Just in time for Christmas Hyperion has unveiled its new download site – or perhaps I should say, has overlaid a new download site on its existing website. I’ve always been a great fan of Hyperion’s design – functional yet stylish, communicative yet understated. And that style infuses the download site. It doesn’t shout at you but it does exactly what you want from it. And there are some nice touches too.
Interestingly (and I think this is a good move) the pricing of the MP3 files (320kbps) is level-pegged to the price of the lossless FLAC files (and if you’re really concerned about tip-top sound, and play your music back through serious kit, then you’re not going to bother about MP3 – though for everyday consumption, on the move, you'll most likely be very happy with MP3).
One neat little trick comes with discs that intersperse a single, multi-movement piece (like a Mass) with other pieces (say, chant). You can, with a single click of the mouse, link all the individual parts of the Mass and download them all at once. Check out the reasonably new disc of Victoria’s Missa Gaudeamus from the Westminster Cathedral Lay Clerks (glorious stuff!). If you click on the first movement of the Mass in the track listing, you’ll be given all six Mass sections linked together as a single download. It’s a cool idea though I’m not sure how often you’ll encounter it.
One of the most infuriating things about some digital stores is the laborious payments process (it’s one of the first things iTunes got right and as a result I’m sure they benefited). Other sites, though, expect you to sit there armed with credit card every time you want to buy a track: a serious disincentive. Hyperion allows you to pre-load your wallet and draw on that ‘kitty’. It’s safer and it’s much more convenient – and if you’ve little will-power it also curbs your enthusiasm! And £50 buys you an awful lot of music (especially as there’s a price incentive to buy more and receive a discount).
Other reasons to celebrate this new kid on the digital block – many discs previously unavailable on CD are now available as downloads, the pricing policy that works in much smaller increments so tracks are much more keenly priced, and the clever facility that downloads booklets directly into iTunes.
It’s a great pleasure to welcome a site that has looked at what others have been doing (often badly), and have applied sense and imagination. It’s a very handsome site!
(Full report in the February Gramophone, out early January.)
James Jolly is Gramophone's Editor-in-Chief. After four years of co-presenting BBC Radio 3's weekday morning programme "Classical Collection" has moved to Sunday mornings, with Rob Cowan his fellow presenter. His blogs will explore live and recorded music, as well as downloading and digital delivery.