Yesterday I made my first purchase on the iTunes Music Store. I accidentally clicked a link on the Stevie Ann site that led directly to the iTunes store, where her newest album and several singles were up for sale. Usually I ignore the ITMS, but I noticed she had a single up that contained both “One Year of Love” and “Toxic” in acoustic rendition. Since I loved the YouTube videos I posted and the single cost less than 3 euro’s I figured, why not…
So I filled in my credit card information and clicked on the single. The whole experience was actually quite pleasing, everything is automated and within seconds the files had been downloaded and added to my library. Every file was tagged with the correct information (I can’t stand badly tagged files) and had CD cover art added. I can definitely recommend the songs – the single is called “One Year of Love, Vol.2 (Acoustic Version)” – though the YouTube recordings were somehow more… pure.

But a few hours later, I was left wondering… now what? I’ve got 3 m4p’s, copy-protected iTunes files, which will play on my computer and my iPod and that’s about it. I can’t use them in any other way, play them on any other device, use them in any other program, can’t let anyone else listen to them. If I ever decide to switch to another player or stop using iTunes (which is actually quite possible, since there are a lot of iTunes replacements these days) I’m screwed. The more I think about it, the more I realize I just wasted 3 euro’s.

Later that night, looking for a program to hack the DRM out of my files, I stumbled on AllOfMP3.com again. Anyone whose been paying attention to the RIAA’s bad behavior in the past few years knows about AllofMP3. It’s a company that uses a specific Russian copyright law, which doesn’t reimburse artists, to sell mp3’s online for ridiculous prices: 2 to 3 dollars for an album in the standard 192kbps quality, but you pay for the filesize so higher quality means higher price (Barely. 320kbps CBR made it 4 dollar for an album). Curious, I started surfing their site to see what they had to offer. They didn’t have the Stevie Ann single, which isn’t too strange since she’s just a local Dutch singer, so I browsed around their musical/showtunes selection (I’m a theater geek on the inside). They happened to have both the Broadway and the Concept recordings of a musical I’m currently obsessing about, Aida. And I was just about to order both of these on CD from bol.com anyway. Since I’d just spent money on the IMTS, I wondered what AllOfMP3 was like.

For one thing, I didn’t want to give them my credit card information. Call me old-fashioned, but I wouldn’t give my credit card to a shady individual with a Russian accent in real life, so I won’t do it online either. Luckily they know this themselves too and have an option for a payment scheme setup through Xrost, a seller of prepaid internet cash cards. I bought a $10 card from Xrost (by credit card) and redeemed it at AllOfMP3 by filling in the card number and PIN. My AllOfMP3 balance went up to $12 (apparently there’s a new year’s bonus), enough for a few albums. I clicked on the Aida albums and added both to my basket. The system asked me in which bitrate I wanted the files. Since these were going to be replacing original CD’s I wanted to have the best quality available: 320kbps CBR mp3s. I clicked on that option and the price for the Aida Broadway Cast album went up to $4.75. At bol.com the best price for the Aida CD is 21 euros!
The system started processing my order and began encoding my files, or so the FAQ says, from the original WAV files stored on their servers to mp3s using LAME (the best MP3 encoder available). These files were added to my basket, from which you could download the mp3s. There’s a catch though: you only get one download. If something goes wrong, you don’t get your file and you have to pay for it again. There’s a big warning on the download page not to accidentally left-click the link and stream the file; it counts as a download. I right-clicked my way through the site very carefully… This also means that there’s no way to get your bought files back from AllOfMP3 if you ever experience a hard drive crash or similar. You pay very little, but you pay it for a single download.
After downloading all the mp3s I put them in iTunes and played them back. I already had an Aida album in 128kbps and compared the quality with the 320kbps version I had just downloaded. The new files were superb! Much more clarity in the treble and much deeper bass. You could actually hear the subwoofer doing it’s job now. The new files just had no tags, no artwork or anything… but it was quite easy to add these myself. I use Tag & Rename for this, which should be a standard application for anyone wishing to work on his music database.

So all in all iTunes wins on its user-friendly interface, proper tagging of files, ease of use and actually being legal. It loses (badly) on being DRM’d and device-specific. AllOfMp3 wins on quality and freedom of choice. But it’s semi-illegal, has no tags, has no back-up function, you only get one download and the interface isn’t nearly as polished as the iTunes experience.

Still AllOfMP3 wins in my book. Too bad it’s going to get shut down, probably within the next year. The RIAA sucks.

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