PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2005, 12:00am

Until three weeks ago, my entire collection of digital music had been ripped from CDs bought from brick and mortar shops. When I had an iPod, I wanted to buy music via iTunes, but couldn't because I don't own a credit card with a United States billing address. Having made my first digital music purchase in Hong Kong on Eolasia.com last month, I am now ready to embrace the digital music experience to its fullest.

I bought my first digital song for $10.50. I consider this to be expensive because Canto-pop CDs usually cost less than $80. It seems even more expensive when one considers the sound quality of digital music is bound to be inferior to CDs because it is encoded in 'lossy' formats, be it WMA, MP3, Ogg or AAC.

The song I bought was encoded in WMA using a sampling bit rate of 256 kilobits per second (kbps). I don't have discerning ears, so sound quality is not a great concern. I bought the song because it was a 'pre-release' and it wasn't available as part of a CD album. A few days later, I bought another version of the same song from Eolasia.com.

When I read about Soundbuzz.com (Technology Post, August 9), I checked it out that morning and found that the two songs I had bought at Eolasia.com were available for $8 each, almost 24 per cent cheaper. While Eolasia.com listed those songs at $10.50 each that morning, it had cut the price to $9.50 each in the afternoon. Soundbuzz.com was still about 16 per cent cheaper.

I therefore signed up with Soundbuzz.com for a free account and purchased three songs right away. After downloading them, I soon found out that I didn't overpay Eolasia.com after all. While Eolasia.com clearly and prominently lists the digital rights and sampling rate used to encode each song, Soundbuzz.com does not.

I could not find such information during the entire ordering process. It turned out the songs I bought were encoded with a sampling rate of 128kbps. They are available at Eolasia.com at 256kbps. I suspect most of Soundbuzz.com's catalogue, if not all, is encoded at a 128kbps bit rate. But I can't say for sure unless I purchase and download more songs.

Mathematically, music at Soundbuzz.com is 50 per cent more compressed than songs at Eolasia.com. So unless they are 50 per cent cheaper, I will stick with Eolasia.com in future. I can also take advantage of the points that I earn from purchases made to redeem even more songs. Digital or analogue, consumers like perks in the absence of a bargain.

Roderick Kar

Hong Kong