NEWS: Is it a high-bitrate, DRM-free future?

It may be a touch predictable, but we greet the news that consumers are shunning both DRM-protected files and MP3s encoded at lower bitrates, with a great deal of pleasure. The good news comes from digital download service 7Digital, which we heralded upon its launch as a serious challenger to iTunes thanks to its 320kbps files and it's uptake of EMI's DRM-free music. And it seems we've all taken it to heart...

According to the chaps at 7Digital, DRM-free downloads are outselling protected files by four to one. The site's own sales figures also point to a growth in the number of people looking for higher bitrate MP3s – 320kbps in the case of 7Digital – as opposed to the lower quality files predominantly offered on iTunes and elsewhere.

Figures to support this anecdotal evidence seem thin on the ground, but we're happy to believe those nice people at 7Digital aren't simply pushing their own high-bitrate MP3s... Which, incidentally, they also show are proving far more popular than WMA and AAC files. Though we think the iTunes Store might have something to say about that.

Kick-started by EMI's release of DRM-free tracks, 7Digital now has some 60% of its 3 million track database in DRM-free MP3 format, a figure which it expects to increase to nearly 100% come the middle of next year.

So, will this spell the end for DRM-protected music? And where do you stand on the great bitrate debate? As Radiohead's recent download release showed, the average punter on the street now seems disappointed with 160kbps quality, which has to be a good thing. Couple this with the massive capacity iPods now available, and perhaps we will all be looking at Lossless downloads by 2008... Let us know what you think by posting a comment or starting a discussion on the Forums.

Joe Cox
Content Director

Joe is Content Director for T3 and What Hi-Fi?, having previously been the Global Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi?. He has worked on What Hi-Fi? across the print magazine and website for more than 15 years, writing news, reviews and features on everything from turntables to TVs, headphones to hi-fi separates. He has covered product launch events across the world, from Apple to Technics, Sony and Samsung; reported from CES, the Bristol Show, and Munich High End for many years; and written for sites such as the BBC, Stuff, and the Guardian. In his spare time, he enjoys expanding his vinyl collection and cycling (not at the same time).