Home Cd player Money Classic: MP3, WebCD Pioneer Digital Music (1999)

Money Classic: MP3, WebCD Pioneer Digital Music (1999)


Silver is 50 years old! To celebrate, we’ve scoured decades of our print magazines to uncover hidden gems, fascinating stories, and vintage personal finance tips that have (surprisingly) stood the test of time. Throughout 2022, we’ll be sharing our favorite finds in Money Classic, a special limited-edition newsletter that comes out twice a month.

This excerpt, featured in the fourth issue of Money Classic, is from a story in our July 1999 edition.

Years ago I owned an album by a short-lived 60s pop band called The Left Banke which featured the beautiful song “Walk Away Renee”. During the Reagan or Bush administrations, the file disappeared. But while browsing the internet recently, I was thrilled to find a Left Banke greatest hits album in an online music store, with a snippet of the song “Walk Away Renee.” After listening to a few bars, I fell in love with the melody again.

Welcome to the internet music revolution, part two. For the past couple of years, shopping for music online has meant great prices and huge catalogs. Today, top sites have become the digital equivalent of savvy record sellers, with helpful reviews, discographies, and other resources that let you trace an artist’s career or explore an entire musical genre, from bebop to baroque. Even better, with free downloadable software, you can listen to any of thousands of music samples right on your computer, making it easy to catch up on new releases, find old favorites, and discover gems. little known.

This revolution, however, is a work in progress. Most music sites only offer a handful of samples per album, usually 30-second muffled mono clips. Still, the sound quality improves quickly, and downloading the free audio software directly from the sites is relatively easy to do. RealPlayer is the most common, but higher quality formats, such as Liquid Audio, are also available. The controversial MP3 music download system is just starting to make its way to web CD stores (see below). Whatever the system, stereo speakers and a fast internet connection will allow you to fully enjoy the sound and avoid long waits.

After listening to over a dozen CD sites, I found myself coming back most often to the three highlights outlined below. Keep in mind that these online outlets are great to browse but don’t necessarily offer the best prices. Bargain hunters may want to start their search on a price comparison site such as mysimon.com. Or go straight to online retailers cduniverse.com and cdconnection.com, where I’ve often found the lowest prices – which are usually only $1 below the highest. Now for the sites:


Supported by music magazines rolling stone, beat down and Source, Tunes.com is a dabbler’s paradise. Boasting over a million music samples (via RealPlayer), the site lets you explore nearly 200 different music genres, from 80s postpunk to New Orleans jazz. You will also find detailed reviews and discographies provided by the database of the site allmusic.com. Additional information is just a click away on magazine sites — rolling stonefor example, offers over a thousand (somewhat grainy) music videos, which can be viewed via RealPlayer.

Despite its high-powered connections, Tunes.com retains a local feel. Music fans can write their own reviews and post them on forums. I particularly liked the targeted recommendations – both from the site and from the fans – that appear on each page. Browsing through the South African music department, for example, I was directed to a little-known reggae singer named Lucky Dube. After listening to Dube’s soulful and passionate voice, I added his album Collector to my wishlist.

The site has some weaknesses. You won’t find the latest releases and the classic section is a bit skimpy. But whether you want to sample the work of Radiohead or explore the ancestry of swing music, it’s a great place to start.


The recent merger of rivals CDnow and Music Boulevard seems to be a plus for consumers. The newly combined site draws on CDnow’s extensive rock, jazz and classical lineup. But the choices, which were grouped into seven broad headings in the old CDnow, are now organized into 16 more navigable categories on Music Boulevard.

Wisely, CDnow also latched onto Music Boulevard’s higher-quality sound samples in MPEG format, though RealPlayer samples still predominated when I visited the site in May. Much of Music Boulvard’s top editorial content is still there, including reviews and album information from sources such as muze.com and the Allstar news service. You’ll also find Music Boulevard’s superb classical music search engine, which lets you search by instrument, ensemble, and even catalog number.


As you’d expect, Amazon’s music department gives you a clean layout, easy navigation, and helpful, if generally upbeat, reviews. This site was quick to offer exclusive free downloads of singles from upcoming albums in both MP3 and Liquid Audio format, allowing you to save the entire song to a CD or to your hard drive. Recently, for example, you were able to pick up Sarah McLachlan’s singles “I Will Remember You” and “Building a Mystery.” Like other music sites, you can listen to intriguing recommendations. I sampled cult classic “Oar” by former Moby Grape guitarist Skip Spence and was blown away by Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra – for 30 seconds , in any case. Now where did I put my credit card?

Will CDs go the way of vinyl? An MP3 primer

The Web isn’t just changing the way you buy CDs. Thanks to a new music technology called MP3 – and the Walkman-like devices that play it – the web threatens to make CDs obsolete.

What is MP3? Technically, it is a format used to turn recorded music into digital computer files. Basically, MP3 comes down to an easy and free way for music fans to copy and exchange near-CD quality recordings via the web.

How MP3 works. First you will need the free software that allows you to download and play MP3 files. You can get a copy from, among other sites, mp3.lycos.com. This site also rates sites with MP3 music and links you to them. Or you can plug a particular artist’s name and “MP3” into an Internet search engine like yahoo.com.

Once you’ve downloaded the music files, you listen to them directly from your computer – through your computer’s speakers or a stereo system – or transfer them to a portable player, the most popular version of which is Diamond Multimedia’s Rio . We found the Rio, which holds up to an hour of music, selling for $137.95 on shopping.com.

A warning. Many MP3 files circulate illegally, without the approval (or financial compensation) of record companies or artists, so the industry is developing an alternative, sanctioned format. Before you decide to invest your time and money, keep in mind that MP3 could go the way of Betamax.

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