It’s no longer possible to browse for classical CDs at a store, and the stores that still carry some CDs won’t have anything more impressive than “Mozart’s Greatest Hits,” so I decided to look at streaming services that specialize in classical music. After looking at a few other places I dropped in on naxos.com, where I’ve bought some CDs before. They have the Naxos Music Library, which offers on-demand streaming of a huge number of CDs. At $21 a month, it’s not dirt cheap, but I listen to enough music to justify it, so I subscribed.
Once I was able to use it, it was great. It really does have lots of recordings of lots of composers; they claim over 100,000 CDs, and I can believe it. They have every work I’ve looked for so far. A nice feature is that they didn’t just make the tracks available; they’re grouped by work, so that if, for example, a CD has three Haydn symphonies on it, you can pick each of the symphonies by checking one box and playing your selections. You can also pick individual tracks or just play the whole CD. There’s textual information about most works. You can browse by composer, artist, genre, or label, or do a keyword search.
There are some areas for improvement. The most critical is that it uses HTTP, not encrypted HTTPS, for logging in. There is no excuse for any paid service not to use HTTPS for login. (Update: I’m now seeing an HTTPS URL. I’m not sure whether they added it or it was a Firefox issue. Firefox tries really hard to hide secure URLs, showing me only HTTP auto-completes even I start typing a URL with “https:”.) They use worldpay.com for processing payment, and it does use HTTPS, though it weirdly limits passwords to 12 characters. (Storage is cheap, guys!) The sound quality for the standard subscription is described as “near-CD” quality, but it seems to fall noticeably short to me, and I don’t have especially sensitive ears. You can get higher-quality audio by paying more. Some CDs are copyright-restricted; I found this to be the case with several recordings of Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord,” written in 1877. (That may explain how the chord got lost.)
The most annoying problem was in trying to log in. After I registered, my login failed. The registration process told me it could take up to an hour for my account to become active, so I didn’t worry too much. Later I came back to naxos.com and tried again; still nothing. I tried clicking the “Forgot password” link, and was told that there was no account with my email address.
After a few hours with no better results, I decided it was time to write to customer service. I pointed out that I’d received an email acknowledgement, so I couldn’t have mistyped my email address. This was in the evening; I got a reply early the next morning, so give them points for promptness. However, the reply merely said that my account was working, so I must have been entering my login information wrong.
Eventually I figured out that I had to go to naxosmusiclibrary.com to log in; accounts on naxos.com apparently are entirely different. I was able to log in from naxosmusiclibrary.com without any trouble. Surely this is a common enough mistake that customer service should have suggested it.
In spite of the problems, I think so far this is a great deal. I’ve been rediscovering works that I haven’t heard in decades and exploring areas that I hadn’t ventured into before. It was especially pleasant to hear Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony (the uncut version) for the first time in decades; it has some of his best channeling of Tchaikovsky. Just make sure not to reuse a valuable password when you register.