Musicians push for better sound online and on disc

ByABC News
June 3, 2008, 4:54 AM

— -- As more listeners turn to music downloads and the compact disc seems headed for history's scrap heap, a growing number of artists are making a renewed effort for better-sounding tracks, online and on disc.

It's generally accepted that regular MP3 music files compromise CD sound quality for convenience and portability. (Some listeners argue that even CDs are less than optimal.) Last year, Amazon and iTunes made concessions to upgrade the quality of their download tracks.

Some artists want the bar raised even higher. Metallica announced last week that its upcoming untitled album, in addition to being released on CD, will be available as a higher-quality digital download ($12) and on audiophile vinyl in a limited-edition $125 boxed set. It's due this fall.

In technical terms, one measure of quality is the amount of data per second of music; more is better. Standard tracks often are 128 kilobits per second; Amazon's and iTunes' are as high as 256 kbps. Metallica's tracks will raise the data rate to 320 kbps.

Also from musicians:

High-resolution downloads. Nine Inch Nails' frontman, Trent Reznor, began giving away The Slip album via download last month. In addition to a higher-quality download, other free versions include several better-than-CD music files, including a "high definition" stereo version.

The recently launched from audiophile label Chesky Records has better-than-MP3 downloads of albums from Jerry Garcia, jazz artists such as Bob James, blues stars such as Son Seals and vocalists Bing Crosby and Tony Bennett (typically $12). Co-founder David Chesky calls the 320-kbps format "not quite as good as CD quality but good for portable" listening. also plans to offer better-than-CD high definition and DVD Audio downloads in the future.

Better discs. John Mellencamp's upcoming Life, Death, Love and Freedom CD, due July 15, will come with, at no extra charge, a high-definition DVD stereo version that will play in most DVD players. Producer T Bone Burnett and his engineering team developed the DVD music technology because they grew exasperated about the state of digital music. Listening to the high-res disc, "I could hear the music the way it was intended to be heard," Mellencamp said in a statement.