Universal Music: Classical Downloads Done Wrong

I buy music from a lot of vendors: I buy lots of CDs, and I buy music by download from iTunes, Amazon, and individual record labels. I went to Deutsche Grammophon’s web site today to see if they sold Berg’s Wozzeck after a commenter to this post pointed out that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was excellent in it. I’m not a fan of Berg in general, but I thought I’d give it a try. (I bought it from Universal Music because it was a bit cheaper than Amazon, and much cheaper than iTunes.)

Shame on Universal Music for selling downloads like this. There are no track numbers, no disc numbers in the files; the tags are truncated, and the only album art is a 100 x 100 pixel file. Here’s how the tracks look when I added some of them to iTunes:

That’s exactly what the files display; it’s not iTunes that is truncating the tags. Universal expects me to dig out the correct tag information, and, especially, to make sure the tracks are in the right order. There’s also no indication of which tracks are with which opera (this is a set of two; Lulu and Wozzeck), no information about the singers, other than what’s in the truncated Artist tags, nor is there any booklet or any other textual information.

No, never again. I won’t be buying downloads from Universal. I’ve written them asking for a refund, because it is unacceptable that the files they provide are this crappy.

Update: Universal Music is refunding me, but they didn’t say anything about the quality of the files. I’ll delete the ones I have and go buy them from iTunes, where at least I know that the tagging is correct.

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9 thoughts on “Universal Music: Classical Downloads Done Wrong

  1. Sounds to me that you may have received what you paid less for. Did you try downloading similar files from Amazon or iTunes to see if there were any differences?

      • Although if you do get your refund from Universal, Kirk, you’ll be in a position not so much to buy again, but to start over with a different purchase decision.

        Paul, you don’t need to buy from iTunes to see what you’ll get from that source. The iTunes Store preview listing for that recording shows that track and artist details are not truncated.

  2. I have to agree that it’s shameful that a major classical stable would not only sell downloads without proper labelling, but would also be so shortsighted as to not supply booklet pdfs with albums, especially since that’s something that they *used* to do.

    Back in 2008 I purchased a recording of Bartók and Stravinsky from the Deutsche Grammophon WebShop [this doesn’t appear to operate anymore] and the purchase included a pdf booklet. I checked the same recording on the deccaclassics site (DG 463 6402) and the booklet is no longer included with the sale as far as I can tell.

    So that’s definitely a step backwards and a particularly baffling one. If there’s any segment of the music-buying public that would want/expect/value booklets, it would be the classical music segment, especially since even the best labelling and tagging often can’t capture all the detail you might glean from a booklet.

    • Yes, when DG had their own shop, it was better. I recall buying a number of recordings from them. I don’t remember if there were PDFs, but at least the files were tagged correctly.

      I even remember buying the Hermann Prey Lied-Edition, which was the equivalent of about 20 CDs for a very small price (€30 or so), and was perfectly tagged.

  3. Kirk, speaking of Universal’s problematic downloads, have you noticed their degraded sound quality (regardless of the bit rate used for the encoding) which has been going on for over a year now? It turns out that it’s caused by audible watermarking inserted by the label itself.

    From a post on Stereophile’s forum:

    From the Hydrogen Audio forum:

    Here it is from the horse’s mouth, so to speak: Universal’s admission of watermarking in it’s Terms and Conditions:

    Blogger Matt Montag has even created (but not shared) a way to remove the offending watermark:

    It’s a shame that Universal is ruining the hard won, decades long reputation of its classical labels with this intentional sonic defect. That their Mastered for iTunes releases (at least the one’s that I’ve heard) do not have this defect proves that they do not HAVE to do this (and maybe Apple has some say in the matter).

    If you’ve noticed this (I’d be surprised if not), I hope you will address this problem, either here, or in Macworld, or both.

    • Interesting, I did notice when I was completing my purchase that there was a page that mentioned the digital watermarking. I assumed that was what Apple does, embedding the user’s e-mail address in the files. But apparently this is something different.

      The Berg is a tough example: the music is “uncommon” enough to me that I’d be unlikely to hear anything subtle. I’m going to go back and see if the files are still in my backup (I deleted them once Universal refunded me) and see if I can hear anything.

      I did listen to the samples on the last link you provide. I don’t think the person chose a good example; something smoother would be more obvious, as there’s already a bit of fuzz in the guitar sound.

      I will look into this a bit more though; there may be a story there. Thanks.

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