Whilst compiling last month's playlist, I looked on Amazon for a link to the Ornette Coleman track 'Lonely Woman'. This track is featured on the album 'The Shape of Jazz to Come' and I was surprised to see that the whole album could be downloaded in MP3 format for a knock down £1.79.
Anyone who is happy to download albums in MP3 format can find some amazing bargains by carefully searching Amazon. (But one does need to search carefully or one could easily pay a higher price by taking the first offering. It is always advisable to click the 'See all nn formats formats and editions' button before purchasing.)
Perhaps, sometime, I will offer a guide to buying Jazz in MP3 format, but for those who are already doing so here are some bargain downloads. If you find any more examples please add to the thread.
Not wishing to put a dampener on Terry's discovery, one needs to be aware that the low bitrate of mp3 album files can significantly affect the sound quality. In most cases, the minimum listenable rate for mp3 files is 320 kbps. Anything below this is generally a severe compromise. I recently experienced a disappointment with a digital album from Amazon, expecting it to be in 320 kbps but it was in fact supplied in vbr (variable bit rate) with a maximum 152 kbps and therefore of disappointingly poor sound quality. Fortunately, I discovered a copy of the vinyl album for a reasonable price which rectified the problem. For those interested, I could play samples of both at our next meeting to better illustrate the difference!
There is a site, however, that has a good selection of digital jazz downloads at often good prices at the full cd quality sound level (1440kbps). Very often, there are some real bargains. It is not the easiest site to negotiate but it is well worth persevering and like Amazon, you can stream samples directly on the site:
Richard makes an interesting point regarding MP3 encoding. In my post I had hinted of a future thread on the MP3 format and maybe that is now overdue.
In fact, prior to posting, I had already ready downloaded a copy of Pharaoh Saunders ‘Black Unity’ for the bargain price of 79p. It sounds to me to be of good quality, although of course, I probably now suffer a reduced auditory range that might be expected for anyone old enough to join the U3A.
The downloaded album has been encoded at 250 kbps. This should be compared to the fact that any music you hear on digital radio has at best been encoded at 192 kbps.
The quality of an MP3 file depends not just on the bit rate but also on the quality of the encoding. One particular aspect of encoding/decoding that is that of clipping. There is a range of conflicting information and misinformation online regarding this.
One view is that the encoded music track is rarely if ever clipped but it may become clipped on decoding. An MP3 data file includes encoded audio data but also header information known as metadata, one item of which specifies the track gain. If the gain is set too high, then the reconstructed audio signal may venture beyond the range of the digital to analogue converter on the sound card and clipping will ensue. (See for example replies 11 and 12 in this discussion.)
One can test whether an MP3 track is clipped by running it through a free utility called MP3Gain and adjusting the gain down if necessary.
A further consideration is that the track gain could be set too low, in which case the audio signal may not be taking full advantage of the range of the digital to analogue converter. So the D to A might be specified as 16 bits but the waveform, in the extreme, might exercise only 12 of these, so effectively the D to A converter is acting as a 12 bit device. Again MP3Gain could tackle this. Ignoring other considerations, the gain should initially be set sufficiently high to invoke clipping and then reduced in 1.5 dB steps until clipping is no longer indicated.
It would be interesting to know whether MP3Gain is able to improve the quality of the digital album that Richard bought.