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Sunday
Jan152012

iTunes Mismatch

iTunes Match is a great convenience. For only $25 per year it promises to consolidate your music library, and allow you to download content from your now consolidated music library in the clould with up to 5 Macs or PCs and up to 5 iOS devices … assuming they all share the same Apple ID. It may even upgrade your old content with higher quality content (256 kbps AAC), and this even applies to any older tracks that you purchased from the iTunes store (again … with the same Apple ID). iTunes Match should replace those old lower quality DRMed 128 kbps AAC files with 256 kpbs AAC versions that are free of DRM. Sound too good to be true? Don’t be so cynical! But, yeah. There are some gotchas.

iTunes Match is not for everyone. It does not work with lossless audio files  (e.g. ALAC, WAV or AIFF) nor does it work with very low quality audio files (AAC or MP3 files recorded at 96 kbps or less). Actually, iTunes Match will process high quality lossless audio files, but it will not store any of these lossless files in the cloud. Instead of using lossless audio, iTunes Match creates a temporary 256 kbps AAC version of your lossless files locally; and it is this AAC file that gets stored in the cloud. Even the lossless-to-AAC conversion won’t happen if the source (?) file is more than 200MB in size. Which is weird as the size of the source file shouldn’t matter at all - it is the size of the resulting AAC file that should matter! Given these limitations, iTunes Match is not a great way to share music between full-size computers (where file size is probably not much of a concern); but, admittedly, it is very convenient for automatically shoehorning slightly degraded AAC versions of your high quality music onto your iOS devices.

Another disappointment has to do with Smart Playlists and iTunes Match. If a Smart Playlist is based on another Smart Playlist, then the whole playlist is ineligible. I guess this is the safest route that Apple could take, but it means that almost all my Smart Playlists are ineligible for use with iTunes Match. If I had known this ahead of time, I would never have bothered with iTunes Match.

There are also some tracks that don’t match even when they should. I have an album that I purchased from iTunes. All but one of the tracks match. That one track won’t match no matter what I do. Weird, and frustrating.

My conclusion is that iTunes Match is not for those that value audio quality over convenience - especially if you listen to music primarily from a PC or Mac with even fairly modest audio gear. It should go without saying that the limitations of iTunes Match will be in the face of audiophiles at every turn, and such users had best stand clear of this service. At least that has been my experience; I won’t be renewing iTunes Match!

Apple has some useful information online, including these tidbits from the bottom of the Troubleshooting iTunes Match article:

  • Songs encoded as MP3 or AAC that have been matched to the iTunes Store will be made available for download as 256 kbps as AAC from iCloud. 
  • Songs encoded as MP3 or AAC that cannot be matched to the iTunes Store will be uploaded as is. These songs will be made available for download in the same format it was uploaded in.
  • Songs encoded as MP3 or AAC that do not meet certain quality criteria will not be matched or uploaded to iCloud.
  • Songs encoded as ALAC, WAV, or AIFF, will be transcoded in iTunes to 256 kbps AAC when uploaded to iCloud.
  • Song files over 200 MB will not be uploaded to iCloud.
  • Matched songs in your local library will not automatically be transcoded to 256 kbps AAC. To obtain a higher quality transcoding, download the matched songs from iCloud.

I found the article on Understanding iCloud Status Icons depressingly necessary. Yep. There are just too many high def ALAC files in my music library; files that iTunes Match refuses to work with.  :(

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