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MusicGiants Leaps Into Custom Market

Start-up MusicGiants just launched its CD-quality download service, but it is already planning on giving consumers more ways to download its compressed music files directly to home audio and to distributed audio systems.

The company has licensed about 500,000 tracks from all four major record companies and is targeting custom installers to market its download service, which is accessible from any broadband-connected Windows XP or Windows 2000 PC. It is also accessible from the company’s broadband-connected $9,500 XP-based single-zone music jukebox, dubbed the SoundVault and intended for home theater room installation.

The company, however, is licensing out its technology to multi-zone music-server suppliers and expects “numerous” companies later this year to offer MusicGiants-compatible music servers that will download and play back songs and albums in protected WMA lossless format, which uses a variable-bit rate encoder to compress music files by up to 50 percent and decompress the files with bit-for-bit accuracy, said president John Williams. Many multi-zone servers currently in suppliers’ lineups will readily support MusicGiants software, he said, because those servers are XP- or Linux-based and thus compatible with the Windows Media 9 software that incorporates WMA lossless.

Nonetheless, MusicGiants is also working with suppliers whose servers aren’t XP- or Linux-based, he noted.

One of the first multi-zone servers equipped to download songs directly from the MusicGiants’ site will be marketed by Audio Design Associates, which is modifying its XP-based iHome Multi-Center 1 and is targeting availability as early as late October, ADA said. MusicGiants is also working with custom suppliers AMX, Crestron and Elan, Williams said.

MusicGiants is also reaching out to independent labels to bolster its selection of classical and jazz music and hopes by January to begin offering a selection of 5.1-channel music, which is supported by the WMA 9 player.

With multichannel and high-quality two-channel recordings, MusicGiants is targeting the same demographic as custom installers, the company said. The customers are expected generally to be more than 30 years old and relatively affluent. They’re also music enthusiasts who are concerned with audio-playback quality, the company said.

Because of target customers’ concern for music quality, the company is using WMA lossless for its download service, allowing the CD ripper/burner in its SoundVault jukebox to rip CDs in WMA lossless, and supporting music-file bit rates of up to 1.1Mbps compared to other download services’ 128Kbps to 256Kbps.

The Sound Vault ships with a wireless keyboard and mouse and features a 400GB HDD capable of storing up to 10,000 songs in lossless WMA. It also incorporates a single-disc CD burner/ripper that lets consumers rip their own CDs and make CDs of downloaded WMA lossless songs, with a song able to be copied to up to three CDs.

As befits its demographic and its lossless encoding, MusicGiants is charging more for its downloads than other sites, at $1.29 per song or $15.29 per album.