Naxos has made the history books with the worldwide launch of their ClassicsOnline HD•LL classical music streaming and download site. ClassicsOnline HD•LL is the first site to stream classical music in both full CD quality (LL, or lossless) and high-resolution (HD) sound, and offers content up to 24-bit / 192 kHz sampling rate.
All you need to enjoy the hi-res content is a little plug and play USB DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter), some of which cost under $200. These diminutive DACs offer far better sound than your computer’s internal DAC can ever produce.
Naxos claims that its service, which costs $14.99/month, is the first in the US to use “adaptive bitrate streaming technology” to enable subscribers to “listen to classical music at the highest possible sound quality available on their home or mobile networks without buffering or loss of signal.” In other words, you never risk the chance that just at a symphony’s climactic moment, everything suddenly stops without warning as the signal rebuffers.
ClassicsOnline HD•LL also sells high-def, lossless, and mp3 downloads in FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, and 320 kbps MP3 formats. Prices vary according to content.
The site includes an “intuitive search engine” crafted specifically for classical music, that allows you to search by performer, conductor, composer, period, country, instrument, year released, year composed, label, genre, and, of course, title. It claims a wide range of repertoire from “most” classical record labels, easy playlist creation, genre and artist radio programming, and off-line listening via mobile devices. While liner notes, libretti, and composer/artist information are provided for most commercial recordings, this is often not the case for “pirates” and live recordings from labels that specialize in reissues.
To take full advantage of ClassicsOnline HD•LL, PC owners need Windows 7 (32-bit or above), a machine manufactured no later than 2010 that uses an Intel Core i3 processor or better, 2 GB RAM, and support for stereo 16/44.1 audio output. Mac users need at least OS X 10.6, and meet the same additional requirements as above. Newer versions of the major browsers work just fine.
Yours truly has helped beta tested the site for Naxos. Not only has sound quality been excellent, but I have also found a host of delicious surprises on the site, both historic and contemporary. If you want to hear what conductor Ludovic Morlot is doing in Seattle, you’ll discover his recent Cantaloupe Music recording of John Luther Adams Become Ocean streaming in either full CD-quality or 24-bit, 96 kHz high-resolution sound. If piano is your thing, you’ll find a number of Paul Lewis’ recordings for Harmonia Mundi, including two discs of Schubert Piano Sonatas and a set of the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos. Do an advanced search under the Chandos label, and you’ll find no less than 1603 albums. 13 of Chanticleer’s albums are also available, as well as a healthy number conducted by Nicholas McGegan.
While collectors and aficionados will lament the absence of all of Naxos’ excellent historic release remasterings, which are available in Canada and Europe, as well as offerings from Universal Classics (DG, Decca, Philips), Sony, and EMI / Warner, the wonderful news is that hi-resolution streaming is now a reality. Between Tidal and ClassicsOnline HD, an extraordinary wealth of classical music is now available 24/7, some in sound that approaches the best analog, for less than the price of two full-priced CDs per month.