An Introduction to Downloading - A beginner's guide

If you're new to this site, or new to downloading, read on!

This page is designed to introduce you to the mysteries of downloading music from Pristine Classical. What to expect, what the jargon means, what pitfalls to avoid, and how to make the most of this site. It's broken down into sections, each explaining a particular aspect of what's on offer or what to do. At the bottom of the page is a link to a version of this guide that's ready for printing out so you can refer to it whenever you want.

1. Downloading Music - A Question of Quality and Format

All of the music you can download from this site comes in one of two basic versions, called MP3 and FLAC. Because digital music files, in their raw or compact disc state, are big and slow to download, a number of ways have been devised to make these files smaller. We use two of the most popular formats for "compressed" music, and there are crucial differences between the two.

To understand what these differences are and why it's worth knowing, let's examine MP3 and FLAC files on a basic technical level:

  1. MP3 - This type of music file is by far the most common on the Internet, and has been around for many years. It uses what's known as "lossy" compression to reduce file sizes. This involves analysing the music and literally throwing away data at musical frequencies which at any point in time is too quiet to be heard. The amount of "throwing away" can be varied considerably - with a consequent variation in audio quality as a result. The very best MP3 files should be indistinguishable from the master files, even though well over half of the audio information may have been lost. An MP3 is technically of lower quality than a CD - though you'll be hard pushed to hear any difference with the high quality MP3s on sale at Pristine Classical.

  2. FLAC - This type of music file uses what's called "lossless" compression. By clever representation of data patterns within a music file it's possible to reduce its file size considerably without losing any information. When a FLAC is played back you hear exactly what was recorded. Our FLACs are all CD-quality or better - in other words, a FLAC download is guaranteed to offer you with an exact replica of the music data that's on our CDs and master music recording files.

2. MP3 recordings- Pros and Cons

Pros: MP3 files have many positive attributes. They are relatively small files compared to FLACs or CDs, they sound excellent - certainly far better than the best hi-fi cassette decks ever managed - and when well made are just about impossible to tell from the original. They play in just about every music software player and portable player, and most new CD players, car stereos, portable CD players and DVD players will now play them directly from a recordable CD - some can even play them from a USB memory stick. They're less expensive than any other format here.

Cons: An MP3 is a compromise between quality and file size, and although you may not be able to hear the difference, it does represent a slight downgrading of sound quality from the original master. MP3s (and other lossy formats) always have small gaps at the start and finish of each track. Whilst a lot of players now look for these gaps and carry out a quick crossfade between tracks to eliminate it, it can be particularly frustrating to hear, especially in opera and some continuous classical compositions. (We use a neat trick to sidestep this, called MP3 + Cue).

3. FLAC recordings- Pros and Cons

Pros: FLAC files are effectively cloned copies of our master files, in a format which makes them smaller to store on your hard drive and quicker to download than our master files. There is literally no difference between a CD written from a CD-quality FLAC and a CD made from our CD master files. FLAC is also more flexible than CD because it supports higher quality formats that audio CD cannot play, such as 24-bit recordings. FLAC players are becoming more common and widespread and can be downloaded and installed on your computer for free if you don't have one already.

Cons: FLAC is a format created independently of Microsoft and Apple, and both would prefer you to use their own proprietary formats. As a result iTunes won't play FLACs, and Windows Media Player needs a third-party plug-in before it will play them. Some older CD-writing software, likewise, doesn't recognise FLAC as an audio format and can't record audio discs from FLAC files - they need to be converted to something else first. Although FLAC is the most common lossless format on the Internet, because the two computer software giants would like that "crown" for themselves, you might have trouble at first getting them to play.


4. What happens when you buy a music download?

The process of buying music is designed to be as straightforward as possible, whilst offering the maximum choice. Each download is priced according to overall duration - you'll see a small price code letter next to the performer's name which indicates the price band, and a full explanation of the pricing for all the different levels on the left hand side column.

To the left of the price code is a vertical strip of purchase buttons, normally under the heading "Buy it here". The top button is for MP3, the next one(s) for FLAC, and below these, buttons for CD purchase.

To order a music download, simply click on the appropriate format purchase button. There is a single option for MP3, but you'll find up to three different types of FLAC - normally a regular CD-quality 16-bit mono FLAC, and often also an Ambient Stereo FLAC, also at CD quality, and a 24-bit studio-quality FLAC (which cannot be played on a CD!). At this stage you will probably wish to chose between mono and Ambient Stereo if you're planning on buying FLAC - you can read more about what Ambient Stereo, a revolutionary new mono-to-stereo processing system, is here.

When you choose a recording by clicking on the purchase button it is placed in your shopping basket, which will open automatically in a new tab or window of your browser. You can carry on making choices if you wish, or go straight to the check-out to complete your purchase, as described now:

To complete your purchase, select your shopping basket, then from the section at the bottom right of the page, select a payment option and then click on Proceed to Checkout. Payment is then taken, either from your credit card or, if you have one, from your PayPal account - enter the appropriate details when asked. Note that all of this data is processed securely by PayPal - Pristine Classical has no access at any time to any of your confidential information - card number, telephone number, and so on.

When payment is confirmed you will normally be transferred immediately, or by clicking on a link on the confirmation page, to your personal download page. At the same time an e-mail will be sent to the e-mail address used to make your purchase which confirms the download and includes a link to your download page. The only exception to this is when payments are made by eCheck - these usually take several days to clear and you will receive an e-mail to your download link only when that has taken place. Until then you cannot access your download - and because of this we recommend avoiding the use of eChecks for download purchases.

The download page has a link to each download you've just purchased. Simply click on the link and save the file onto your computer in a safe place - remember, only you will know where you've opted to save the file. Beware of some browsers which attempt to take this responsibility from you and make sure you know where your files are being stored.

5. What if I run into trouble and lose the download?

You are allowed two weeks and several attempts to download each recording, but mistakes do happen, and things don't always run as smoothly or as quickly as you might expect, maybe as a result of internet speed congestion, an unexpected power cut, or a problem with your computer.

Don't worry! If you wish to return to a download days, weeks or even months later, simply click on the link in your e-mail and request a download renewal. If this is lost, get in touch with us directly by e-mail, stating the recording purchased and e-mail address used at the time, and we can renew a download for you - a helpful back-up if your hard drive goes up in smoke!

Each download renewal request is dealt with on as quickly as we can and is normally granted within a 24-48 hours, and often much more quickly.


6. OK, now I have my MP3

Great - you should be able to listen to it right away. But if you want to split the long MP3 into individual tracks you'll need a cue splitter and cue file. The cue file is a tiny text file which says when each track starts and what it's called - some software can read these and the MP3 they're associated with and perform a virtual split (so no gaps between tracks) for replay and writing to audio CD. You'll find the cue file as a free download at the bottom of the page from where you purchased the recording - there's one for each recording.

If you want to know more about how to split MP3 recordings with cue files, click here.


7. OK, now I have my FLACs...

Or have you? You will have downloaded a ZIP file, which is a kind of container file inside which are your FLACs and a handful of other small files, which may or may not be of use. First of all, though, you need to unZIP your download to access those individual files. If this is new to you, see our ZIP page here.

Now you have your FLACs - hopefully unzipped into a location you can find - and they're ready to go. Remember, though, that your iTunes player won't like them, and probably neither will your Windows Media Player. Fortunately we have an extensive selection of documentation to help you remedy this in our main help section here.


8. A recommended player for all downloads

We have recently been fully converted by a piece of free software called "XBMC" - it's designed to be a complete media centre, and you can download the latest version for Windows, Mac OSX, Linux and other platforms from here. In addition to playing our MP3 files with their cue information, and all our FLAC files in all formats, including high-resolution 24-bit FLACs, the player will handle just about every audio and video file format you ask it to play.

It can also act as your photo album, with slideshow features, and even give you a weather forecast. Under the bonnet there are a host of other more powerful options and possibilities, and the software is subject to ongoing development all the time.

Highly recommended!


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