This is the location of the podServe blog posts published up to June 2015.

Welcome to the podServe blog, a selection of tips, tricks, comments and various other ramblings on the topic of CD ripping, digital music, streaming and all the things that go right and wrong in being entertained.

iPod Classic - the ideal player for CD ripping

Over the years I've consistently said the iPod Classic is the device to buy for the serious music lover who wants as much music as possible at their fingertips.

Capacity is the most obvious reason, particularly if you have a large music collection and/or music ripped at a high quality level, such as Apple Lossless, then the lower capacity devices just don't enough storage space. However I've also felt, from entirely subjective listening experience, the Classic just sounds better than the Touch or even the iPhone.

Well I can believe my ears, there are differences between the Classic and other devices. The Classic has a better digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) and more effective amplifier for the earbuds. Even though the underlying music files may be the same using these two components will deliver a far better listening experience. So, if you're thinking about investing in a new iPod you might want to snap up an iPod Classic PDQ, they might just be replaced later this year by another device.
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CD Ripping & UK Law

So, at last, it is to happen. In the next few days we will all be legal. Say goodbye to worries and fears.

It seems hard to believe that just over ten years ago I sat opposite the assembled legal might of the UK's recording industry and was told they'd like to put me (and a few others) out of business. In the following days I awaited stiff legal action, but it never came. CD ripping was a matter of public debate and I kept telling anyone who'd listen that as the process was now very easy, and massively convenient, the great British public would do it whatever the industry said.

Then a few months later senior figures in the industry said that while they still held to the view that CD ripping was strictly speaking a breach of copyright, they would take no action provided it was purely for personal use. So away we went, and along with millions of ordinary people we've been ripping CDs ever since. Despite their grave concerns when we met in London, I don't think anyone in the business would say the humble Apple iPod and iTunes had opened the floodgates and drowned an otherwise healthy industry.

That's how it's been, a kind of legal stalemate. A decent truce which i think has benefited us all. Well today I heard on the BBc that next week the government will introduce legislation to legalise "format shifting" providing it is for personal use. Which I think is very sensible, so well done the good and the great.
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iTunes - The Hidden Gem?

We've had some huge CD ripping projects since Christmas, today we complete an 1800 CD music library. The last few tracks are making their way across to the NAS drive now. It's a huge library covering what seems to be everything in the popular and classical catalogue. So, how does the owner of such a large music library get to enjoy the full benefits of their music? Time for the hidden gem in the iTunes system.

The Genius playlist facility. Here (in overview) is how it works. Highlight a track you like, hit the Genius icon, and the intelligence of Apple's computers will create a playlist for you based on that track. Once done you can re-order the list, delete items, and of course save the list. Saving allows you to create another list and access the previous list from the menu. As with any intelligence Apple's genius learns, and you can prompt the system to update its analysis of your music when you add new tracks to your library.

If you log into the iTunes Music Store after the Genius function is enabled you'll notice their brain has assembled some new tracks you might like. Cynics will say this is just a merciless sales tool, others will find it a clever way to find new music.

But there's more .... Genius Mixes. After your library has been scanned the Genius brain will create a set of mixes for you, just hit the icon for a selection of your music in the theme shown on the mix label. All done for you, as if by magic.

Any down side? Although you don't have to pay to use Genius you do need and iTunes Music Store account which requires an Apple ID. That's a pretty simple process. When you switch on Genius you'll be taken through the Apple small print and you need to understand Apple will have some summary data about your music library. Apple doesn't use the data for anything other than this process and it doesn't collect any more personal data than this, but you do need to be aware of this. Also, the process takes time and data is exchanged over the internet so you'll need a link and maybe some patience.

Aside from that this strikes me as a great way to tackle big music libraries and uncover some great tracks nestling in the hidden recesses of your music vault. Give it a try.
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More Bits?

Talking about quality yesterday, and how CD ripping has changed since we started. Gone are the days of persuading clients to move up from 128 Kbps AAC or MP3 files, squeezing music collections onto masses of CD-Rs then onto DVDs. Today's standard is Apple Lossless delivered on a small USB drive.

So what about 24-bit rips?

At heart the source of our digital music libraries hasn't changed, that being the CDs issued over the years. Just to be a little technical, the music on those discs have been mastered from an analogue source using computer software which expresses each note as a digital value, stored in 8 bits. The big "complaint" about CDs and digital music is that it loses the detail, the warmth, the "feel" in the process. Something that doesn't affect vinyl. Suppose you upgraded and converted music using more bits to represent each sound, then you'd get back the elements that were lost. Well, that's the argument and indeed there are now a number of high quality music streaming or download services which are built on 24 bit sound.

Why don't we rip at 24 bit?

First, if we just ripped from the typical CD there would be no benefit. As an 8 bit source there's no way you can get back that which was lost when the CD was created. Second, you'd need 24 bit friendly devices to store, manage and play back the music. That isn't available in iTunes, the iPod or even a system such as Sonos.

Would we rip in 24 bit? Yes, we would, even if the only justification were to future proof our clients collections. However true 24 bit music libraries would require re-mastered CDs, better ripping software, plus storage and replay systems to take advantage of all that extra data. That's not going to happen any time soon.
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International Family Sync

So here's the question - how do you make the following work?

Potential client travels extensively, homes in London and overseas, where members of his family (eight people in total) live, and of course enjoy music. He would like his music collection to be available to everyone, everywhere. They have a mix of iPods and iPhones.

Well my first thought was a cloud service such as Dropbox. That appears on your desktop pretty much as if it were a local drive, so computers in each location could be set up to reference their local version of a central Dropbox folder holding the family music. Two problems came to mind, one being the cost. Not the cost of using a CD ripping service but of buying close on 100 Gb of Dropbox space; but then if you can afford to live internationally I don't suppose the cost of a Dropbox account is a show stopper.

Second, and more significantly, is the fuss of adding more music to the library. A CD would need to be ripped then added to the Dropbox folder, then each local PC would have to reload their PC so that iTunes picks up the latest tracks. Sure you could simply "share" the central library but then the remote iPods won't be able to sync at all.

Having given this some thought the only viable solution I can see is to set up an iTunes Match account. It's around £25 pa, affordable, and you can connect up to 10 devices. Other Macs and PCs can be part of this network and changes made centrally are replicated across the network. Music can be streamed to the iPhones or loaded like an iPod in a sync process. This seems to me to be the most viable solution.
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CD Ripping & Album Artist Field

They don't always take our advice, and although I'm being paid to do it in a few minutes I have to grind my way through 100+ edits of album data for a client.

He has a substantial number of what iTunes thinks of a compilation CDs. Hotel Costes springs to mind, where a famous DJ puts together a collection of tracks; each one under its own artist attribution but the whole CD is directed by another person. How best to handle this?

My suggestion was to use the field "Album Artist" which we can add during CD ripping. This would result in the album name being what you see on the cover, each track is credited to the right artist but inside the Music file (should you ever need to look) the tracks are filed under that person's name, who can also be searched on and is listed in iTunes. No, this wasn't my clients desired strategy so instead I will need to insert the DJ's name before the name of the album in the album title field.

Had we done it my way the DJ's name would still appear in the Artist column in iTunes, and still be available to search, and the album name would remain untouched. But then the customer is always right (even when he's wrong) and I keep telling myself we are a service business so stick a smile on your face and get on with it.
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iTunes Revamp - Time for a Rethink?

I don't know many people who have used iTunes longer than us, nor many who depend on it as part of their business. As I've often said, without Apple, the iPod and of course iTunes we wouldn't have a CD ripping service business.

Over the years I've helped people on iTunes and staunchly defended it against people in love with the latest gee-whiz music player, ripper, music management system or whatever. However even the most ardent Apple fan can't help but notice a sure and rising tide of negative comments about iTunes. Someone derided iTunes a day or two ago by referring to the latest version as a vain attempt to apply lipstick to a pig. That's a phrase that's been rattling round my head all week as I've been using the latest incarnation of iTunes. Hmmmm .....

I still want to try to defend iTunes but the latest tweaks have done nothing to help Apple's cause. Take a simple stat, how many tracks are there in your library? In the past a simple number at the bottom of the screen told you, but not now, it has simply been removed. That little number helped us enormously, particularly in a diagnostic situations, but now its gone. We miss it, why did Apple delete it?

For some reason iTunes reverts to the display which shows all your album covers, not the more detailed album / track / genre display. We don't find this very helpful but there's no way to override Apple's reference. Would that have been hard? Surely not.

Well I could go on - and I'll skip the massive size of the iTunes program - but I'm hoping Apple have recognised the tide has turned against them and us. I'm hoping a completely new iTunes is in the works. Soon, please.
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CD Ripping - What 2013 Holds

Welcome to the New Year, and it's hard to believe another year of CD ripping lies ahead. Born of a period of childhood fads there have been times when I've thought people would lose interest in mobile music, or maybe streaming services such as Spotify would render us all pointless; but no, we are still here and looking forward to processing more CDs.

We are resolved to do better. First, we have taken steps to significantly improve throughput. During our first few years order sizes were around 200 - 250 CDs, we could handle this best by working around 9-17 using what has become six PCs. However when we got larger orders, 500+, it was a challenge to get this voulume of music converted in seven days. Over the last couple of years CD collections of over 1,000 discs have become common. We'd like to get those out in a week but it's hard to do that using the previous process of distributed systems. About six months ago we invested in a Nimbie CD ripper. This enables us to load up around 100 CDs and leave those to be ripped in a batch. Add a few evenings of unattended operation and throughput has gone up. For this reason we have another robotic CD ripping system on its way to us and we are hopeful that big collections next year will be ripped as quickly as smaller collections.

Second, we've taken steps to improve the quality of our Data Grooming service. These are very much 'under the hood' but we hope our clients like the results, even though it is a bit frustrating that clients don't normally appreciate just how much better their metadata is than it might have been.

Third, we're gaining more experience at delivering even higher quality music. When we started iTunes Music Store supplied music at 128 Kbps but we opted for twice that level with 256 Kbps AAC files. Today more clients are looking for lossless music which means returning files on DVDs has become unrealistic. So we've been down the USB thumbdrive route into USB connected external drives and into NAS drives. Additionally we're able to supply music on hard drives which can be installed inside a tower style system or in a bay of your NAS unit.

Taking these enhancements we're confident that 2013 will be our biggest and best year yet, and if you become one of our clients, we look forward to meeting you.
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A New iTunes?

I have got to the point where I have even bored myself predicting a new solid state storage based iPod model to replace the iPod Classic. If it happens, it happens - you heard it here first and a long time ago. Then I suddenly thought, what about iTunes itself?

History first. When Apple launched their first portable music player they relied on a non-Apple pice of software, MusicMatch. It wasn't bad, very mainstream computing interface. It was subsequently swallowed up by Yahoo, pretty much faded away. When iTunes hit it was a breath of fresh air, particularly compared with Microsoft's Windows Media Player. You could tell iTunes was built by music lovers, it did what people want when they enjoy music. And it put the track (not the album / CD) at the centre of the music library. Of course it was imbued with all the loveliness that so many people like about the Apple brand. It wasn't to everyone's taste, and there's still a cottage industry in non-Apple, non-WMP music playing and ripping systems. However for 95%+ of the tune loving populace, it has to be iTunes.

Just looking across the range of Apple's current applications, on a daily basis I use iPhoto, Aperture, Pages, address book and calendar, I get the feeling iTunes is creaking a little. So what next for the music monster?

First - CD ripping. OK, that's my business and it's where my thoughts turn first. I'd like ripping to be faster, maybe that will happen. For the typical iPod owner why do they even have to bother? Couldn't they just say they have bought a CD and allow Apple's vast music cloud to place that set of tracks into their library, to be downloaded as and when necessary?

Second - compression. When we started people had tiny hard drives against big record collections. Today the collections are only a little bigger, but iPod drives (not to mention laptops and desktops) are huge. If Apple could do to their Apple Lossless codec what they seem to have done to their jpg algorithm in Aperture, you'd get effectively lossless music quality in file sizes only a little larger than decent AAC files. Then, users wouldn't have to dance to the AAC, MP3, Lossless jig and agonise on what's right for them.

Third - DVD ripping. Movies are as much part of home entertainment as music, Come on Apple.

Fourth - bury the database. Yes, easier said than done, but all that wordage on the standard iTunes screen just confuses most users. Sure it needs to be under the hood but the look and feel of iTunes is dated and clunky. Apple is brilliant at interface design, this one needs an overhaul.
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CD Ripping and not an iPod in sight

Clients often ask for help, typically how do they get the DVDs containing their music from our DVDs through their PC and onto their iPod. So it's interesting to be asked how to get music onto an Android mobile phone.

The process up to loading the phone is the same as for an iPod, we import the DVDs into iTunes. As iTunes can't recognise anything that wasn't made by Apple we recommend an additional item of software, Doubletwist, which replicates iTunes, then manages the flow of music from your hard drive onto the phone. So I loaded the music into iTunes and as we were chugging through the final DVD the client picked up her phone. Amazing, the music was there already.

Synch was happening, not via iTunes / Doubletwist but via her subscription to Spotify. Virtually instantly Spotify was finding the music tracks and making them available to her subscription account. Brilliant, we decided it wasn't necessary to continue with Doubletwist.
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USB Shorts

From time to time we get called out to our CD ripping clients to help out with computer problems, which is where I've been this morning. The problem sounded simple, after years of normal service our client had plugged in his iPod and his PC had promptly died.

It's something he'd done, well, hundreds of times with no problems. Naturally he assumed that something in iTunes had corrupted his computer and Windows Vista. When I got there the PC was completely dead, as if the power supply had failed. So I checked the power cable, tried the cable from their kettle, no problem in the mains. Screen worked OK, just when you hit the on button absolutely nothing happened. My line of thinking was that this was a dead PC and the only way forward would be a new machine.

The client asked if the iPod had killed the PC or if, even worse, the failure had blown up the iPod. I should explain it was sitting unhappily on his desk. I thought I'd try it in my MacBook just to be sure so I lifted it up to unplug it. As I moved the iPod there was a flicker from the cooling fan inside the PC. I unplugged the iPod (which was undamaged), then unplugged the sync cable. Each move caused a tiny burst from the box. Having unplugged the sync cable I got a real burst of power so I tipped the box up and had a look at the front USB ports.

At that point I could see the cause of the problem. The tiny piece of plastic in the USB connector had broken, exposing the metal prongs that allow data and electricity to flow down the cable. Then, I'd guess when our client put the cable into the port, the prongs had been bent resulting in one of the prongs touching the metal surround.

A dead short.

I dug out my trusty metal comb which was slim enough to be able to lift the offending prong from the surround. At which point the PC burst into life. One happy client.
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Apple and Android

If I were Apple I'd be worried. Here's why.

This week, a short week here as we had a public holiday on Monday and today's Thursday, we had two calls about syncing music with an Android smartphone. Yes, two clients who have music, computers and are investing in Android phones on which they want to listen to music. Just like an iPhone - only not made by Apple. If we were to rip their CDs how could they sync?

We found an answer - CD ripping for Android - and picked up two new clients. Incidentally this also applies to BlackBerry, PSP and Pre.

With Android outstripping iOs / iPhone in America if I were Apple I'd be worried.
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CD Ripping Service Enhancements

Hard to believe at times that we've been ripping CDs for seven years. Wow.

At the start we made a decision to focus on the Apple iPod, indeed that's mainly why the first CD ripping offering was podserve. As we grew our market became defined as iPod owners in or around London.

But we got people ringing us from all over the UK asking if we could collect / return to Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol etc as well as places I'd never heard of. Almost as many clients as we had in London. So I had a bright idea. Another CD ripping service was born - MP3 by mail. I wanted to avoid confusion between the two services, which was one of the reasons we opted for an MP3 focused second identity.

OK, that was a bit petty. Sure we can rip MP3s faster (hence cheaper) but that was the main reason. There then followed two years of ear bashing from folk who simply want AAC files, or maybe Apple Lossless. Now we've relented and from today MP3 by mail offers AAC and Apple Lossless alongside MP3 music ripping.
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iTunes Movie Ripping? Again?

You buy (or more likely bought) a CD and now you want to listen to it on your iPod. iTunes does the conversion, with as little fuss and drama as you could wish for (generally).

Chances are your iPod will show movies, maybe you've downloaded a trailer from the Apple website or even converted one of your own home movies. A process which reminds you of the dark ages of computing.

If only you could just put your movie into iTunes and have it rip the film into the digital file you need. Now wouldn't that be great.

There have been suggestions in the past that this feature would be added to iTunes, it does seem to me and many other people that this is the "missing link" in the entertainment flow, all the more important now that Apple TV seems to be gaining ground. You can handle all sorts of entertainment products, but that DVD you bought, well .... you're on your own for that.

So I was interested to see a footnote to a recent post on Mac Rumors noting that a forthcoming release of iTunes will have a facility to download Blu-Ray DVD data from Gracenote (the database currently used to source your CD metadata). OK, it's a major leap from that snippet to concluding that DVD ripping will be offered soon, but if you add it to all the other suggestions it could be that a major new feature upgrade is on the near horizon.

Put it another way, why add movie database features if you're not going to offer movie ripping?
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Secret Services - That's podServe

Almost choked on my cornflakes - that could be me. Some months ago I was approached by Cary Whitley as she was compiling a new book. She was reviewing services for people who in marketing speak are cash rich, time poor. Our CD ripping service (read all about it at http://www.podserve.co.uk) was up for inclusion. I'm pleased to say after further talks our service has been listed.

So there this morning is an article by Judith Wood in The Daily Telegraph reviewing 'Secret Services'. Conceitedly I scanned through to see if podServe CD ripping service got a mention, but pride comes before a fall and we didn't get a mention in the Telegraph. Reading the article more closely (I'm not a bad loser) I was fascinated to see the basket of services we're among. I didn't know you can hire a handbag (www.be-a-fashionista.co.uk) or get a company to swoosh out your wheelie bin. I did know there are people who'll assemble flat pack furniture for you and I was pleased to see Ten UK mentioned in the side bar as we've had many of their clients using podServe over the last four years.

If you're looking for a copy of Secret Services by Cary Whitley and her company Fab Publishing, go to www.fabpublishing.co.uk or call 0870 443 0035. If you want to go direct to our CD ripping service we're at www.podserve.co.uk
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iPod Moves To Kill Sonos

In various places I've speculated on the possibility of using the new iPod Touch, with its wi-fi capabilities upgraded, to act as a remote control for a home music / entertainment system. One of the attractions of such a device for me, being so associated with Apple as I am through podServe.co.uk, is to be able to take on Sonos.

The term in my mind for such a device was 'Sonos killer'. In my opinion it would lever Apple into a whole new dimension for complex home audio. Yet being Apple, it would look great, work out of the box, have a cool user interface and a realistic price tag.

Is this simply a pipe dream? Well apparently not, because judging by Apple's patent applications they're heading in that direction. This great blog post explains it all:-

http://www.macnn.com/blogs/?p=311

Please Apple, get moving on this. I'd place a small wager that this will be the in-demand boys toy for Christmas 2008.
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podServe For Sale on eBay

You can imagine my surprise when I received an email saying my business - podServe (www.podserve.co.uk) - was up for sale. On eBay!

A snip it seemed, with starting bids of $10,000, although as of writing there aren't any bidders.

My blood pressure is now back to normal but I'd like to make clear that my podServe (the CD ripping business for London) is in business, will continue to serve iPod owners and I have no intention of selling up, and certainly not for as little as $10,000. It seems that the PodServe that's on the blocks is an American podcasting platform. You can read more here:-

http://www.texasstartupblog.com/2007/08/27/podserve-for-sale-on-ebay-no-reserve/

So if you want you CDs ripped contact me, www.podserve.co.uk or ring 01277 222398, we are definitely in business.
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iTunes, Exact Audio Copy or dBpoweramp?

Last Friday my wife invited some friends and colleagues over and a good time was had by all. That is until I put some music on and we sat out on the patio enjoying the late evening sun, and someone moved his chair to sit next to me.

He said he was moving his seat to get the best audio location. My heart sank – an audio bore. I smiled politely and was pleased when he complimented me on the sound quality. We went through my stereo components and he approved them, although he had ‘auditioned’ my speakers and had gone for a more expensive model. Then the question of CD player.

Actually, I explained, this isn’t a CD player – it’s my iPod. There was a pause. One of the new video iPods? Er, no, this one’s about three years old and its done a million miles, looks like it’s about to fall apart, but sounds good.

“You must have used special software to rip your CDs”. Er, no – iTunes. There was one of those pauses where I’d clearly said the wrong thing. I probed his concern and this was his reply.

“Nobody who’s is halfway serious about music quality would use iTunes.”

That was it. Complete certainty despite the evidence of his own ears. What would be acceptable ripping software? I was given two names – Exact Audio Copy (EAC) and dBpoweramp – which could be relied upon due to the thoroughness with which they read CDs. As my guest explained CDs played via a computer can result in bad CD readings and only advanced software such as these two can read with the accuracy a serious music lover needs. As we later said our goodbyes I thought I’d test that view.

On Saturday I downloaded both applications and set them up on one of my computers. When I set up podServe I’d tried other ripping software so this was a good opportunity to try these, in the case of dBpoweramp re-try. I chose at random five of my own CDs to compare. I wanted to primarily test ripping quality to see if these systems produce better sounds than iTunes.

I started by ripping five CDs into iTunes, stopwatch in hand. Timings carefully noted I repeated the process using EAC. Or at least tried to. EAC is the most confusing product and it took a long time to get a working ripping system. I used the most accurate ripping configuration and eventually the five CDs were added to my hard drive.

dBpoweramp had a more forgiving interface, so I was able to start ripping more quickly. Broadly you can opt for speed of ripping or high accuracy. Thanks to a more communicative interface I could see what had happened when I ripped the CDs. Using the highest accuracy settings each CD had been ripped properly (as was the case with EAC). However it had taken considerably longer to do so – slightly over four times longer.

So I had three sets of rips – iTunes, EAC and dBpoweramp. Bit rates and file formats were the same. Time to sit down and listen for a couple of hours. Did the audiophile rips improve on iTunes? Well not to my ear. As far as I could tell they were identical.
Finally I thought I’d test dBpoweramp’s claim to offer fast ripping. So I switched from great accuracy to speed. Five CDs later I had another set of rips and two notable red flags. On the last tracks of two CDs (The Rolling Stones – Stripped & The Beatles – No 1s) dBpoweramp was flagging ripping errors. What about the speed though? dBpoweramp was marginally slower than iTunes but only by a few seconds. However dBpoweramp got its album data more quickly then iTunes (which was taking a leisurely 15 seconds or more to query CDDB) and at the same time it located the album art. As you may know, iTunes gets its album art in a second pass and only then if its on iTunes.

To be fair to dBpoweramp the fast rips of the good tracks sounded every bit as good as the accurate rips. But there are two tracks where the sound is distinctly flawed, albeit flagged nicely for the user. Given no significant speed advantage I can’t see the point of using dBpoweramp above iTunes.

In this test I found that iTunes was both fast and accurate. It ripped all tracks properly. It ripped all tracks a little faster than dBpoweramp in sprint mode and much, much faster than either EAC or dBpoweramp in their secure ripping modes. And crucially my iTunes tracks sound just as good as the others. Roll on the next home social.
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Itunes Music Store Enhancements

Macrumors today annouces two significant extensions to the facilities offered by iTunes Music Store.

The first is an advice function - based on past purchases you can be alerted to the availabilty of new music by the same artist. It's a cute feature, I wonder how long it will be before we're told of similar music we would enjoy, much as Amazon does now with its 'other readers have purchased' at the same time.

The second has financial impact - the ability to 'complete my album'. Noticing you've bought one or two tracks you'll be prompted (and probably financially incented) to but the rest of the album. Not only does this make sound business sense but it would go some way to narrow the gap between a downloaded album and the low priced CD suppliers. I wonder if it's Apple or the labels who are biting the financial bullet on this one.

But ...

With a full download costing £7-99 a physical disc offers good value for money. If you'll forgive the plug for our own CD ripping service (http://www.podserve.co.uk), we can rip a CD for £1. I can source a CD in my High Street music store for as little as £5, putting the two together we can still offer a saving plus the client gets a physical CD he can enjoy anytime.

Final shameless plug - podServe also rips your CD at a higher quality than iTunes Music Store.
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