super-special to me, I'd still buy it on CD (it's roughly 8-10 times more data on CD); I am looking forward to two CDs coming via mail to me right now as I type this. Now, a few comments on what I don't like. 1. I found a CD of Bach's French Suites by Christophe Rousset that seemed to be labeled wrong through Amazon. Skip that. 2. Many times, the Amazon reviews on their digital downloads don't match the actual recording!! I might be reviewing the London Baroque trio sonats, but the reviews are for E. Power Biggs on the organ. Yowsah. 3. The Amazon album artwork is not always crisp and clear, the Apple artwork from Apple is. 4. Apple sometimes offers a PDF for the CD as liner notes. Amazon, haven't seen it. 5. The previews for Amazon's tracks are heavily encoded. You don't hear the track at the same resolution at which it's sold. That can be misleading. "Crappy sound, not going to buy," when in fact, the MP3 you download sounds fine. No doubt, Apple and Amazon are the biggest competitors right now in the buying model of online music (rather than the rental model). For what I see now, there isn't any one true, clear winner; Amazon for now is beating Apple through more aggressive pricing and a larger classical catalog.


Vivaldi - Stabat Mater, Nisi Dominus