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Review: ProStudioMasters High-res Music Distribution Service


Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Feb 13, 2016
Seattle Area
This is a review of the PROSTUDIOMASTERS, a distributor of high-resolution music content: http://www.prostudiomasters.com/

I first ran into this site when I was at Sony’s web site looking at their high-res music page. A link for content took me to ProStudioMasters. What I found was a delightful experience. Modern, interactive and fast user interface that easily leaves all of their competitors behind. When I am interacting with other sites, they feel like what music distribution looked before iTunes revolution. Primitive web sites, lousy payment methods, and all around ancient experience. What a breath of fresh air it was to land on ProStudioMasters and not see most of these issues. Let me dig in to show you why.

User Interface
Here it is:

Modern, “web 2.0” interface that is a delight to look at, and highlights the album art nicely.

Notice how under each album you see the highest download and bit rate available. A lot of time I avoid 44.1 KHz content because I can find it much cheaper on CD (although not always) and want to see that before I dig in. This interface lets me do that. Competing sites don’t show this and you only see the info after you drill down into the album

Relative to other sites such as HDtracks, the web site is very fast. What takes 4-5 seconds there, takes 1-2 seconds here. This is a big deal if you are browsing and sampling a lot of music as I usually do.

The best part is this: click on any album and you get a pop up for that album to preview or buy:

No, this is not the magic. The magic comes when you click on those preview play buttons: in 99% of the cases you can listen to the entire track!!! Yes, you read that right. No 30 second preview. If you like, you can preview the full album! Priceless.

This, together with high performance of the site makes it great to sample and buy. Every visit there costs me $200 because of this :). You can literally spend one or two hours there, sampling and buying music. This alone makes the site a top choice for me.

You see three tabs here, one for the track listing above and the second shows editorial and professional reviews:

Small thing but nice: when you are listening to the tracks and click on this tab, the music continues to play. On HDtracks for example, music will stop. Why? I like to keep previewing as I read about the title. Also different from HDtracks is that I have yet to find a single album that doesn’t have populated editorial/reviews. On HDtracks 20 to 30% of the time I find a one-liner copyright message and that is it. I routinely decide to purchase an album based on what I read here.

Clicking the third tab gives data on technical aspects of the recording:

Alas, this is not always here. On the previous album it just had the sampling rate (the first line) and that was it. On the positive side, it sometimes has more detail like exactly what was used to record the music and its sample rate, etc.

Purchase Experience
You add albums to the cart and check out as usual. After setting up an account, you can use a credit card like any proper ecommerce site rather than the horrors of horrors, PayPal. The experience is like Amazon, not some third-rate site popping up new logins for PayPal and such. It can remember your credit card information and then check out then is one click away.

HDtracks also supports independent clearing of Credit Cards (in addition to PayPal) but sadly, even though it has a checkbox for this feature, it will not remember your credit card details. While that may be better from security point of view, my fingers fall off typing all that information in on every music purchase. I now use PayPal with my credit card linked to it but I prefer to not do that.

Download Manager
ProStudioMasters is one of only two sites I have found that has its own download manager (the other being HDtracks). The first time it installs the manager and from then on, when you are done paying, it is one click away from automatic invocation:

This is a live shot of my music purchases tonight. Compare this to the abomination that is used by many other sites, requiring clicking on a link and having files be downloaded by the browser, in zip files and such. Everything works beautifully here and if you put your PC to sleep and such, you can restart automatically.

As good as this is, the HDtracks downloader written by JRiver for them beats ProStudioMasters’ in speed. HDtracks downloader is “multi-threaded” which means it downloads multiple tracks at once. This increases the throughput substantially over ProStudioMasters (if you have a very fast link to the Internet which I have). That said, in practice it doesn’t matter much as I download in the background and at some point go and find the files.

Speaking of finding files, that is another minor miss. The ProStudioMasters downloader puts all the files in a folder on your desktop! HDtracks’ one nicely places them in My Music folder under HDtracks name. Small nit but should be fixed. No one keeps their music on their desktop. I suspect they did this because novices may not look for the files in My Music.

With so much music out there, searching is a key feature. On that front, the implementation here is at best average. Don’t expect anything like Google or Amazon search here. You better spell things right or it won’t find anything. Most of the time I will search their site using google externally.

Compared to HDtracks, the search is actually better. I have much better luck/trust in ProStudioMasters search feature than HDTracks which I practically find useless.

Breath of Content and Pricing
For newly released content, ProStudioMasters, more or less gets the same titles other distributors like HDtracks and Pono get. There are some differences of course as each site has a different deal with respect to independent labels and such. But 80% of what gets release this week, will show up here as well as others.

Where ProStudioMasters falls behind is depth of catalog. Being a newer site it simply does not have what HDtracks has in its catalog. If I were to guess, I would say they have 50 to 60% of what I have been looking for relative to HDtracks. And of course neither holds a candle to sites that focus on say classical music. Or remotely what you find on Amazon or iTunes.

Pricing is more or less competitive. Like others, if they offer multiple sample rates, the price keeps increasing proportional to that. Sometimes this reaches as high as $40! What helps here and with other sites, is subscribing to their newsletter where you routinely get 15 to 20% discount codes. With that, the prices become reasonable premium over CDs and sometimes a bit cheaper. For new releases by the way, the prices are almost always identical to HDtracks within a few cents. So price shopping outside of specials is not that helpful.

Not all is perfect though. As good as ProStudioMasters is, it still loses to mass market sites like iTunes and Amazon:

1. No user ratings for any albums. HDtracks lacks this too but at least they have sorted albums by “top Jazz” and such. Nothing like that is here. I like to see two ratings: one for content and one for fidelity.

2. No way to know if you have bought some album before. Amazon shows this. It is not hard to program at all. But it is not here. I have gotten to a point where I buy music based on how nice it sounds, not who it is from. So the chance of buying something a second time is high. And unlike Amazon with CDs, I can’t return them.

3. The offered sample rate is often the one in the middle. If for example the max is 192 KHz, it will default to 96 KHz. This is likely done to keep sticker shock away with a lower price but I like to know that there is a higher bit rate available. So I have to keep clicking on the drop down menu to see if there is anything higher. Most of the time there is not so I wind up wasting time there. Thankfully I am still listening to previews but still, this should be fixed with a preference setting.

4. No wish list. No, I am not having anyone go and buy music for me :). I use the wish list to park music there. Why? Because there is no coupon at the moment and there may be tomorrow in my mailbox. HDtracks has a wish list but I find it buggy. Still, I take that over nothing here.

While I have not used every download site, the ones I have used lag far behind ProStudioMasters. It pains me to say this as I am personal friend with David Chesky, the founder of HDtracks. But I have to be transparent and say that if you want an enjoyable experience shopping for music, ProStudioMasters is it. I still go to HDtracks to buy content they don’t have, or if I have a coupon for HDtracks and don’t have for ProStudioMasters.

ProStudioMasters has my highest recommendation for a high-resolution digital music purchase site.

P.S. I have no commercial connection to ProStudioMasters. I have paid for all of my own music and have not been offered anything extra. Nor do they know I am writing this review.

P.P.S. For Canadian members, you may want to know that ProStudioMasters is located in Canada!
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