Cost- and effort-effective way to end up with a large HD full of lossless classical music, legally.
November 14, 2009 4:58 AM   Subscribe

Cost- and effort-effective way to end up with a large HD full of lossless classical music, legally.

Well, after my question here, I'm still not quite satisfied with the quality of my worktime music listening. I'm over my requirement for enjoyable-to-listen-to DJs, which isn't happening in combination with playlists I like, but I'm starting to get annoyed by the digital compression of internet radio. So, I was wondering if it is possible to provide my own classical radio, to myself, by stocking my work HD with large amounts of music I'm likely to enjoy hearing but haven't heard all of before, at lossless or near-lossless quality. Given the following conditions:

1. My fantasy: I would be happy to hear any non-symphonic, non-opera composition written by any European composer known or unknown during the centuries 12-19. Rather than excluding anything out of hand that fits those conditions, I would love the opportunity to hear it and if I hate it I'll take it out of the queue. Hearing some symphonic music or opera isn't a problem, but getting it into the playlist is not a goal of this undertaking. Non-operatic vocal music and proto-opera like Camerata is fine.

2. I'd like to do it legally, without individually purchasing vast amounts of CDs and ripping vast amounts of CDs. I don't have the time or money to build up a new digital music library one CD at a time. I also can't afford to pay for a big classical music library recording-by-recording on iTunes. I don't want to specify what would be too expensive, other than to say that a retail per-album payment approach to creating a radio-station-sized playlist or bigger will be too expensive.

3. Any top-tier performers, any high-fidelity recordings are fine with me. I'm OK with quirks of analog recording, so I guess that pretty much any high-quality recording after the late 50s is going to fit the bill. Please restrict commentary on my total lack of standards about important things combined with freakish pickiness about unimportant things to Memail.

4. I'm up to the task of getting any sound format into one I need for my own setup in an automated fashion. If something is available in a country that I'm not in, I'll do the legwork of figuring out whether it's an option.

OK. So, obviously what I've just described is not even remotely possible. There is no "legally purchase an enormous hard drive full of a single good example of every non-operatic, non-symphonic composition written by a European composer between the 12th and 19th century, performed by anyone acknowledged to be good, recorded decently, in lossless format" product. I doubt it would fit on even a 2TB drive in any case.

My question: what is the closest I can get (even if it's very, very far away), for the least money, as a result of investing the least effort? Examples I could imagine would be: sources of lossless (or at least top-quality lossy) public domain recordings (lots of link-clicking is not excessive effort), labels that sell drives full of their back-catalog releases for much less than the cost of purchasing them at retail, download services that have bulk download deals of recordings that are not the latest and hottest with lossless (or at least top-quality lossy) formats. Thank you for any suggestions!
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can't look it up on my phone right now, but the Deutsche Grammophon web shop has 320 rate MP3's, and there may be a lossless option as well. Their prices are equivalent to or lower than Amazon MP3. DG label only, of course, but that's quite a lot.
posted by matildaben at 5:15 AM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, DG back catalog would be perfect, I'll check into it too.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:17 AM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: OK, DG unfortunately looks to be too expensive, but a good start, thanks.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:23 AM on November 14, 2009

Some public libraries have decent classical music collections. Most academic libraries at schools with a music department have very good collections -- and sometimes lend to the public. They would be excellent places to identify the music you're interested in and sample the recordings.

Of course, this would not be a good way to build a digital collection because it wouldn't be legal to rip all those recordings.

And actually going to the library might be more effort than lots of link-clicking. :)
posted by GPF at 5:24 AM on November 14, 2009

My first instinct was to recommend the 200-CD series Great Pianists of the 20th Century, but that violates your rider "ripping vast amounts of CDs", and also it seems hard to get.

Passionato offers albums in lossless.
posted by Gyan at 5:30 AM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah, although I'm already aware of the music I'm interested in (it's a subset of what I listed), so the serendipity of hearing music that I'm not aware I'm interested in, but has characteristics I enjoy, is one of the main attractions of radio that I would be trying to recreate. Going to the library->previewing music->taking it home->ripping it->taking it back isn't quite the efficiency or the legality I'd hoped for ;) .
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:32 AM on November 14, 2009

Best answer: Here's some classical courtesy of Wikipedia.
posted by aheckler at 5:36 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Passionato is getting there - check out Der BachPod. It's too compressed, but otherwise very intriguing.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:40 AM on November 14, 2009

There's a chance you may be able to find what you need on craigslist or e-bay. I often see large CD collections for sale. But it's no sure thing.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:45 AM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Nice one aheckler, that page links to some sites posting good performances under copyleft terms.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:46 AM on November 14, 2009

eMusic has mp3s. I don't know anything about audio formats, but I assume this is subpar to you. But you said you're flexible, and this would meet all your other requirements. They have an enormous classical catalogue -- I've never had trouble finding the composition I'm looking for. I can't always find the exact version I want, but they carry many top performers and major classical labels, including the very useful Naxos. I've never been looking for a classical composition on eMusic and not found it on Naxos (unless I found a preferable version first). Here are the classical record labels they carry. Tracks are less than half as expensive as iTunes or Amazon. Legal, DRM free, good interface, good for discovering music you've never heard of...
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:48 AM on November 14, 2009

To be more specific, the eMusic subscription plans vary; mine is 36 cents a track.* Amazon and iTunes generally charge a dollar a track. While all their default accounts force you to buy X number of tracks per cycle (usually monthly), you can also buy booster packs, e.g. an additional 50 tracks as a one-time thing on top of your monthly subscription. I don't think there's any limit to the number of boosters you can buy.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:56 AM on November 14, 2009

Get a subscription to Rhapsody. $14.99 a month and you can fill up your hard drive to your heart's content. I'm pretty voracious when it comes to tracking down obscure and avant garde classical music, and their selection has rarely failed me.

I believe they have "stations" and "recommended music" kinds of features, but I haven't really used them -- I am usually looking for something specific.

Downloading tons of tracks to your hard drive is easy. Just find the composer, album, etc. you're looking for and click a button to download them all. If you want to burn it to CD you have to pay for the track individually, but you can keep it on your hard drive as long as your subscription is active -- and if you have Rhapsody To Go, you can fill and refill an mp3 player as much as you want. Or you can stream any of their tracks directly over the internet without downloading a copy.

It's in WMA or MP3 format so it's not technically "lossless" but the quality is quite good.
posted by Alabaster at 7:40 AM on November 14, 2009

As a starting point, DG just put out a 55-CD 111-years-of-DG collection. It's $140 on Amazon, which is what, $2.25 per CD or so?

(I managed to get it in AAC for $9.99 on iTunes Canada but they've found that error since.)

Also be sure to have the Penguin Guide and the NPR Guide to, well, guide you.
posted by mendel at 7:43 AM on November 14, 2009

Best answer: Oh, and here's a better answer: The DG 111 set is available as FLAC for $90.
posted by mendel at 7:44 AM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Yes! Perfect. I missed that on my check of the DG site.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 7:50 AM on November 14, 2009

Wikipedia and Creative Commons have classical music.
posted by oceano at 8:16 AM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Unfortunately, there isn't much on the CC site that applies. One thing I did notice from checking it out, though, is, which looks like a great label and which is generally cheaper for lossless recordings than iTunes or Amazon, although not enough so for the purposes of my question.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 8:54 AM on November 14, 2009

Best answer: I'm not sure how useful this is to you - the quality varies between tracks and there's no "download them all" option - but the Classic Cat site has thousands of free classical performances.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 2:11 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I had just notice Classic Cat via and I think it's a great suggestion. It does take some searching but it would probably yield some good additions.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:19 PM on November 14, 2009

Praise be to Earl the Polliwog! That rocks. Er, that classicals. Thanks.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2009

Best answer: Have you taken a look at Amazon's Top Free Albums? It's lossy and it's a little work, but there's a lot of free stuff. For instance, they've got a big Philip Glass sampler and a huge "I love the [18]80s" sampler for free right now.

Also seconding the emusic subscription. I have one mostly for their "indie"/alternative music, but I can vouch for their enormous classical selection and great price compared to $0.89-$1.29 a song.
posted by sleeping bear at 6:29 PM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Damn, Amazon knows that I'm not in the US and they won't let me at the free samplers, but it's great if you're in the States. What I did do was go to Amazon Germany and put in a search for albums under €0.99 and it did pick up a few ultra-cheap full-length albums, although they are pretty compressed so I'll have to listen and see how chunky they sound once downloaded.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:59 AM on November 15, 2009

Response by poster: Just putting the Classic Cat here in linked form so other people reading the thread can easily check it out.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:20 AM on November 15, 2009

Spotify stream a vast amount of classical music at near CD quality. Unfortunately the free version with advertising is not available in Germany but the ad free premium version is. Might be worth the few €'s to try it for a month.
posted by Dr.Pill at 11:43 AM on November 15, 2009

Response by poster: Spotify would actually be all right given its high bitrate, but unfortunately I don't think any of their plans are available here.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:13 PM on November 15, 2009

A minor warning for people who buy the DG 111 FLAC set: after downloading all the FLAC files, make sure they're not corrupt.
If you're on Windows, a fast and easy way to accomplish this is using foobar2000 along with the File Integrity Verifier component.

I got five corrupt files which I had to re-download, and even though they had no audible errors as far as I could tell, others may not be so lucky.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:59 AM on November 23, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah, I actually found the entire DG download process awful in every way; no stopping and resuming, you have to use their java DL manager but it doesn't gracefully handle network changes, and the topper is that all links to help/FAQ/contact info on the web store site are broken from the page where you download things you've purchased. I'm loving the 111 collection but it was a tedious, multi-day job to download requiring starting over from scratch 5 times. Very weird example of a company offering a long-existing type of service that has loads of best practices and not using any of them.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:22 AM on November 23, 2009

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