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Apple, EMI announcement a good first step's Gary Krakow applauds today's announcement by Apple and EMI to offer better-sounding, DRM-free downloads on iTunes.  But, never satisfied, he'd like to see ever better quality music files offered.
CEO of EMI Group Nicoli and CEO of Apple Jobs pose for photographers with British musician Albarn in London
EMI Group CEO Eric Nicoli (L) and Apple CEO Steve Jobs (R) pose for photographers with British musician Damon Albarn in London. EMI said it was making its music catalogue available through Apple iTunes without piracy protection.Kieran Doherty / Reuters

EMI's deal with Apple Inc. to sell the record company's songs online without copy protection software is a big deal.

Not only because they will soon be offering downloadable music files without that pesky DRM encoding. That's the stuff which makes it nearly impossible to move purchased songs from one computer or music player to another. 

But it’s also a big deal because major players in the music download industry are starting to offer songs that will sound a lot better.

Currently, it costs 99-cents to download a 128Kbps AAC file from Apple’s iTunes store. Those files have — and will continue to have — digital rights management protection. It is software which is added to protect recording artists and record companies not the end user.

Beginning next month, EMI and Apple will offer songs and albums encoded into 256Kbps, DRM-free MP3 files which will sell for $1.29 each. Even better, you’ll be able to “upgrade” EMI songs you’ve already downloaded on iTunes and get the new, non-protected, better sounding files for 30-cents apiece.

Removing the DRM is a huge step for the industry. It's one of the biggest complaints I constantly hear about from readers.

During today’s London press conference, Apple’s Steve Jobs made it clear that you have always been able to buy a song on iTunes — rip it to a CD to remove the digital rights management — then transfer and play that new file on any device. That’s true, but not many people have been willing to go through all that. New no-DRM files solve the problem.

The other half of the equation is the sound quality of the new files. Mr. Jobs said audiophiles have been asking for possibility of purchasing better sounding files on iTunes. That’s why they’ll be selling 256Kbps MP3s. Good for them: It’s a big step forward for the music download industry. 

But as a died-in-the-wool audiophile myself, I would have liked to have seen even better quality files offered from the new service. Non-compressed WAV files would be terrific. Currently, there are other, smaller music download services out there which offer Lossless and WAV-encoded downloads. I hope Apple will consider selling even better-sounding files in the near future.

And there’s the price. I believe $1.29 is a fair price to pay for better sounding music files. It shouldn’t cost Apple/EMI any more to make MP3 files instead of AACs. I guess most of the 30-cent per song difference goes to the record companies and artists to reimburse them for the ability to easily play the songs on as many devices as the customer likes.

And everyone should be commended for offering a music download upgrade path. The idea that you can actually remove DRM from files you’ve already downloaded and also improve the sound quality of the music all for just 30 cents — the difference between an AAC download (99 cents) and the MP3 version ($1.29) — is brilliant.

Apple and EMI’s announcement is a great step forward for the downloadable music industry.  Let’s hope other companies will be making similar announcements in the very near future.