- On Monday, October 28, Listen.com released v2.0 of Rhapsody, the interactive listening service that now features unlimited 99-cent track burns to blank CD. Rhapsody members must subscribe to the All Access subscription plan to burn tracks. Not all Library tracks are available for burning. Classical tracks from the distinct Naxos catalog are exempt from the All Access burning plan, though they can still be playlisted. Naxos-only burning is supported in a separate plan offered to members of a dedicated subscription tier.
* All Access members must upgrade to log into Rhapsody.
* My auto-upgrade failed through the client; I was guided by customer support through an alternate route.
* The service’s look-and-feel is unchanged from v1.5. I’m told that significant improvements to server-side databasing have been accomplished.
* Library and playlist data is transferred seamlessly to the new version.
* All operation is basically unchanged, except for the addition of burning.
* Mix and match tracks from disparate albums without limitation. (80-minute length limit.)
* Unlimited number of burns per month at 99 cents per track.
* Effortless and transparent burning system involves nothing more than selecting tracks, inserting a blank CD, approving the payment total, and clicking a button. Payment is extracted from the credit card on record.
* The pre-burning “Prepare CD” phase requires several minutes, during which cable-modem lights indicate that a download is progressing. This step takes roughly as long as you’d expect to download compressed files of the selected tracks. Rhapsody’s standard installation establishes a hard drive cache of between 250 and 1,000 megs, so perhaps tracks are stored there for burning. At any rate, burning is definitely not attempted from a live stream, which is a relief.
* Browsing and listening within Rhapsody are not available during burning.
* Burns are in Red Book Audio. The CD is ejected when finished.
RIPPING BURNED TRACKS TO MP3:
* Ripping a Rhapsody-burned CD in AudioCatalyst is uneventful, except that in one case CDDB look-up uncovered nine matches of a complete album (Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory”) burned from Rhapsody.
* The burning-ripping method represents a circuitous way to acquire authorized MP3s from Rhapsody.
* Cost of Linkin Park “Hybrid Theory” CD (12 tracks): $11.88 vs. $13.49 at Amazon.
* Downside: audio quality is presumably inferior; no art.
* Upside: one burns only selected tracks; art is irrelevent to many in the MP3 lifestyle.
* Value Summary: I believe 99 cents is a fair price for full ownership of an auditioned track. The monthly subscription fee provides much more than mere access to a music store, because members can audition full tracks indefinitely and use Rhapsody as an interactive listening service in its own right. As a product-oriented retail outlet, Rhapsody now offers a budget alternative to the traditional CD purchase. In fact, once the catalog fills out (even if the per-track price doesn’t drop, though it probably will), I expect this type of authorized service to erode CD sales more than unauthorized file-sharing does.
FINDING BURNABLE TRACKS:
* When v2.0 was installed I had albums from several non-classical artists in My Library, including Chico Hamilton, Deep Forest, Jesse Cook, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Linkin Park, Norah Jones, Pink (don’t ask), Rachelle Ferrell, Ronny Jordan, and William Orbit. Of these, Linkin Park was the only artist with burnable tracks.
* A small red “burn” icon, supposed to appear “throughout the service,” does not appear next to artist names on Key Artists or Most Popular Artists lists–you must drill down to a page dedicated to that artist before learning whether the artist is burnable. Nor does the icon appear in the track control panel when a burnable track is playing as part of a station mix. So, burnable material is hard to find. I achieved some success (and fun) by searching the service by song title, a method that spins out matches by many artists. Following the burn icon from there is rewarding. In my preliminary experience with Rhapsody v2.0, I’ve found artists to be either entirely burnable (all tracks) or entirely unavailable for burning.
* High-profile participants: Linkin Park, Eminem.
* The “Buy CD” link still lurks on album pages featuring burnable tracks, in an ironic denial of imminent realities. This is the kind of service that, when mature, will drive packaged CDs toward oblivion.
UPSHOT AND PROGNOSIS:
This is impulse buying! Tempting, compelling, addictive. We’ve got a taste of the future now. Notice that Rhapsody keeps delivering the most legitimate glimpses of true celestiality. This new version, as it stands today, is a fleeting glimpse to be sure, with barely enough burnable material to open this service for business. But I’m glad Listen didn’t wait, just as I delighted in the initial, spotty rollout of Rhapsody. Yes, the process is ass-backwards: I want to pay for downloads that I can burn, not burns that I can rip. But either way, unsecured music files are delivered to a disc, ready for manipulation and transportation.
The sparse burnable catalog is a serious problem that must be rectified quickly, before disappointment sets in and interest fades, if Rhapsody is to gain any marketplace traction with this new gambit. Imagine … I download maybe one gigabyte of music every month from EMusic, and nobody makes a dime. Here, I’m lusting to spend per-unit money, in an environment that presumably offers everyone involved a decent split. But there’s almost no product to choose from! I want to be addicted. I’m dying to create and burn dozens of compilation albums drawn from Rhapsody’s worthy catalog. This is not a time for the content owners to be short-sighted boneheads…..