Even hardcore audiophiles have to face the music--brick and mortar record stores are fading fast--and it's starting to look like the CD is on its way out. Sure, no card carrying audiophile would be caught dead downloading MP3s or iTunes, the sonic sacrifices are too drastic. Well, what if there was a site that offered bona fide CD quality downloads, would audiophiles go for it? That's HDtracks' prime directive, but I don't think the high-resolution download store is just for audiophiles.
Then again I never understood why anyone would pay more or less the same price for a low quality download as for a CD. Well, now that iTunes has become the #1 U.S. music retailer I have to admit the answer must be that buyers put a higher value on convenience than sound. Well alright, HDtracks offers three higher-resolution download alternatives: "CD quality" UNcompressed AIFF and lossless FLAC files or 320kbps MP3s. All three are DRM free. Oh, and when you buy a complete album you also get the cover art and liner notes as a PDF. Complete albums go for $11.98, individual tracks, $1.49.
True, iTunes isn't in any immediate danger of losing market share--HDtracks is just starting up--so you're not going to find Radiohead, R.E.M., or the Rolling Stones' music there just yet. HDtracks' selection is quirkier, less mainstream, with folk, gospel, blues, jazz, Latin, pop, R&B, rock, classical and soundtracks from a wide spectrum of independent labels. HDtracks is adding new labels all the time.
HDtracks was started by David and Norman Chesky, who will continue to run their audiophile record label, Chesky Records. HDtracks will in the coming months begin to offer ultra high resolution 96-khz/24-bit files, which will sound even better, much better than CD quality downloads, for a limited number of titles.
In the interest of full disclosure: I have worked for Chesky Records as a producer and writer, and written for HDtracks.