There have been a lot of changes in digital music recently, many of them favorable for consumers.

People are recognizing the value of the MP3 format, free of any licensing restrictions. If you are ripping your CDs, make sure you use the MP3 format at a high enough bit rate to preserve the quality of the music! This requires a simple change in the settings, regardless of what software you use. Here’s my notes about that process.

Amazon.com is selling high-quality MP3 music from all major labels. The recording industry decided to use Amazon to break the de facto iTunes monopoly on online music, so Amazon was given the rights by all four major labels to sell music with no restrictions for less money than iTunes. Amazon just announced it will be selling online music internationally, just ahead of the publicity blitz that will be launched during the Superbowl for its music giveaway with Pepsi. If you’re using iTunes, Amazon’s software will automatically insert your new purchases into your iTunes library. It is a very appealing way to get new music! Click here to explore Amazon’s MP3 store.

Media Jukebox is the perfect software for your music. It is completely free, it has the Amazon MP3 store built into it, it supports iPods and all other handhelds, and it has the best features of any music software – better than iTunes in many ways. Its big brother, J River Media Center, is also able to work with photos and videos, but many of you might prefer Media Jukebox for its simplicity and focus on music.

If you listen to music on a computer, treat yourself to good speakers or headphones. You spend hours at a computer every day. Treat yourself to a big monitor and don’t overlook the difference that it makes to have your music sound full and rich. Logitech’s new G51 5.1 speakers not only sound great, they have a well-designed desktop console with well-chosen controls for volume, balance, mute and headphones, plus a very satisfying matrix mode to create surround sound from your 2-channel music.

I’ve never regretted indulging in a nice pair of headphones. It’s a very personal choice but for what it’s worth, these Grado SR60 headphones are an incredible value for well under a hundred bucks. I opted for these Sennheiser HD595 headphones for myself; I can wear them for hours without fatigue and the sound is crisp and pure. (Amazon is selling them for $250 today. It’s unclear why they were significantly less a few weeks ago. Prices seem to jump around oddly on headphones – shop around!)

Enjoy the music!