Home / Radiohead – In Rainbows: Forward Thinking With A Bitrate Of 160kpbs?

Radiohead – In Rainbows: Forward Thinking With A Bitrate Of 160kpbs?

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So I'm a little pissed. I just got the email from Radiohead's merchandising arm, WASTE, telling me that my download would be ready vaguely "tomorrow morning (UK time)" and what does it say?







PC: http://www.winzip.com/
MAC: http://www.maczipit.com/


(emphasis mine)

Huh?! 160kbps mp3s? That's the best they could do? Are you kidding me? It's 2007. There is no excuse for this. These should have been 192kbps at the very least, but really should have been 256kbps. If they want to lead the industry and other bands to a new solution, then LEAD. As my piece last week said, is this a debacle or a brilliant new idea? The answer's becoming clearer: debacle. Maybe 160kbps is okay for the kiddies who blast this stuff so loud they can't even actually hear the music, but for many listeners, 160kbps is a no-go deal.

All I can say is, I sure am glad I only chose to pay $3 for this. Yes, I admit it – I simply couldn't fathom paying more than that for "mystery files."

It turns out I made the right move. I'd be furious if I'd paid CD prices for the album, especially after seeing report after report that they've either signed or are on the verge of signing with a major distributor to sell the CD in stores next year. But that was part of my criteria – if they want to be vague about the details, both about the future of the album in a physical format as well as the quality of the files, then I'm going to assume the worst, and while they didn't go as bad as they could have (128kbps) they sure came close.

There's no revolution here, folks, at least not yet. It's details like these that could have taken this band from simply "doing something different" to actually setting an example for others to follow. What should have been done? A tiered structure. Cheap, low bitrate mp3s (the ones we're getting) for "whatever price you want" followed by lossless FLAC files, then a low-priced single CD in minimal packaging, a vinyl option, the double-CD in nice packaging for a higher price, and the ridiculously expensive "Disc Box."

Everyone gets the choice they prefer, not this "all or next to nothing" approach that the band is trying to make a point with right now. This is unfortunate. Radiohead has become known for its music as well as the intriguing artwork that envelopes their music, and here we, many of us at least, are going to miss out on what seemed like such a vital part of each release, and something the band took great pride in.

Now it appears that the artwork is meaningless and secondary, at best. If they were hoping to find the divide between music listeners, they may just have done so – artwork is part of the package for me and many others. Maybe it's not a concern for those who grab single files from here and there, regularly not paying for them, but is that really who a band wants to focus its energy on?

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About Tom Johnson

  • Thank you, asdf. You’re among the very few that did get it. I also only paid $3 knowing that if it were worth more, I could always go back and contribute more – something everyone seems to conveniently forget. I’ll be buying the CD when it comes out Jan. 2 instead.

  • asdf

    The dudes jumping on Tom are seriously lacking reading comprehension skill. Nobody here is getting it for free and complaining at the bitrate. You’re just spinning it like that so that you have an excuse to flame.

    The point is that some of us would voluntarily pay a reasonable price (hell I was considering paying around CD price just to reciprocate for this nice move), but not for 160kbit/s. The reason he paid only 3$ is because he *expected* this. I’m sure he would pay a decent price for good quality. But he’s not given the option to, that’s the point.

    I’m not actually sure whether well-encoded 160kbit/s vs CD is still audible; I’m writing this under the assumption that it is.

  • oOoOoOo

    Not me, they just got busted is all.

    Screw em.

  • doctoronsen

    weej said: “No one deserves a refund”.

    I am very glad that Radiohead and the people at WASTE seem to think otherwise.

    I just got an email announcing that I will get my money back indeed.

    I think they realized that what they did translated into educating music listeners to expect nothing from a digital download, and therefore pay nothing (want proof? read half of the comments on this page!). Which is a severe danger to the future of their business model.

    They now have restored my faith in their ecommerce activities somewhat.

  • weej

    Radiohead releases an album online and allows customers to pay nothing, if that is what they wish. When reading about this move, and the 80$ disc box coming in the future, I was intrigued but somewhat confused; that is until I stopped and thought about it. Why would Radiohead confine their album sales to an expensive box set and a download? Of course, album artwork is important to them and their fans. There are going to be plenty of people who will want to own a hard copy of the album but not pay 80$. I would find it hard to believe Radiohead never thought of this. They will settle on a label and release a “normal” cd, probably within the first few months of 2008.
    I payed 2$ for my download, though in retrospect I should have payed nothing, and treated the download as a preview, planning on buying the normal release, whenever it comes. Oh well. If you were worried that the download was going to be less than perfect quality, you should have payed nothing for it. You had that option, after all. No one deserves a refund.
    And by the way, I’m guessing that at least 95% of all listeners will not hear the difference between 160 and 256. Not an issue. Sounds great to me. It was free, after all…

  • oOoOoOo

    I totally agree. And I see some small irony that your final sentence refers to “customers”, not “fans.”

  • doctoronsen


    iTunes is not the same thing as a designated website selling a brand new record as one single item.

    I was trusting Radiohead to give me the best possible quality.

    And the widely accepted standard for this is distributing uncompromised audio files using a lossless compression scheme like FLAC or SHN, so they would still contain all the music (because high frequencies do matter!).

    Radiohead obviously do not want to give their customers the best possible quality.

    My claim for my money back is not valid, you say. That may have to do with the legal system you are living in (or should I say: suffering under?).

    On another note, and apart from any legal issues, I have just learned to never trust any Radiohead online marketing campaign. And I will never buy a single item from this band anymore, I will probably even stop listening to my old records because they will now always remind me how little they think of their customers.

  • ladida

    But surely the omission of such information doesn;t bode well for Radiohead’s intentions.

  • Kamil, once again, please do not compare Itunes’ AAC file bitrate with mp3 file bitrates. They are not the same. Itunes files are essentially one step above the quality of mp3 files at the same bitrate – 128 Itunes files equal 160 mp3.

    And no lossy compression scheme will ever be considered “CD quality,” so I agree, there is no basis for getting a refund.

  • Kamil

    Doctoronsen: There was no indication they would be superior or inferior. You made an assumption. You should not have made that assumption considering that the largest online music provider iTunes distributes its music at 128. Furthermore there was no warranty, express or implied, that the files would be of a particular bit rate. The reasonable bit rate for a music file is determined by standard industry practice. The standard industry practice is what I quoted above. Thus, you have no valid claim for you money back.

  • doctoronsen

    I sympathized (sic! past tense!) with the band and paid the equivalent of about 10 USD. I just sent them an email asking for my money back. There was no indication on the website selling the download that the audio files would differ from CD audio standards, and come in inferior quality. Radiohead really did their business model as well as their “brand” a huge disservice.

  • annoyed

    I think people are missing the point.

    Pay what you want – was for a preview and I don’t care what band it is but that’s not worth 20c – that’s advertising – last I checked that’s where if anything, they pay you.

    Revolutionary is pay what you want for the album (in place of the traditional CD) – This is not what Radiohead did, but it is was cunningly what Radiohead made a lot of people think.

    So they got a few extra dollars from their biggest fans and managed to spread the album – and catch the attention of the media. Marketing bliss to the corporate, I suppose.

    Except for what a lot of fans now think of the band for their actions.

    Radio head can get stuffed and I for one will not be buying a preview or a CD or anything else.

  • tonyo123

    The sound quality with 160 kbs MP3 is horrible. The first two songs in particular, 15 Step & Bodysnatchers, are paricularly distorted due to the inability of the codec to keep up with the variations and ovetones. Frnakly, on a good stereo system or even an iPod with decent headphones, they are unlistenable. I keep thinking it’s the source device but no. You can compare the complex layers in these songs to the more simple ones that sound better since mp3 doesn’t have as much to keep up with. Frankly, the cymbals and guitar are about as bad as screeching a chalkboard with your nails. This is a very bad and annoying choice. What should have been done is for those that paid for the standard fownload let it be at 160. For those that bought the deluxe package they should have offered 192 or 320 kbs with vbr. RH, as a big fan you’ve disappointed me.

    By the way, any chance you’ll release this and other albums (OK Computer) on SACD high bit rate? Now that would be cool.

    I agree with a prior suggestion of paying per bit. Here’s my suggestion for standard packaging:

    – 128 kbs – $1
    – 160 bbs – $3
    – 192 kbs – $5
    – 320 kbs – $7
    – Lossless – $9
    – HBR DSD (SACD) – $12 and with Premium Package

  • James

    Who said that rational behaviour is common in the realm of feelings ;-D

  • Oh, I know. And people can feel however they want to feel. All I’m saying is that their reasons for feeling that way aren’t very good.

  • The article states what people feel, Michael. That’s all I can say.

  • Of course, letting NME, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork – you know, the major online music-press outlets – in on your plans, that doesn’t actually count.

  • Via MTV:

    Radiohead Fans Feel Duped By In Rainbows’ Poor Sound Quality, Possible Ulterior Motives

    Statements from band’s management seem to indicate that downloadable album was just promotional tool for physical CD. …

    The sentiment among many fans seems to have gone from admiration for the group’s willingness to let the consumer decide how much to pay for the new album to anger over the low quality of the downloads — and dismay over the band’s manager’s statement that the you-choose-the-price downloads were just a promotional tool for the release of the physical CD. …

    “In November we have to start with the mass-market plans and get them under way,” Hufford told the magazine.

    “If we didn’t believe that when people hear the music they will want to buy the CD, then we wouldn’t do what we are doing,” Edge said.

    To many, those comments sounded strangely, well, capitalistic and seemed to confirm that the lower-quality downloadable version of the album was little more than a promotional tool for the actual CD. (It didn’t help that Edge is quoted as saying that “CDs are a fantastic bit of kit. … You can’t listen to a Radiohead record on MP3 and hear the detail; it’s impossible.”) And if that was the case, it probably would’ve been nice if the band — or its management — had let fans know before they paid (or, you know, didn’t pay) to download it. Attempts to contact Edge for clarification on his comments were unsuccessful at press time.

  • zkrog

    It was also mentioned in Pitchfork, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Rollingstone that I can remember. It was pretty much common knowlege that it would be released on CD in early 2008. Most people were paying for the sneak peak, not the bitrate.

  • So that one article out there is the band’s “get out of jail free” card, huh? You’re pretty generous.

    Well, that one article out there let me know that I could get the traditional CD in early 2008. If I could find it, you could too.

    Like I said, the band has been shady about this – they could have said, “Here’s our mp3s. Pay what you want for them. We’ll also be selling CDs early next year.” They chose not to. Why? You tell me.

    Well, as I said, “that one article” was enough to indicate that they DID say that. But, let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re right. Perhaps the band were being shady. That doesn’t change the fact, or excuse, that many consumers were too impulsive, too intellectually lazy, or both of the above, to wait and see.

    There was a full ten days between the announcement of the album and its release; even if you HAD to have the album, you didn’t have to pre-order it. You could have waited to see if there would be a CD release. You could have waited for more details about the mp3’s to surface. You could even have waited until everybody else’s preorders came in, read their reviews and/or experiences, THEN bought the mp3s.

    You had all of those options, and they are all completely reasonable and rational options, especially when you weren’t given a whole lot of information from the start. If you (and this is a general “you,” not you, Tom, in particular) chose not to exercise those options, but instead acted on impulse and on your own bald assumptions about what you’d be getting in the electronic order, then you, and nobody else, are to blame.

  • So that one article out there is the band’s “get out of jail free” card, huh? You’re pretty generous. I guess if the baker in question in my example put a one-line note in an article in one location, he gets off too? Like I said, the band has been shady about this – they could have said, “Here’s our mp3s. Pay what you want for them. We’ll also be selling CDs early next year.” They chose not to. Why? You tell me.

    We’re just going around in circles here – I’ve said all I have to say, so don’t expect any more answers from me.

  • Michael, that was pure speculation about a forthcoming, widespread CD release.

    Really? Because an article on NME.com that was published on October 1 says, and I quote,

    The album, the band’s seventh studio effort, will only be available exclusive through Radiohead.com for now, but Radiohead say they are current planning a ‘traditional CD release’ of ‘In Rainbows’ for early next year.”

    That doesn’t sound like pure speculation to me.

    And how come you didn’t answer my question? How much would you have paid for the mp3s had you known in advance that, say, January 22, 2008, you could get a CD with artwork, lyrics, etc., and possibly bonus tracks?

    I DID answer your question. Owing to the above quote, I DID KNOW IN ADVANCE that I would be able to get a CD with artwork, lyrics, etc. in early 2008. (Just because YOU weren’t aware that the band had made such an announcement doesn’t mean that they hadn’t.) And knowing that that would happen, I paid $8. For the convenience of not having to wait 3 1/2 months.

    The contempt goes to the band – they chose to be shady with details they knew would affect the choices people made.

    Bullshit. The contempt goes to the buyer who received no details, no promises, not even any implications, and simply made the purchase sight unseen based on (in your words) pure speculation about the specifics of what they’d be getting.

    And to those who didn’t bother to look around at sites like, say, NME.com, where they could have easily found out as early as October 1 that Radiohead were planning a traditional CD release in early 2008.

  • Michael, that was pure speculation about a forthcoming, widespread CD release. EVERYONE was saying that, including me. The band remained completely silent and let the fans do as they pleased until right before the download date. Who do you think that serves best?

    And how come you didn’t answer my question? How much would you have paid for the mp3s had you known in advance that, say, January 22, 2008, you could get a CD with artwork, lyrics, etc., and possibly bonus tracks?

    (I’m real curious to see what happens on this front – will the second CD remain a box-only item? I highly doubt it, but I also wonder if there’s going to be a third release of the album later next year with the extra tracks. I really hope not.)

    The contempt goes to the band – they chose to be shady with details they knew would affect the choices people made. It is deceptive and conniving to operate this way knowing that something else was likely to happen – and they knew they had plans to release a regular CD in some way, through someone, at some point in the near future. This is akin to a baker saying to a hungry man that he only has one bagel left, and asking how much he’s willing to pay for it, but knowing what the starving man does not – that he has a dozen more baking up in the oven, and batches of dough waiting to go for many more. Technically, he’s not doing anything illegal, but it’s certainly wrong, deceptive, and distasteful, and is taking advantage of a situation in which the buyer cannot know the full details. Does the buyer deserve contempt here, too? Same situation, just different products.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “(£15 for Studio Master FLAC, 96 kHz/ 24 bit).”

    IF Radiohead is recording the master at DVDA format rate then I would question why the band doesn’t just release an actual DVDA recording. This is why I don’t believe that they are recording at anything higher than PCM (44kHz,16-bit)because why invest in something that you’re never gonna use?? AND, by the looks of it,the people chiming in on this thread probably wouldn’t appreciate it or notice a difference from CD.

    Then, you can take the actual album… The music on there, though it is intriguing, doesn’t sound like something that would stand up well in the DVDA format.(Just my opinion)Not enough instrumentation or creative writing to cover 5-7.1 surround channels.

  • I’ll ask once again, both here and in the other piece I wrote the week before: if you had known there was going to be a CD release, would any of you have paid anything for this?

    On the same day on which I bought the mp3s, I saw a note in NME saying that there would likely be a CD release. But rather than wait an indefinite amount of time for that, I paid $8 USD, with a definitive 10 days wait. I’m not ashamed of it, I don’t regret it.

    Now let me ask a question.

    You guys who are pissed off saw Radiohead offering a deal that seemed too good to be true. You took the deal, and it turned out it WAS too good to be true. Of the two parties here who could potentially be deserving of contempt and eye-rolling, what makes you think that it’s Radiohead?

  • I will always take a physical CD over files (even if they’re flac), but again, I sincerely believe that we don’t represent the majority. Far from it.

    anybody know what the current numbers are? revenue from cd sales vs. revenue from downloads?

  • I’ll answer my own question, just for the sake of honestly. Given mp3s or nothing, I’d have paid for them. Given mp3s or a CD in a couple months, I’d likely have just waited, honestly. Given the choice of mp3s or FLACS (and nothing else – no CD ever,) I’d have gladly paid extra for FLACs, especially, like someone else said, a two-disc FLAC option, for which I would have happily paid $25. Once the option to get pressed CDs and artwork enters the equation I lose interest in this “preview.” I can wait.

  • James

    I hope Trent Reznor (NIN) in the future offers this deal up front:

    160kbps — $3
    192kbps — $4
    256kbps — $5
    320kbps — $6
    FLAC —– $12
    S.M FLAC – $20

    Then it would be.. bye bye record companies.

  • I actually ended up buying the boxset, but that was after I realized that they would be releasing the album via traditional CD. I would still take a CD release over lossless formats though.

    That said, I may have thrown a couple bucks in (as you’ve rightfully noted, it’s more than they’ll get from disc sales), I may not have paid anything, and I would have bought the CD in December/January, but I still maintain that it’s incredibly exciting to be able to have the music right now, rather than waiting for the gears of business to churn out the physical product.

    I’d also note, while they definitely should have announced the CD release at the same time as the download announcement, the plans for a traditional release were announced and widely circulated, what, a day or two later? Are you going to tell me that in the intervening 5 days, nobody decided to pay them a cent, because they knew the CD was coming?

    I will always take a physical CD over files (even if they’re flac), but again, I sincerely believe that we don’t represent the majority. Far from it.

  • James

    I actually paid £2, because I waited for reports about the bitrate and I view this as a lossy preview.

    If Radiohead had offered 2CD FLAC I would have gladly paid £10 (£15 for Studio Master FLAC, 96 kHz/ 24 bit).

  • Tom,

    I think you, and some of the other commenters, are approaching this from a fairly skewed perspective.

    I certainly agree that 160kbps is a less than optimal bitrate, but I’m willing to guess that the vast majority of people who downloaded this record could care less. I know you can point to message boards or other blogs where the bitrate has been a hot topic, but I can guarantee that it isn’t an accurate representation of the actual people who downloaded this record.

    From a technophile’s standpoint this may look like a missed opportunity, but for the average member of the record buying public this is still a big deal. The majority of people downloading music aren’t doing so from closed BT trackers where the minimum bitrate is LAME-v0. They’re getting tracks from iTunes or downloading whatever they can find from LimeWire and PirateBay et al. This gives those people the opportunity to legally download DRM-free material from a reputable source at any cost they choose.

    You can brush off the pay-what-you-want scheme as not a big deal, but the discussion in any forum (in the broad sense, not the internet definition) that excludes people like us who fret over flac vs. mp3 vs CD (ie. most places) has talked about the ability to pick your price as something just short of revolutionary. And, considering the fact that it’s those people, not us, who will ultimately dictate whether the music industry lives or dies, I fail to see how you can brush it off.

    I also disagree with your assertion that in “a year and I doubt much will have changed for anyone.” Several platinum selling major label artists that are coming to the end of their deals have already jumped on board, saying they’re now considering similar distribution models. It may not be perfect, but it still directly challenges the way digital sales are currently set up.

    That said, I think the more exciting thing from the perspective of your average music fan is the fact that this system allowed the band to forgo the traditionally long wait between finishing a record and releasing it. There’s no months of waiting for the album’s eventual release. They finished it, and a few weeks later, anyone who wants it has it.

    Finally, you and others are rightfully taking offense to some of the jabs at audiophiles, but the jabs the other way are just as pigheaded.

    “People who listen to I-pods actually DESERVE 128K files. The rest of us, who have actual, expensive home stereo systems, are pissed that these files are 160, and I WILL hear the difference on my $1000 Klipsch speakers.”

    Some people listen on iPods because, in case you didn’t realize, you can’t tote around your $1000 speakers on the subway. Although, I’d love to see you try.

  • Thank you, Wes (and Mark, and a few others.) You have gotten part of the equation here.

    The other part that many seem to be missing is that this was played up to be a major shift in how things will work, regardless of how Radiohead themselves see it. The reality is that they simply gave away some files at the same quality as that of standard Itunes files (128kbps AAC equals 160kbps mp3 in quality.) This has wound up a major missed opportunity by one of the few bands that actually could afford to take a loss if it happened to go that way. Many other, smaller bands have done things in a similar fashion, albeit without the “pay as you wish” feature, for a long time, and with the option to buy at different file qualities. So the only difference here remains that Radiohead left the price up to us. This, I think, will not be such a big deal as time wears on. It looks big and important now, but give it a year and I doubt much will have changed for anyone.

  • Of all the audiophile putdowns I dislike, I dislike most intensely the one implied in: Are you a gear lover or a music lover?

    Yes, we audiophiles care about the equipment. Whether we fetishize it or merely tolerate it, it is necessary to our doing what we like to do.

    I dislike this putdown because it implies that there’s something purer about listening to music than about caring about how that music sounds. Musicians care about how their instruments sound; producers care about how their recordings sound (well, some of them do); and most recording artists want their records to sound like them. It seems to me they’d appreciate that I care, too.

  • nilloc

    i, like others, was a bit disappointed by 160kbps. but only slightly.
    but i’ll enjoy listening to this (for which i paid 5 pounds, $10) far more than many cds for which i have paid full price.
    in fact, this album at 128 or (gasp!!) 96kbps would probably still be a lot more enjoyable than a whole hell of a lot of albums at full PCM (WAV or AIFF) quality.
    and yes, i do have high-end headphones and high-end studio monitors, but i’m still not convinced that i can hear a big enough difference to gripe about. at least not when i’m concentrating on the music rather than trying to be an ass.

  • James

    You can hear a difference between bitrates on a $1000 HiFi system (Squeezebox 3, used int. amp. & DIY speakers).

  • Oh, please. If this is really THAT big a deal to you, kids, you’ve got too much free time on your hands.

    This is still pretty innovative in terms of music marketing. Many of you seem to think that it should have an accompanying innovation in the basic structure of economics itself – that the principle “You get what you pay for” should be cast aside. Unless you paid CD prices, why SHOULD you get CD quality?

    Those of you talking about how you’ll notice the difference on your “expensive sound systems” – if you were willing to pay that much for your sound system, I’d think you’d be willing to shell out $80 for the full-on In Rainbows set.

    And Tom, you make this point:

    Radiohead, if indeed their plan is to later release the album conventionally, has deliberately kept those plans quiet, which in turn makes fans believe that this is “it,” which in turn encourages fans to pay up a little more than they would if they knew a CD was coming down the line at some point. This is called “being duped.”

    Well, you only paid $3 without knowing about future release plans OR lesser-quality mp3s…so the “duping” obviously didn’t work on you. So what makes you think it worked on anybody else?

  • Nick R

    You just CAN tell the quality is not 100% on a 160k file. 192 is better, 256 is fuller. If you don;t have a HiFi rigged up to your PC then maybe not, but if you burn a CD with it and play on your HiFi you’ll hear it – if you have ears.
    Of course they knew they were putting something out that would leave open CD purchases next year. It’s good to let people pay what they want and most people will be happy with this format – but if someone paid CD price on this then would be justified in being annoyed – they are not getting really high quality here and ther were no forewarned about the quality.
    But they ahd a difficult choice here – if they put these out at 256 then they will make less money on CD sales next year -and they can say they have offered this as free, so really who ahve they got to apologise to?… – but the premiss behind this particular story – that they should have been upfront about the quality of the mp3 still holds. They knew what they were doing and withheld this bit of information. That’s their choice and I don’t blame them, but all the same it is not entirely in keeping with the ‘two fingers to the music industry’ image that this release has created in the media is it? interesting though..

  • snoom

    Lost Sale..

    I went to pre-order the download last night but I got cold feet when I thought about it long enough.

    Firstly, pre-ordering a commodity that cannot run out is extremely pretentious and the more I think about it, quite ridiculous. Secondly the lack of information about the actual format I was purchasing was unnecessarily uncommunicative.

    I’ll admit, I’m not a big Radiohead fan, but they make some okay music and my purchase was really a purchase of principle, or support against the entire recording industry.

    Unfortunately, I do not feel their principles are as solid as mine, and when reading the comments on here about a (high quality) CD release, this lacklustre 160Kbps version really does seem like an easy way to double dip – A double dip that the most loyal fans will hapilly pay.

    And this, is just not right.

    If their principles are sound, there is no good reason why they can’t offer downloads at whatever bitrate you prefer. 128 right throught to 320.

    Of course, that means some people will never need to purchase the CD at inflated prices, and that, is what I thought I was supporting.

    Badly done, Radiohead. Badly done.

  • Kamil: Itunes’ 128kbps AAC files are roughly equivalent in quality to 160kbps mp3 files (at a similar file size to 128kbps mp3, as well.) I believe this also holds true for WMA files. What we’re getting here is no better – and no worse – than what Itunes would have offered, minus the DRM, of course (unless the band went with higher bitrate Itunes Plus files.)

  • Rob

    I paid 5 pounds plus the transaction fee on October 3rd, pre-ordering the new album. However, I did not receive an email from WASTE (Radiohead’s merch arm) with my activation code. I emailed them and asked what was up, and got an auto reply as follows:

    “Thank you for your message.

    Here is some information which may answer your question….

    If you are having problems placing an order please check that your
    cookies are enabled. You may need to try a new browser and you may need to use a new e-mail address if you failed to place an order with your original e-mail address. You can track successful orders by following this link.

    If you are yet to receive your activation code (please check your spam filters) or are having download problems please e-mail.

    Please contact us again next week with any Discbox postal address changes.”

    The rest of the story is on my blog

  • KJ

    My only complaint is that I’d rather RH had informed the public of their choice of presentation, because, while the 160 file doesn’t suck- sorry, you pretentious wanna-be audio engineers w/expensive audio equipment in your homes- the sound is indeed not the best. And I’ve listened to it on my Mac, which has a 5.1 system, and a merely ok pc w/Logitech 5.0 speakers at work.

    The songs themselves are quite wonderful. I love the melodic expansiveness of the work. It’ll probably be breathtaking in concert, and damn good on the actual cd next year, hehe.

    We’ve heard just yesterday that Trent Reznor is newly free of corporate encumbrances and he intends some exciting developements in the near future regarding his own plans for direct music. He is surely taking note of what is transpiring with RH and their choice. since he is every bit as “progressive” musically and politically as RH, we eagerly await further news.

  • Dayton A. Hooker

    I’m disappointed in Radiohead too. Aren’t musicians supposed to about sound quality?

  • pablo

    I was also expecting high quality 320 kbps mp3 files.
    It should have been so.

  • Kamil

    Sienna: If iTunes provides their files in 128 kbps and every second jackass on the street is still happily bouncing to his little iPod after presumably having bought those very files, this kind of criticism is unjustified. There is a wealth of positive observations that can be discussed instead.

  • Sienna Ahor

    What’s next Radiohead? Releasing a record on wax cylinders?

  • Kamil

    Tom: You are correct technically. I also recall that Prince gave his CD away with the purchase of a newspaper. However, it is the mode of presentation that makes the scale of this event much bigger. The former events did not generate either such a lively debate about the state of music or such a media frenzy. In this case, besides circulating on the blogs, the story has been picked up by actual news networks (I can speak for Canada and assume it is alike abroad). The story has reached people who don’t even what who Radiohead is, and perhaps as a result will make these people questions the accepted scheme of purchasing music. That is what make me deem this as a first significant step towards something new.

  • James

    zkrog = Tonic?

    On topic: This 160kbps encoding is really nice, yes I enjoy it immensely, but the first 10 to 20 times I don’t listen to an album overtly critical.

    I hope soon that a 2CD will be available, because sooner or later I will become very critical and analyze every inch (hehe) of the album. A good 160kbps encoding (in this case more like 192kbps), will in the end become insufficient.

  • i just felt my brain shrink a little.

    anybody else?

  • Tonic

    Okay… everyone on this board seems cool but what’s up with all message boards – everywhere – reverting to high-school, “my shit’s nicer than yours, so you’re cheap/inferior” taunting after like 3 posts. Jesus. Spoiled people don’t appreciate anything, and that’s why the internet sucks now. So you have a speaker worth more than the entire economy of some small nations. You must really REALLY deserve it since you own it, huh? You actually brag about spending $5 for a cup of coffee… great job in life. Way to construct a mindset for yourself in which you feel so undervalued you go on message boards and brag about material shit to prove your worth to everyone. Now go show everyone your new Radiohead download so they know you’re hip (don’t worry, you don’t really have to listen to it, or God forbid reflect on it or think about it) you self-centered materialistic culturally-bankrupt childish boorish holier-than-thou arrogant intellectual-only-in-contexts-that-give-you-an-opportunity-to-boast-but-otherwise-literally-retarded pieces of shit.

  • Kamil: Don’t forget that Pearl Jam has already forged this ground. Their most recent album (self-titled,) was recorded on their own, without a label, after finishing their deal with Epic (with Riot Act), and only distributed through a major label (which is what Radiohead will be doing.) The only difference here is that Radiohead opted to do mp3s (first – and not tell us about the possibility of an upcoming CD release.) Like I’ve said a few times, there’s really nothing particularly new going on here.

  • James

    Well zkrog, I have to admit that this 160kbps encoding is quite good, but it doesn’t make me want a £40 box set.

    Sending the box to Norway result in VAT & custom fee, the total sum for me is about $117, do you get the point?

  • Kamil

    As someone who refuses to buy into the iTunes craze and still buys CDs I understand your concern regarding the bit rate. I paid $3 Canadian which works out to slightly under 5 pounds because I do intend to buy the CD once it comes out thus I only paid for the convenience to hear the album 2 months in advance of its CD release.

    I cannot, however, agree with you that this event is not a momentous occassion because of the bit rate affair. The band decided to make a move against a multinational industry for the sake of the integrity of music. After all, they could have not bothered to trouble themselves with any of this and rather signed a record deal right away and locked themselves in a room to play with their millions of dollars. Instead, they opted for the high road and pissed off a lot of powerful people along the way. In my opinion, that is an honourable move.

    This is only a first step. The impact of this event will be evidenced by the future state of affairs of the music industry.

  • zkrog

    I am shocked, simply shocked, that Radiohead did not make each track 5 GB each so as to satiate my bourgeouis need to sound like I know what I’m talking about before I brag about my replacement dick of a stereo system. To be honest, it’s entirely painful for me to listen to these 160 bitrate mp3s on my gold, diamond encrusted headphones. Ugh, worst $5 I ever spent on anything ever. Those jerks!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Considering the whole idea of the digital age was to put an end to “Generational Loss”, I am a firm believer,now, that it is more about convenience.

    I also,personally, think that at any bitrate lower than 320kbps that it isn’t the “sibilants”(?) or supposed hissing sound that you would’ve heard on a cassette but the audio artifacts that ruin the quality which are caused by such a high compression rate. Besides, even if you are using a the Mp3(Lame) codec to rip @ 320kbps it still matters how you are ripping the source material as well as the quality of said source material to come up with a good result.

    Thus, this discussion could go on for days and it all resorts back to “Generational Loss”. From what the band recorded to all the way down to what the producer used to rip those Mp3s.

  • James

    At 160kbps (CBR) there is certainly a difference when sibilants (ssssh sound) sticks out as a sour toe. If the encoding used is new it’s more like 192kbps (old), but the sibilants are still noticeable.

  • For those who don’t think 160kbps is unacceptable, go get your ears cleaned or reserve your judgment.

    I cannot and will not listen to any music encoded below 256kbps mp3. It is simply painful for me.


  • dave parker

    I agree with the reviewer. People who listen to I-pods actually DESERVE 128K files. The rest of us, who have actual, expensive home stereo systems, are pissed that these files are 160, and I WILL hear the difference on my $1000 Klipsch speakers. Additionally, there are people who ponied up full price for this too-short album, and they should also be pissed about the bitrate. The band should have been forthright about this issue, and they chose not to be.

  • if nothing else, this thread proves that a large chunk of the listening public no longer cares about sound quality.

    hmmm…maybe they never did.


  • Thanks, Tom, for the reporting. Your story helped guide my purchase price.

    I still want the big-ass bonus box but am going to have to save up a little to swing that.

  • Tony

    I honestly don’t see what there is to moan about. You could have paid zip for it if you wanted. If you like you can buy the real thing. By the looks of it we’ll get just 10 minutes a side on the vinyl. Now that should sound fantastic.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “someone like Jonny Greenwood who is a gear-guru and electronics expert and in general such an experienced band would have gone with a choice like this.”

    If Radiohead was really concerned about the audiophiles or were such gurus then the $80 box-set would contain the album on a format such as SACD(2.8224MHZ/16-bit) or DVDAudio(96kHZ/24-bit). But, it isn’t going to be because audiophiles don’t dominate the pretentious rock market.

    You are correct, though , that most people already rip @ 256+ kbps because that’s where you really have an issue hearing the difference from CD(not 128kbps – with that compression I would much rather carry a tape player).

  • EED Amnesia

    Would I have bought the album if I’d known it was at 160? Probably, I’m a Radiohead nut from pre-Pablo Honey. Is it satisfactory? No. Lets get some things clear;

    i) In Rainbows is not intended to be *free*. The choose-your-own-payment is called an ‘honesty box’ where you put in *some* value for the goods you are receiving.

    ii) For those listening on bud-earphones off an mp3 player, you probably won’t care about 160kbps rips vs higher quality its true. Saved space on some mp3 players? Also a marginal benefit.

    However if this album had been mastered at 160 onto a cd and you played it through your hi-fi, a sizeable percentage of the population would detect that it was somewhat lacking in sparkle and quality.

    More than that, there are millions and millions of people worldwide who rip cds at 256+ and use FLAC because they can tell the difference and want to listen to their music in a degraded fidelity. This is NOT some audiophile BS – there are many many millions of people who do this already and listen to music through good quality speakers from their pcs.

    While mp3 / bud-earphone players are not affected, this is also 2007 – there are millions of people who own Squeezebox, Sonos and all sorts of other digital players into good speakers / hi-fi.

    I’m somewhat surprised that someone like Jonny Greenwood who is a gear-guru and electronics expert and in general such an experienced band would have gone with a choice like this. It makes a lot of sense from a simplistic bandwidth point of view and perhaps that’s why they’ve done it but it is DEFINITELY not a cd quality release. I hope such a progressive and excellent band does the obvious thing, which is when this initial rush of bandwidth is over, they make highest quality mp3 and FLAC versions releasable for anyone who paid an amount that covers the incremental costs of a bit more bandwidth for higher quality.

  • Ernesto

    From Wikipedia:

    The transparency threshold of MP3 can be estimated to be at about 128 kbit/s with good encoders on typical music as evidenced by its strong performance in the above test, however some particularly difficult material can require 192 kbit/s or higher. As with all lossy formats, some samples can not be encoded to be transparent for all users.

    For digital stereophonic sounds, this transparency threshold of MP3 can be greatly reduced by using the Joint stereo coding mode based on stereo intensity redundancy removal. This feature further reduces the overall bit rate of a stereophonic sound down to 96 kbit/s. Unfortunately, in spite of a wide use of this feature in most MP3 files and all standardized encoders no official results of this transparency level were ever published due to strong lobbying and opposition of the professional music industry.

    With all respect, it seems like the “professional music industry” has found its way through your mind. Really, try and be honest and tell us if you can actually hear any difference between an 160kbps encoded mp3 and a CD. You knew what you were getting (“damaged goods”), because they always said they were mp3s, and everybody knew they were going to release it as a regular CD sometime later. Being the “audiophile” you are, you should’ve bought the vinyl version, since it’s the only way to listen to the record without losing the precious information your ears can’t actually tell..

    I agree that there’s nothing like holding the actual artwork, and considering Stanley Donwood said it’s his best yet, it’s not something Radiohead fans would want to miss, but hey, here’s the band leaking their own album and asking you to pay saomething if you want, after all the music is published by Warner, as I guess you read, (I just don’t want to say it belongs to them, I still want to believe art belongs to the ones who want it).

    One final thing, where you so naïve to really believe five regular men from England could bring down the whole record industry’s standard (bringing down the industry itself is plain impossible for any single artist) and capitalism’s scheme of commercialising even art?

    I really hope you like the record mate, so you cant have some sort of comfort after feeling cheated. I know just minutes from now I’ll be having beautiful experiences because of some “damaged” sounds coming out of my headphones. After all it’s “just” music. Really

    Oh and don’t forget! “We are damaged good, we are rotten food”…

  • Being a long-time reader of Pitchfork Media, I knew some time ago that they would be releasing the CD with a label. In fact, many media sites were talking about the release of this album at least a month ago. It’s almost ignorant not to think that it wouldn’t be released on a label. Also, if you’re a Radiohead fan you should know that the second disc of B-Sides will most likely be released separately as an EP. That’s how they do things. I do feel kind of bad for people who paid more than $3 for the mp3’s, but I stand by the band and do not believe that they would intentionally want to cheat people out of their money. Keep in mind that this is mostly a move against big-business, but Radiohead still need to see some profit for their work. They don’t have the manpower/capability to supply the world with cd’s on a single release day, so they have no choice but to release it with a record label that has worldwide distribution…

    Finally, when the discbox comes out in December you can be sure that excellent quality mp3’s will surface free of charge. I wouldn’t be so upset over any of this.

    And yes, this is still a brilliant and innovative move by a band. 160 or not.

  • Well I just downloaded it and two songs in, this actually sounds pretty damn amazing so far. More in the review in a day or so…


  • YammerAnt

    Guys… it’s F-R-E-E. Just go to “InRainbows.com” and say you want to pay $0.00. After listening to it, you can then pay if you want or remain to keep it for free. Although I’m not positive as to what Radiohead’s plans are by doing this, I can say that I support them and whatever they’ve got going on.

  • Edwin

    I apologize for my overly harsh comments earlier… I just really love radiohead, as I’m sure many of us do. Rhoul: you totally summed up the pro-radiohead sentiment. Well said, well WRITTEN, a joy to read, though the threat of physical violence might be a bit much in retrospect. You’re good though… very good.

    I can understand both sides a little better now, but can we be so sure that the band had dishonest intentions? Why even let the public now about the arguably-dissapointing bit rate before the official release? Why let the word get out and risk potential backlash when you could just send out the files and hope people didn’t immediately investigate the mouth of said gift horse?

    Had I been in the band’s situation, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind that there were enough audiophiles out there to raise a stink about a few… hundred kbps. I thought the world of music journalism had more or less agreed that the 256 kbps DRM-free tunes offered on iTunes a few months back for extra moola were no significant improvement over the standard 128 precedent. It’s almost as if these bloggers will pick a side conveniently in the interest of tearing down the high-rollers, i.e. Apple and Radiohead. Any thoughts?

  • Lossy options such as mp3s are inherently damaged goods.

    You can talk all the gibberish you want, but Radiohead was being deliberately sly when they opted not to inform buyers of the bitrate of the files they were buying (we mistakenly believed they were on our level; we know better now,) and that they planned on releasing a CD of the music at some point. They could easily have done this, but doing so would have compromised the profitability and newsworthiness of their endeavor. In effect, fans have taken part in a stunt that they had to pay for. And what was the end result? What have they proven? Not a whole lot – we already knew people would by digital files. Itunes is proof of that. If they were only concerned with beating the leaks, they could have done that with the “pay as you wish” download and the news that a CD would be forthcoming. Start thinking about this from the band’s angle and things start to look quite different. I’ll say it once again to sum it all up: they had absolutely no reason to keep the bitrate and the future CD release secret.

  • Chris

    …and you’re not paying for “damaged goods”, you’re paying for exactly the goods that you purchased. You have a) no legal precedent; b) no moral precedent; and c) no perspective. The onus is on the consumer to read the fine print and do their own ‘dirty work’.

    As for the great moral degradation perpetrated by those nasty, wicked and downright awful Englishmen, perhaps you had best let that one go. I think you’ll find that, ethically, it’s a moot point at best and and abhorrently skewed point at best. In the immortal phraseology of the generation that brought you the creative license now passed on to Radiohead “get some perspective, man.”

  • Read comment #11, Chris.

  • Chris

    No physicists in this bunch, I’m guessing. 160KB/s is very close to lossless when compared to CD quality. It’s actually not the bit rate that should be of much concern once you reach around the 160 mark (I will admit that it is the bottom of the rung when it comes to good quality bit rates, but nevertheless it is good quality). The other thing I’m wondering is how much of a music lover bit rate snobs really are; if you’re listening that intently for imperfections, are you appreciating the music? I mean, if you care that much about perfection, why are you listening to Radiohead? Listen to a world class orchestra or a savant pianist if perfection is what you desire.

    Do you really care that much about the bit rate, or is it just something to talk about with your WoW buddies?

  • One more thing: rhoul, the last line of your comment reveals the truth about what kind of “human” you are. I’m angry about a consumer injustice and you wish to commit physical harm upon me?

  • I don’t think you get it, rhoul. Radiohead, if indeed their plan is to later release the album conventionally, has deliberately kept those plans quiet, which in turn makes fans believe that this is “it,” which in turn encourages fans to pay up a little more than they would if they knew a CD was coming down the line at some point. This is called “being duped.” It’s not nice, it’s not fair, and if things like this keep up, bands that employ this method are going to get the same reputation that the music industry itself has gotten – that they are simply out to get money out of fans in such a way that they themselves don’t feel particularly guilty. It’s a very convenient way for the band to play off of the natural guilt most people have about taking something – as we see, most people simply will not take the album for free, not when it’s presented as if this is the final, and only final product. Honestly, how many who paid for the mp3s would now have paid for these mp3s knowing that the real CD would be out sometime early next year? I bet the results would have been a lot less impressive, monetarily, had all of the information been shared up front as it should have been. So now how do we know we can trust Radiohead? When the CD comes out, will it be the CD, or will there be a “deluxe” edition in a few more months with the tracks from disc two of the “Disc Box”? I don’t particularly feel I can put much faith in them right now.

  • rhoul

    Bwhaha, duuude. Come on. I cannot believe you are bitching about a free lunch. Did it not occur to you that perhaps Radiohead has thought this plan through a little further than you obviously have?

    Sound fidelity is the one trump card they can still hang on to while beating pirates to the punch with this pay-what-you-want release. By voluntarily flooding the online market preemptively with readily available but slightly inferior product, they maintain a slight edge to market the CD by when it finally comes out to those who will care enough to buy the CD… i.e. you, supposedly.

    I can’t believe you would be naive enough to think that you’d get ALL the goods just like that, up front, for whatever you want to pay for it. lol. Radiohead might be setting precedents, but they aren’t stupid.

    Worse, you have the gall to bitch about it. “Damaged goods”. OH the arrogance. You are simply too much. Nevermind the marketing strategy behind it, you in your infinite consumer need, demand to be satiated, in full, right now. *foot stomp* Pookum’s hungry!!

    $3 isn’t a good enough deal for you either – you’d rather have the band come to your house and demo the new tracks for you themselves… Paying their own way…. And cleaning the bathroom before they leave. Am I right? Come off it, guy. Let’s get some perspective: Who are you, exactly? Some little toad belching his dissatisfaction for his “generous” $3 contribution (note: you paid “extra”). Woe is you. Couldn’t have even made it an even $5 spot? I pay more for a latte, you cheap bastard.

    Do us all a favour and lose the sense of entitlement next time you decide to expound your theories on the digital music market. Turn the WHINE down, offer some actual critical thinking for thought instead of this thinly veiled excuse for bitching, and bring some actual business logic to the table next time to avoid coming off like such a greedy pissant little asshat.

    You seem shocked that Radiohead might position themselves to profit on this. Do you honestly think they run their balls and sanity over the blistered coals of hell for “fans” like you month after year after decade for a pat on the head and a cookie? You actually come off as *offended* that the band might profit “doublely” from their hard work and innovative marketing strategy. Music at this level is a product, funboy. It stops being art when you sell it. You can bet every move the band does is calculated to make them maximum profit. That’s why they call it the music BIZ, bubba.

    Man. I want to hurt you. Seriously. You make me sad humans can breed. 🙁 You deserve every harsh word on this board.

  • Ed

    I agree it should be at the very least vbr 192 or flac. Not everybody is paying $3 some more. It looks like if you want the marginal quality cd you get to pay again full price next year. Worse than double/triple dipping over at Fox.

  • Are most of you who are bitching at me for paying $3 actually reading the piece? Because I state pretty clearly that I was very reluctant for specific reasons – questions of quality, questions of whether we’d get a real CD sometime soon, etc. These are vital parts of the equation when it comes to valuing this music.

    I mean, fer chrissake, there’s one guy actually telling me to buy the CD and rip my own mp3s . . . except we don’t even know that there will definitely be a CD. We can guess that there probably will, but it’s still a guess.

    It doesn’t matter whether I can sit “down in front of your own computer and have you distinguish between 160 and 256,” as one particularly eloquent commenter put it. What matters is that we’re paying for damaged goods. Here’s the thing, see: you can buy a CD now, and have it be pretty damned great sound quality (not perfect, of course – it’s not completely uncompressed, but let’s not niggle here) and you’ll have your choice of what to do with it for ages. Or you can buy mp3s, or iTunes AAC files, or Zune files, or whatever, and you’re stuck. Those files will forever be stuck at the bitrate they are now. And, believe me, on a good sound system, it will make a difference – maybe 14 year olds listening on Apple buds won’t hear it now, but in 15 years and they’re listening on a huge home theater system, they’re going to hear it. And they willingly paid for this.

    Radiohead undertook this bold experiment, but did it in the meekest ways they possibly could. It’s almost as if they already planned a CD release and this was a way to squeeze out a few more dollars from many buyers. How many of us are going to buy the CD when it comes out, despite already owning the music as mp3s? Come on, a show of hands. We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves, but I bet they’re going to say “double purchase!” And yet some blame me for paying $3 – mind you, the Emusic model is about 25 cents a track. I’ll let you do the math, but I think you can figure out that I paid extra. Radiohead’s doing just fine, I’m sure, with users who pay $3. What they’re hoping for are those who pony up the fully CD price and get very little in exchange. You don’t get what you pay for in that case.

    I think what we’ve just seen is one of the first major tiered-launch structures. Digital files for a price now, and the physical media to follow at some later date. It’s just too bad the band couldn’t have been honest about this – and the bitrate of the files – upfront.

  • Like Tom and the rest of you guys, I got the email today as well.

    While I admit to sharing some of Tom’s concerns, I’m just going to withhold judgment until I’ve actually downloaded and listened to this.

    Again, my position is that I ultimately prefer something tangible that I can hold in my hands, read liner notes, look at cover art, etc, while I listen to it. I’m just not willing to pay $80. for it (especially since all indications point to this being available in stores by January).

    I guess I’m just “old school” that way.

    As to the download, I basically did the same with “Hail To The Thief” when it was widely available as a free download about a month prior to the physical release (and I wont go into the resulting spy ware nightmare I had as a result).

    Anyway, by the time it was out on CD, the recording quality was such a marked improvement over the oversized file that sat on my desktop, that I eventually just got rid of it.

    I suspect it wont be that much different this time around (well, except for the spy ware frying my hard drive part anyway). In the meantime, I’m curious enough about the release to take part in this experiment — and withhold comment until I actually hear it.


  • Well, considering it’s still bound to Warner (read the Terms page ) they will probably release a ‘standard’ CD next year. I just paid less than I would normally because it’s 160kbps, so I can at least listen to it legally while I wait for the CD next year. (I doubt Warner won’t release it as a ‘normal’ CD in shops, etc)

  • Steve

    To all you bitching about his $3…

    Radiohead getting $3 from this guy is more than they probably got from you idiots spending $15 on their last album at your local soulless enormo-mart.

    $3 straight to the band is still a better deal than most bands have with their label.

    And really, an album of mp3’s is worth $4 or $5, tops, since you don’t actually OWN anything, and those files are gone the second you have a hard drive failure. Sell your albums online for $4 and take all of it…it’s still a better deal than signing with a label and getting $1 per disc, if that.

  • Jim

    What a moaner! I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to buy an MP3 player with double the capacity just to listen to MP3s at 256kbs. I listen at 128kbs out of necessity but I’m not so cheap that I’d pay 3 dollars for an album and have an online tantrum about bitrate.

    In my view they want people to think about how they value music, what they buy and why they buy it and you’re blog is proof that it’s working!

  • Kevin

    Bigger is better . . . isn’t that the American creedo?

  • Nick

    Honestly, that’s why you buy the CD and rip your mp3s yourself. If you want something done right, do it yourself.

    To complain about the quality of a FREE download, or to use that as evidence of a lack of forward thinking on the artist’s part seems really ungrateful. Moreover, I can guarantee you that the kiddies who plan on blasting the music so loud they can’t hear it are the ones who are going to appreciate this album a lot more than a cynical blogger who can’t accept less than WAV quality… so which one would YOU cater to?

    …that’s what I thought. I’m sure Radiohead appreciates your three bucks.

  • man, what is it about the internet that makes people want to unzip their heads and let their pathetic leetle intellects flop out for the whole world to see?

  • Edwin

    Wow, what an ungrateful, griping little cynic you are. You paid three dollars, shut your worthless little mouth. I would love to sit you down in front of your own computer and have you distinguish between 160 and 256. Geez, shut up.

  • I agree with you, I got my e-mail today as well and I was shocked that not only are they putting it in a zip file (probably the most old fashioned way to distribute music on the internet out there), but were 160 kbps quality. All I have to say is that I hope the music is really really good to make up for it. We’ll see.