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A High Resolution Music Download Site You May Not Know

09-25-2014 | By Brian Moura | Issue 75

Last year there were concerns about the lack of high resolution music files available in the Direct Stream Digital (DSD) format for purchase. It was a factor that some music fans cited as a reason for holding off on buying a Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) that included DSD playback. Those of you following the world of music downloads know that things have changed! Today we have over 1200 DSD music downloads available for download. What happened?

In October 2013 during the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), pioneers in creating and selling DSD Music Downloads—like Jared Sacks' Channel Classics site, Bob Witrak's High Definition Tape Transfers, Cookie Marenco's Blue Coast Records and Downloads Now, and David Elias' Sketti Sandwich Productions, were joined by two new music download sites: Super HiRez operated by Chad Kassem and Acoustic Sounds, and NativeDSD operated by a team headed up by Channel Classics Music Director/Producer Jared Sacks.

During the last year these two music web sites have become the "big dogs" in the world of DSD music downloads, responsible for over half of the available DSD downloads today—with almost 400 DSD albums available in Stereo DSD on Super HiRez and well over 300 DSD albums available in Stereo and Multichannel DSD from DSD Edit Masters and natively recorded DSD albums on NativeDSD.

But that isn't the full story. In the ramp up of DSD music download sites in the last year, there is one download site that always seems to be overlooked or ignored—which is unfortunate, because they sell some really excellent natively recorded DSD music. I' m talking about Pentatone Music.

Pentatone was formed at the beginning of the Super Audio CD launch by the engineering department of Decca and Philips Classics when that label was sold by Philips to the Universal Music Group. Pentatone picked up all of the DSD recording equipment and expertise from Philips Classics, and began a program of recording and releasing 2 to 4 albums in Stereo and Multichannel DSD every month on SACD discs. This process continues to this day.

Pentatone also licensed a large number of unreleased Decca and Philips Classics 4-channel recordings from the 1970s (created when Decca/Philips was exploring but then failed to enter the Quad disc market). This group of Decca and Philips Classics recordings were transferred from the original analog master tapes to DSD for release on SACD disc as multichannel "Remastered Quadro Recordings" or the "RQR" series on Pentatone.

In March 2014, Pentatone Music launched a music downloads service on their web site. It complimented their earlier on-line sales of SACD disc editions of their catalog. The music downloads portion of the site have grown rapidly, and now offers almost 200 of their original DSD recordings in Stereo and Surround Sound! Let's take a closer look at what Pentatone is doing and what they have to offer.

Select Your Music Download

High Resolution Music in PCM and DSD

Given Pentatone's experience with recording in DSD and releasing Super Audio CDs (SACDs), you might expect that all of their music downloads would be in DSD. But that is not the case. The download portion of their web store offers their original DSD recordings in a variety of PCM formats and single rate DSD (DSD 64).

Pentatone music downloads are offered in three resolution levels: High Quality (WAV, 44.1/16 bit PCM), Premium Quality (FLAC, 96/24 bit PCM in Stereo or Surround) and Master Quality (DSD ISO file with Stereo and Surround). Pricing for the music downloads ranges from 15.50 Euros ($19.40 U.S. dollars) for High Quality downloads in WAV format to 26.50 Euros ($33.16 U.S. dollars) for Master Quality downloads in DSD ISO format in both Stereo and Surround Sound DSD.


DSD ISO Files: Good Idea or Bad Idea?

One aspect of the Pentatone web store that has created some debate among music fans is the company's decision to sell their DSD music downloads as a single ISO disc image file. This is in contrast to most music download sites that sell albums in DSD as a series of individual music files in the DSF or DFF format. It's also different than buying Pentatone's Premium Quality downloads in FLAC where the music fan must select Stereo or Surround Sound, rather than getting both versions of the album at one price.

The advantage of downloading albums in ISO form is that one download gives the music fan both the Stereo and Surround versions of the album. Once downloaded, you can either play the ISO file directly (using a program like JRiver's Media Center), or you can create individual DSF or DFF files for each track with an app like ISO2DSD—a popular donation-ware program for Windows and Mac computers from Sonore. (See web link below).

I'll leave it to our readers to think about whether the ISO approach is the way to go. Personally I like getting music downloads in both Stereo and Surround Sound for one price. We will see if Pentatone keeps this approach in the future for their DSD music files.

The Pentatone Club

Join the Club and Save….

Like several of the music download stores, Pentatone provides a periodic email newsletter and discounts to music fans. But they have a very different approach to this.

When you provide Pentatone with your email address and information, you become a member of the Pentatone Club. A big advantage of being in the club is that from the moment you join, all purchases from the Pentatone Store (Music Downloads and SACDs) are 20% off from that point forward if you sign in to the web site as a club member.

Bottom line: if you're interested in buying Music Downloads and SACDs from the Pentatone Music web store, I'd recommend joining the Pentatone Club so you can start saving right away. (I certainly did when I found this offer!)

Beethoven Symphonies

What Happened to the RQR Albums?

If you've visited the Pentatone Music store, you've undoubtedly noticed that some of the listed albums invite you to "Buy Now" (SACD for purchase) and others say "Buy and Download Now" (SACD and Music Downloads for purchase). What is the story here?

While Pentatone has rights to sell their original DSD recordings as music downloads, apparently their original licensing deal with Universal Music Group did not include the ability to sell the 4 Channel Surround Sound Philips Classical Recordings as music downloads. This gets more important this November when Pentatone begins releasing the first set of albums from a group of 40 Surround Sound Analog Classical Recordings that they recently licensed from Universal Music Group that will be added to their RQR series.

When asked about this, Pentatone said that the company is exploring the possibility of bringing the 4 Channel Philips and DGG albums into their music downloads store in the future. Let's hope that those talks go well so there will be even more Pentatone Music downloads to choose from.

In a recent Twitter post, Pentatone also mentioned doing some recent conversions to double rate DSD (DSD 128) rather than single rate DSD (DSD 64) which forms their SACDs and DSD Downloads today. I' m not sure, but this is undoubtedly a hint at more to come from Pentatone.

The Nutcracker

Time for Some Listening

The real enjoyment of discovering a high resolution music download site is picking up some of their albums and giving them a listen. I've certainly done that on the Pentatone Music web store.

Whether it's The Nutcracker by the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra, Fascinating George Gershwin with Vesko Eschkenazy and Friends, Strauss Waltzes by the Wiener Symphony Orchestra, Dance Spectacular with Kazuki Yamada conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande or several more, the sound and performances on these original DSD recordings and DSD music downloads is a treat. They are definitely worth adding to your list of DSD download stores for consideration—right next to Super HiRez, Native DSD and the earlier players in the DSD downloads market.

You will be glad you did.

Pentatone Music – Downloads Store

Pentatone Club

ISO2DSD Software from Sonore

Super HiRez


Blue Coast Records 

Downloads Now

David Elias

[All images courtesy of Pentatone and Sonore]