The best online classical music stores reviewed. Find out where to buy and download classical music - there's more than Amazon!
The internet has made finding and buying classical music incredibly easy. There are so many online stores out there for classical music though - where's a good place to look?
Here are my recommendations and reviews of the different classical stores for downloading. Hopefully this will help you decide!
I've judged the different classical music stores on several criteria: price, size of selection, and music formats.
I'm impressed by the selection of Classics Online - there are loads of popular and obscure composers alike. The choice for each composer is likewise staggering, full of rare recordings and interesting gems.
The prices are also reasonable. Some pieces are a little more expensive than I feel is necessary (since these are all mp3 downloads). But buying whole albums gives you a great discount.
Unfortunately there's no option to download in anything higher than 320kbps MP3 quality. You can find the occasional has tracks in FLAC format, but there aren't that many.
One thing which Classics Online is known for is their customer service, which is said to be extremely helpful. I haven't dealt with them myself but their online help and FAQs are very useful and easy-to-follow.
The site currently has a deal where you can get 5 free tracks for signing up, as well as getting 101 tracks for $9.99.
Passionato are another big player. Their search feature is what stands out for me. It's extremely quick to navigate, and very easy to find exactly what you're looking for. Passionato also has a ridiculously large range of downloads, at roughly the same price as Classics Online.
Passionato differs though. They claim to have "More CD Quality Downloads than any other site" - which I think isn't an exaggeration. There's a fairly large selection of downloads available in FLAC format too (which is what I recommend for listening).
The site also lets you quickly see press and collector's reviews for each album, useful for making buying decisions.
There's also a wonderful help section, full of information for newbies explaining everything about how digital downloading and listening works.
Certainly a unique system, eClassical charges by the second instead of making you pay arbitrary album prices. They charge 0.2 US cents for mp3 quality, and 0.3 cents for 24-bit quality.
This clever idea means you usually end up saving money buying albums and tracks, since you only actually pay for exactly what you buy.
eClassical also offers music in 3 formats: 320kbps MP3, 16-bit FLAC (CD quality), and 24-bit FLAC (studio quality). This is a better selection than the previous two classical music stores, and makes eClassical one of my favorite places online to buy classical music.
But every coin has two sides, and despite these awesome features eClassical isn't perfect. There's a noticeable lack of composers and albums. To put it simply, the selection is tiny in comparison with the other stores.
Where Classics Online might have several hundred albums for a particular composer, eClassical might have 5. And not very good ones either. Oh well. It's a balance - better pricing and quality for a much smaller selection.
Ah, the behemoth that is Amazon. If you're looking for classical CDs, this is probably the place to go. Amazon also have a pretty great choice of MP3 downloads too.
Unfortunately they don't offer higher quality formats.
But since it's Amazon, the choice of recordings available is massive. There's also the tempting option of picking up a CD from one of the thousands of second hand sellers, for a super-bargain price.
The classical community on Amazon is also enormous. For a lot of the more popular CDs there are a decent amount of customer reviews written by listeners. These are one of the best features of Amazon for me - they give you a (usually) educated and thoughtful opinion of the music and the recording.
Finally we come to Linn Records, probably the most high-end classical music store. Like eClassical, there are three formats available: studio quality, CD quality, and MP3.
However, this is another classical music store which suffers from a lack of choice. Linn Records has the least amount of choice of all the stores we've looked at. Also, the prices are somewhat expensive.
But what makes up for it are the supremely high-quality recordings. As they themselves say:
"Linn recordings are all made to the highest specification currently possible, using the best available equipment. Linn's precision engineering and commitment to quality consistently delivers recordings that provide the very best sound your player can offer."
Not bad! Linn also lets you buy SACDs and Vinyl. This is definitely a connoisseur's choice. (Click to learn about SACD players).
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