I must have been very nice last year, because Santa brought me a Sonos Connect Wireless HiFi System and Network Attached Storage (NAS) with Wake-on-LAN for Christmas. This particular combination of hardware can mean only one thing: I will spend the waning days of 2012 and the beginning days of 2013 ripping my entire CD collection (which is not small) into lossless files. After poring over audiophile blogs and lurking on discussion forums, I chose FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) as the format for my ripping binge. FLAC has the great virtue of combining openness with losslessness, and it seems to be the coin of the realm for the digital audiophile set. I’ve been using dbPoweramp as my ripper, and it’s all been going very well. Albeit not perfectly. There is the occasional track that for whatever reason—some physical defect in the disc or some blip in the ripping or the encoding—I cannot get FLAC-ed. Last night’s file, as it happens, was Fine Young Cannibals’ “Couldn’t Care More.” No matter how much I tweaked the ripping and encoding settings, I couldn’t get a proper lossless copy. So I decided to do what any law-abiding music consumer would do in my situation: I searched the Internet far and wide for a paid (i.e., legal) lossless download of the song. I would have bought FLAC or ALAC or anything else lossless. Reader, I searched in vain. I don’t know why this surprised me, knowing what I do about the supply-side causes of digital piracy. But it did. I found more than one adware-bloated torrent for the FLAC version, but I couldn’t find the authorized article in anything but lossy format from Amazon or iTunes. I could, I suppose, just buy a new CD and try my luck again, but that seems a little perverse, given that the whole beauty of the digital download model is track-by-track purchasing. And I already bought the whole CD once.
The rationale we get from the Big Four (music labels) for why we shouldn’t pirate music is that reasonably priced legal alternatives are widely available. That’s true if you’re talking about MP3 or some other lossy format. I’d like to know why legal lossless downloads aren’t more widely available, especially as networked storage gets cheaper, bandwidth gets wider, and devices like Sonos make their way into more people’s homes. There are a (very) few sites out there that provide paid lossless downloads. HDTracks is one, but, alas, “Couldn’t Care More” is not available there. If I can rip music from my CDs and encode it losslessly to stream through my high-quality home stereo speakers, why can’t I buy music from Amazon or iTunes in the form of lossless downloads? I’m waiting to see if Neil Young’s Pono project will somehow alter the mass-market music download status quo. Something should. I don’t see myself going back to vinyl, but music lovers should collectively be able to look forward to something finer than MP3.