A reader recently asked if I could recommend good classical music download sites. Here’s a list of the best ones I know of; feel free to add any others in the comments. There are many other small labels and ensembles that sell music directly; I haven’t mentioned them here.
iTunes: You can’t make a list of classical music download sites without starting with the iTunes Store. Its classical music section has content from thousands of record labels. The iTunes Store is easy to use and ubiquitous, and focuses on new releases, though judicious searching will turn up some obscure back catalog titles. iTunes sells music in AAC format, 256 Kbps.
Amazon: Amazon is the second largest digital music retailer. Its classical music section has lots of music, including a huge number of bargains; those “111 track” albums aren’t all bad. It also discounts many albums, so if you visit regularly, you can save money on what you get there. Amazon sells music in MP3 format, generally 256 kbps, and their AutoRip feature, available on certain albums, provides you with instant downloads when you buy CDs.
Classics Online: This site sells music from Naxos and labels that the company distributes. As of this writing, they have over 73,000 albums, from a couple hundred labels. Classics Online sells music in MP3 320 Kbps, and some albums are available in FLAC. (Disclaimer: I have done some paid work for Naxos.)
Hyperion Records: Hyperion has a great download site, selling their own music, as well as a few other labels, including Gimmell. Their prices are competitive, and they offer discounts if you buy more than a certain amount. Hyperion sells music in MP3 VBR (variable bit rate), Apple Lossless and FLAC formats, and also sells high-resolution files. They also have a free monthly sampler with tracks from their latest releases. (Disclaimer: I have done some paid work for Hyperion.)
eClassical: Run by Bis Records, eClassical features Bis’s recordings, as well as recordings from several hundred other labels. The unique characteristic of eClassical is that they charge by the second, so you pay less for shorter albums. They often have “bundles” where they sell downloads of a group of albums at a low price. eClassical sells music in MP3 320 Kbps, FLAC, and have some albums in high-resolution format.
Gimmell Records: While I mentioned above that you can buy Gimmell’s recordings on the Hyperion web site, Gimmell has an interesting approach. They only sell music performed by The Tallis Scholars, but they sell it in a dozen formats. You can buy 320 Kbps MP3s, FLAC or Apple Lossless files, but also Windows Media Lossless, surround sound 5.1 FLACs, and a number of high-resolution formats. It can be a bit confusing, because there are so many options, but once you know what you want, it’s easy to use.
Linn Records: This site sells recordings by Linn itself, as well as several dozen other labels, including majors such as Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, ECM and others. Linn is trying to become a specialist in high-resolution files, but also sells MP3 320 Kbps, FLAC and Apple Lossless files.
Qobuz: This French site sells music from many different labels in all genres. But they have a particularly good classical selection, and include digital booklets with many of their releases. Qobuz sells music in MP3 320 Kbps, FLAC, and also sells many high-resolution files. They also have a high-quality streaming offer. I’m not sure if they sell to all countries around the world; and, they haven’t bothered to use translators to localize their site, but use Google Translate, which results in some very clunky texts.
Pristine Classical: This site sells historic recordings; old recordings that have been cleaned up and remastered by four different engineers. The quality of the work they do is astounding: some of the recordings sound like they were made today. Pristine Classical sells music in MP3 and FLAC formats. They also offer a streaming subscription, and sell entire collections of their music on hard disk, and they have a “streaming radio” page where you can listen to excerpts of many of their recordings.
HD Tracks: This site sells only music in high resolution. It has selected recordings from dozens of labels, many of them classical. They sell music in FLAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV formats, at a variety of bit depths and sample rates. (And if you don’t know what that means, this site probably isn’t for you.)
The Classical Shop: This site, run by Chandos Records, features recordings from Chandos and a number of other labels. They sell music in MP3 320 Kbps, FLAC, AIFF, WAV, and sell some albums in high-resolution and surround sound.
Channel Classics: This Dutch label sells its own recordings, in MP3 and FLAC formats, as well as high-resolution files. But Channel Classics is trying to spearhead the download of DSD (Direct Stream Digital) files, which are the same quality as SACDs. These are very large downloads, but if you have the bandwidth, check them out.
Da Capo: The Danish label, Da Capo, has a good download site, dedicated to their own recordings. While their catalog is limited, I’ve found some great music there. They sell their music in MP3 320 Kbps, FLAC and WMA formats, and sell some albums in high-resolution.