Known Johnson

October 9, 2007

Radiohead – In Rainbows: forward thinking with a bitrate of 160kpbs?

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 10:31 pm

So I’m a little pissed. I just got the email from Radiohead’s merchandising arm, WASTE, telling me that my download would be ready vaguely “tomorrow morning (UK time)” and what does it say?

THANK YOU FOR ORDERING IN RAINBOWS. THIS IS AN UPDATE.

YOUR UNIQUE ACTIVATION CODE(S) WILL BE SENT OUT TOMORROW MORNING (UK TIME). THIS WILL TAKE YOU STRAIGHT TO THE DOWNLOAD AREA.

HERE IS SOME INFORMATION ABOUT THE DOWNLOAD:

THE ALBUM WILL COME AS A 48.4MB ZIP FILE CONTAINING 10 X 160KBPS DRM FREE MP3s.

MOST COMPUTERS NOW HAVE ZIP SOFTWARE AS PART OF THE OPERATING SYSTEM; IF YOUR COMPUTER DOES NOT, YOU NEED TO GET WINZIP OR ZIPIT INSTALLED PRIOR.

YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THEM HERE:

PC: http://www.winzip.com/
MAC: http://www.maczipit.com/

IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR PROBLEMS DOWNLOADING YOUR FILE, PLEASE CONTACT OUR DOWNLOAD CUSTOMER SERVICE TEAM AT
downloadinrainbows@waste.uk.com

(emphasis mine)

Huh?! 160kbps mp3s? That’s the best they could do? Are you kidding me? It’s 2007. There is no excuse for this. These should have been 192kbps at the very least, but really should have been 256kbps. If they want to lead the industry and other bands to a new solution, then LEAD. As my piece last week said, is this a debacle or a brilliant new idea? The answer’s becoming clearer: debacle. Maybe 160kbps is okay for the kiddies who blast this stuff so loud they can’t even actually hear the music, but for many listeners, 160kbps is a no-go deal.

All I can say is, I sure am glad I only chose to pay $3 for this. Yes, I admit it – I simply couldn’t fathom paying more than that for “mystery files.” It turns out I made the right move. I’d be furious if I’d paid CD prices for the album, especially after seeing report after report that they’ve either signed or are on the verge of signing with a major distributor to sell the CD in stores next year. But that was part of my criteria – if they want to be vague about the details, both about the future of the album in a physical format as well as the quality of the files, then I’m going to assume the worst, and while they didn’t go as bad as they could have (128kbps) they sure came close. There’s no revolution here, folks, at least not yet. It’s details like this that could have taken this band from simply “doing something different” to actually setting an example for others to follow. What should have been done? A tiered structure. Cheap, low bitrate mp3s (the ones we’re getting) for “whatever price you want” followed by lossless FLAC files, then a low-priced single CD in minimal packaging, a vinyl option, the double-CD in nice packaging for a higher price, and the ridiculously expensive “Disc Box.” Everyone gets the choice they prefer, not this “all or next to nothing” approach that the band is trying to make a point with right now. This is unfortunate. Radiohead has become known for their music as well as the intriguing artwork that envelopes their music, and here we, many of us at least, are going to miss out on what seemed like such a vital part of each release, and something they took great pride in. Now it appears that the artwork is meaningless and secondary, at best. If they were hoping to find the divide between music listeners, they may just have done so – artwork is part of the package for me and many others. Maybe it’s not a concern for those who grab single files from here and there, regularly not paying for them, but is that really who a band wants to focus their energy on?

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7 Comments »

  1. You, sir, are a waste.

    Comment by joe bob — October 10, 2007 @ 1:30 am | Reply

  2. It’s well worth it, despite your disappointment with the bitrate…

    Brilliant new idea, album of the year.. cheapskate.

    Comment by supermike — October 10, 2007 @ 5:50 am | Reply

  3. Joe Bob, thanks for showing just how classy Radiohead “fans” can be.

    Supermike, I don’t doubt that the music is great. I just have a real problem with the deceptive nature of Radiohead’s handling of this. They could have been up front and told us what we were getting, and that there’d eventually be a CD release, but they chose not to do so. Plenty of other artists have gone the digital route with higher bitrates and the option to download lossless FLAC files. Radiohead is doing nothing particularly new here, but they’re certainly acting like it, and they’re certainly acting like they’ve had their heads up their asses for the past few years, ignoring what other acts and labels have managed to do with digital delivery.

    And, no, not a cheapskate at all. I’ll be out buying the CD when it comes out, and probably all the singles with b-sides if they don’t offer a version of the album with all of the extra tracks. “Cheapskate” is about the last word you’d use if you saw my CD collection. I have a small music store at my finger tips – 3000 CDs.

    Comment by Tom — October 10, 2007 @ 6:09 am | Reply

  4. I’m no file size expert – hell, I don’t even know what the heck “lossless” even means – but I downloaded In Rainbows this morning, put it on my iPod and listened to it on the way to work. The sound quality, from what I can hear, is fantastic. Maybe that’s just because I’m listening on an iPod? If I burn it to a CD and play it on my stereo, will it sound like ass?

    I paid five bucks for my download, and if I only get good iPod-level quality out of it, I’m okay with that. Still haven’t decided whether or not I’m getting the “box” in December.

    The songs themselves are terrific, IMHO. A lot more accessible than most of Radiohead’s stuff.

    Comment by Chris — October 10, 2007 @ 6:32 am | Reply

  5. you should know that any resolution above 192 kbp is crap anyway. You have to view the audio signal (the frequencies) described in a curve, that is described by certain dots. The number of the kbp says how many dots there are to describe this curve. 192 is well enough described, and it is not possible ot distinguish the “quality” of 160 and 192 from one another. Below 128, it´s not as nice anymore, but 160 or 192 does not really make a difference. 192 (or 160 or 256) and vinyl makes a difference. Saying “160 is no-go” or even “low bitrate” proves incompentence in that field.

    So, and the artwork is missing. Intentionally, for sure. I have made my own for the iPod/Mac, and wait for the vinyl to arrive. Whats all the fuzz – what we bought here is music, and it´s outstanding, once more.

    Btw. – paying less or nothing seems lame to me. You are one of those who would approve of someone stealing a bike because it wasn´t locked, right? Americans…

    Comment by Michael — October 10, 2007 @ 10:18 am | Reply

  6. I agree, Chris, it’s a great album. It’s generally like jpeg pictures from the internet. They look fine on your computer, but when you try to print them out at normal photo size, they look all blurry and soft. Same idea here, except the artifacts of compression take place at the very high and low end of the sound spectrum, so very good speakers are necessary to hear them. So on an ordinary system, or in a car, or through earphones in a busy environment it will likely be hard to hear too much loss to the quality, but on higher end equipment (and with good ears) yes, it’ll likely be noticeable.

    “Lossless” just means that the files are compressed in such a way that nothing is thrown away from the original file as it is with lossy compression schemes (mp3, Itunes’ AAC/mp4, wma, etc.) With those, that information is permanently discarded in order to significantly shrink the file size. With lossless files, from what I understand only information in files that is repetitive, and therefore easy to replace, is removed. The files are generally half to two-thirds as big as the original, so they’re pretty big, but it’s worth having what amounts to the original data for your use wherever and however you see fit.

    Comment by Tom — October 10, 2007 @ 7:51 pm | Reply

  7. Yes, you’re right, I’m an awful American, Michael. That’s why I have all of these paid-for CDs sitting in my house. I don’t know where you get off making a judgment like that on me because I have chosen to pay $3 (plus the 91 cent credit card fee) rather than act like I’ve gotten a physical product that cost a production plant to press the CD, print the artwork, put it in a case, shrinkwrap it, put it in a box, ship that box to stores, have store workers put the CDs out on shelves, etc. The only overhead here is Radiohead’s alone – they are paying for bandwidth and their music. $3 more than covers that – it’s a LOT more than they ever got from Capitol/EMI for each CD that was sold. And, as I expected, we’ll likely be getting a CD in a couple months from which Radiohead will be making some more money off of me. Could you tell me again how greedy I am?

    And as explained above, it doesn’t frigging matter what YOU think about mp3 sound quality. I’m not talking about what you can and can’t hear on today’s standard, low quality equipment. I’m talking about the investment we make in music for TOMORROW – lossless is, or should be, the future, and Radiohead should have embraced this as part of this experiment. They were out to set an example and the example they chose to set was a rather crappy one. They could have chosen to set the example that made people go “WOW” and instead they set the one that made people go ” . . . hmm.”

    I’m going to go steal a bike and maybe crush some bunnies or shoot someone or something else I’m sure you must assume us Americans do.

    Comment by Tom — October 10, 2007 @ 8:13 pm | Reply


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