There was much Beatles hoopla happening in November, when iTunes and the Beatles finally announced that they would be selling all the re-mastered Beatles albums through the iTunes store. Many fans have been waiting eagerly for this, because the Beatles were among the last of the truly huge bands that had not gotten their product distributed through the Apple music system. However, the files that one purchases through iTunes have DRM (digital rights management) copy-protection, which means there are limitations to how one can use the files. Many fans are unaware of an alternative way to purchase these classic Beatles albums that does not have this limitation, and which actually offers a higher-quality audio format.
What is DRM? Digital Rights Management is a system that iTunes and other digital distribution providers use to limit the ability to copy digital files and to limit the use of certain digital devices to play copyrighted material. It is in use by companies like Apple as well as Sony, Amazon, Microsoft, AOL, and others who distribute digital products. For a user downloading a song from a service using DRM, it means the file will only play on the computer or device authorized for use per the restrictions put in place by the seller, and this generally means that you cannot buy a song and then move the file to another computer without first gaining authorization for the new computer.
DRM-free Beatles? Many fans recall that in 2009 the Beatles released their major works in re-mastered CD format, finally improving the audio quality of the classic Beatles albums from the 1960’s, which had been long overdue for re-release. The other big Beatles news from 2009 was the release of Beatles Rock Band which allowed fans to hear the music and play along with the popular video game.
Overshadowed in all of this was the release, in December 2009, of the Beatles USB Apple box set. No, this is not Apple as in Steve Jobs, but “apple”, as in the fruit. The product, which is still available, was released as a “box set” in the form of a tiny green aluminum apple that contains the full, re-mastered versions of all of the albums that are also available on the stereo box set. This set contains both high-quality FLAC 44.1 Khz 24-bit sound files (that means that it’s better than CD-quality), as well as DRM-free mp3 files. These mp3s are not only free of DRM restrictions, but they are also higher quality that the usual compressed music files that one buys from iTunes and other stores. Specifically, the mp3s are 320 kbps, which is a higher resolution that the more typical 128 kbps found on most commercially available mp3s.
As of now, this Beatles USB apple remains the only way to get DRM-free, audiophile-quality versions of the Beatles’ albums, and fans continue to scurry to pick up the product before it becomes discontinued. Now that iTunes has the Beatles, the concern among Beatles fans and audiophiles alike is that all the marketing push for Beatles music will go through that venue, and that the USB production will be stopped.