The Great Alternative to Paid Music Downloading is a great example of how HD streaming music websites help expand your musical horizons by suggesting more music similar to what you already like. 

There’s a better way to enjoy music than paying by the download.  If you’d like to know more about streaming music (or streaming audio) and how it works, this post lays it out for you. 

You do not have to be online to save music locally from some streaming websites because the monthly fee covers saving all the music your devices can hold.  You can play this saved music any time, anywhere, just like paid downloads.  You can’t copy or share the files but that’s the same with most downloads.  With a few exceptions, downloads are copy protected.

There’s a bonus with streaming audio -- when you’re online with good enough speed you enjoy an infinite-seeming selection music directly from the web site.  All things considered, this is far better value because some of these sites are very good at helping you find great new music you love and you can listen first before you buy.  Your music horizons expand as much and as far as you want.

I recounted the history that created the download business for Apple iTunes in a previous post – “Have You Heard? Your Music Can Sound Better.” Now for some details about the gentle revolution I mentioned in that post.  The changes help people learn to love music for its real self and they also have the power to broaden your musical horizons tremendously.  This is the good stuff for music lovers who like to explore, a superior optimization between convenience, selection, cost, effort, and sound fidelity.

You may find it’s no longer necessary to buy download music if you are accessing the web with enough performance.  You can cheaply stream from many millions of tracks and play them through five-star apps on your digital devices and computers.  These sources protect files from theft but in a way I find unobtrusive and acceptable.

Click to Open in a New Window

Click to Open in a New Window

Two of the best “stations” I’ve found are (free to $9.99/month) and (3 price levels start at 9.99 euros/month.)  I’ve road tested both of these extensively.  You can access these sites anywhere on the planet through VPNs (virtual private networks.)  There’s also a whole slew of others I have not tested.  Check this streaming thing out.  It will help transform your music listening into all it can be.  See for a list with info on sound quality and music types.

Think for a moment.  What would listening to music be like if you could –

  • Get an “everything plays everywhere” music collection with cost starting at 10 bucks a month.
  • Save albums or tracks to your devices and listen to them at any time without a web connection.
  • Listen at home or on the run, anywhere, any time, just like with downloads.
  • Access much of the music you already love in much better fidelity (sound quality.)
  • Up-level your whole listening experience to HD (high definition) music for a taste of hi-fi sound.
  • Be greatly assisted by background algorithms to discover tons of new music you love.
  • Experience greater economy, ease, and convenience than you have with paid downloads.
  • Share the experience with friends without pimping for iTunes or any music vendor.
  • Patch your devices into your home audio system to hear HD music through your speakers.

Streaming HD music is here right now and you can sign up for it today, this moment.  Ten dollars would typically buy 10 lousy-quality tracks on iTunes.  On, 10 bucks gets you a month of continuous listening to whatever they have, all in HD quality.  

The Incredible Audioengine W3 Wireless Music Adapter DAC (Around $149) Transports Music Wirelessly, with Isolation Benefits

The Incredible Audioengine W3 Wireless Music Adapter DAC (Around $149) Transports Music Wirelessly, with Isolation Benefits

Is there a catch?  Well, frankly, a few of them but don’t go all cynical yet.  These points don’t spoil this opportunity in the least.

You have to settle for mostly 320 Kbps CBR Mp3s.  Compressed music, yes, but the best Mp3 and within the HD category and possibly better than anything you’ve ever heard before unless you’re already into hi-fi.  Lots of 16-bit CD quality is also available on and savable for offline listening.  There may be other sites that stream 16-bit music that I haven’t found.

Your digital playback device must be capable of delivering sound quality that’s available in the HD files.  So you may need to add some adapter gadgets like a line out connector or DAC (digital-to-analog converter,) but these cost from cheap to affordable.  Even less wonderful devices sound better playing HD files.

The site is in the French language but you can set browser translation to English and use Google Translate for graphics translation misses.  I find this a minor annoyance and I learned a little French.  Use PayPal and WiTopia VPN to access it.

The Audioengine D3 24-bit Portable DAC (about $189) uses the wonderful-sounding AKM 4396 DAC chip.

The Audioengine D3 24-bit Portable DAC (about $189) uses the wonderful-sounding AKM 4396 DAC chip.

To realize the full sound quality benefits, you need a DAC (digital to analog converter) that resolves many high-density music formats into analog music signal.  This is easy in a home audio system or on a computer. Many are available.  I did it for $145 with an on-sale TEAC DS-H01 iPod Dock.  It has a top-line, 24-bit Burr-Brown DAC.  This setup delivers great sound source even offline here in the boonies.

There are many system setups that will play HD music.  The classic all-analog home stereo system looked like this –

Sources > Preamplifier > Amplifier > Speakers

Sources include all devices that transform recordings into electrical impulses that represent the recorded sound.  Analog output source devices include receivers (remember FM radio?) older turntables, tape decks, microphones and CDs players.

Here’s my main audio setup –

iPad 3 (digital source) > Teac DS-H01 Dock (DAC) >> Bravo Audio Ocean Tube Buffer (preamp) > Audioengine A5+N Powered Speakers (amplifier and speakers)

The “>>” marks the transition from digital recording to analog amplification.

Any of these can use other powered speakers, or your existing home audio system.  Any computer with USB 2.0 or higher and a fast web connection work.  You can feed the DAC output to any device(s) that will amplify the signal and drive speakers or headphones.  Some DACs (like the Dragonfly DAC) will drive your headphones directly.

Here are some alternates I use in my sound lab at home –

MacBook Pro Laptop > AudioQuest Dragonfly DAC >> Bravo Audio Ocean Tube Buffer > Audioengine A5+N Powered Speakers

Also same as above but instead of speakers, Sennheiser HD 600 Headphones.

MacBook Pro Laptop > Audioengine W3 16-bit Wireless DAC >> Bravo Audio Ocean Tube Buffer > Audioengine A5+N Powered Speakers (across the room with no pesky speaker feed wires.)

Same as above using the Audioengine D2 24-bit Wireless DAC or the D1 24-bit DAC.

On the road –

iPad 3 > 30-pin line-out adapter (analog) > Wolfson Earbuds OR Sennheiser HD 600 earphones

-- OR --

MacBook Pro > Audioengine D3 DAC > Wolfson Earbuds OR Sennheiser HD 600 earphones

This next one may still work.  Not sure since they downgraded the Apple CCK (camera connection kit) to lower power --

iPad 3 > Apple Camera Connection Kit (CCK) > Audioengine D3 DAC >> Sennheiser HD 600 earphones OR Wolfson Earbuds

On the upside, consider these factors -- 

  • Apple Radio is not mandatory but you can go there.
  • You can still listen to all the crappy-sounding but convenient files you paid to download.
  • Many websites provide affordable streaming music. Some are FREE.
  • Huge libraries that have what you like, with very good apps.
  • Instead of paid downloads, save music to play offline.
  • Easily patch your portable player over to your home audio system.  

What an upgrade.  Even fairly humble audio gear sounds better with high bit density sources.  The magic is in the music files, not so much in high priced portable devices.  Anything that accesses the web, saves files, and connects a good DAC will feed music to your amplification.

With streaming, now we’re talking mass market HD listening for the people.  May companies who  provide economical access to HD music prosper, especially ones that have the vision to avoid simply selling a few overpriced, toll-gated player devices plus file downloads to the “the upper two percent.”

Any questions?  Just comment and I’ll answer.