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Apr 29, 2003

Well I just got finished spending a couple of hours playing with Apple’s new Music Store service. The verdict: I am very impressed. I suppose there are many things not to like about the service, such as the AAC encoding (instead of MP3) and limited DRM. I also don’t like to leaving my credit card number on Apple’s servers.

However, there are a lot of things to like about the service. The selection is better than I thought it would be - for example, they have some of my childhood favorites such as Brand Nubian and Jungle Brothers. At 200,000 tracks, the selection is certainly not all-encompassing, but if your musical tastes are anywhere near the mainstream, you should be able to find some tracks that you like.

I was initially disappointed that the rumored $0.99/track pricing proved to be true. But after playing with the service - and buying 4 singles - I’ve concluded that the pricing is close enough to impulse pricing for me. It’s probably not low enough for college students to adopt the service en mass, but let’s face it: college students have no money so anything short of free is likely to be a hard sell anyway.

So how does AAC sound? The results of my thoroughly unscientific testing (basically listening to the 4 tracks I bought, as well as AAC preview samples of music I’m of which I am familiar) indicate that it’s not bad. It’s definitely not CD quality. I’d estimate that AAC encoded at 128 kbs is probably comparable to MP3 at 160-192 kbs, at least for pop music, so Apple’s quality claims appear realistic.

Of course it’s ironic how researchers are developing ways to bring the consumer higher quality music, yet industry pundits are predicting that future of the music business is lossy-encoding. It remains to be seen how this will play out.

But at least the major music companies are starting to get it. I for one got interested in acoustics because I love listening to music, and it was frustrating to see how the major labels were stifling our enjoyment of music. Hopefully that is beginning to change.

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