It’s been on my list of download sites for quite a while, but I’d grown out of it when alternatives such as Linn and Hyperion and Qobuz cropped up. What is it? It’s e|classical. From the outset there’s been a close tie-in with BIS records, but the main thing which distunguished it from other places was its offering of “collections” (things like Swedish Concertos or Russian Symphonies and the like), all offered at very competitive prices.
The main reason I went off it was that all its downloads were MP3 only, a limitation which other download sites had outgrown. Now things have changed at e|classical. A site re-design has brought with it a whole new approach to download file formats and a unique approach to pricing, both of which bring it well and truly back into the fold. I won’t risk causing confusion by going into the technical end of things — suffice to say that e|classical now offer 16-bit and 24-bit FLACs in addition to MP3s (the 16-bit offerings are true CD quality; the 24-bit vary in resolution up to what other sites would describe as “Studio Master” standard).
While the inclusion of FLAC downloads is a big step for this site, it isn’t unique among download destinations. What is unique is the pricing structure. Up to now, Qobuz have been ahead of the pack by offering FLACs at the same price as MP3s, and regularly offer a 20% discount for ten days for new arrivals. That’s a good deal, but e|classical adopt a different and highly original approach by charging all their downloads on a per-second basis (16-bit FLACs and MP3s are $0.20, while 24-bit FLACs are $0.30 per second). No other site does this. This is certainly much more fair than the norm, which is to apply varying price points per album, depending on the source and whether the item would be considered full-price or budget in terms of physical CDs. This approach obviously has the disadvantage that an album which offers only, say, 50 minutes of playing time costs the same as one with over 70 minutes. e|classical changes all that.
Another difference at the e|classical site is the question of audio samples. iTunes began the tradition of 30-second track samples, which has since become the norm (only Analekta breaks this mold by offering full-length previews). Now e|classical does its own thing in this respect also by providing whole-track listening, in 30-second segments.
For future reference, I’ve added e|classical to the list of links on our weblog’s home page. Do check it out. One final point before closing: the site is still predominatly devoted to BIS recordings. It includes some recordings from Hänssler, but that list isn’t extensive by any means. The (excellent) British label Signum is also featured, and two others which are new to me (HNH International and Proprius) are represented, though with very few recordings.