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Make Sure to Back Up Audiobooks Purchased from the iTunes Store; You Can’t Re-Download Them

In this week’s Ask the iTunes Guy column at Macworld, I discuss an issue with audiobook chapters, and I close by recommending that audiobook listeners buy from

Audible’s books can be cheaper than the same books from Apple—you can get a book-a-month plan for $15 a month, and other plans can cost even less. If you’re a big audiobook listener, Audible is the better deal.

It’s a better deal, but there’s something else I hadn’t realized. Unlike other content on the iTunes Store, you cannot re-download audiobooks. I never noticed this, never needing to re-download the couple I bought from the iTunes Store.

But a reader wrote me today, pointing this out, saying that he had some issues with getting his large audiobook collection onto a new iPod.

Audible iosI now strongly recommend that audiobook listeners avoid buying from the iTunes Store. Not only is it more expensive, but if you lose your files, you can’t even get copies. Audible provides you with a Library page where you can download your books at any time, and Audible’s iOS app shows you all your books, and lets you download them at any time.

There’s no excuse for Apple’s not allowing you to re-download audiobooks. It’s worth noting that Audible provides audiobooks to the iTunes Store, so they’re the only one with the content anyway. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Amazon owns Audible?

Use the Mac App Store Debug Menu

This isn’t new, but my son stumbled on something today. His Mac App Store app displays a Debug menu. When I looked this up, I find traces of it as far back as this 2011 post on the Red Sweater blog. Daniel Jalkut’s article ends with this statement:

“Enjoy it while you can. I’m sure it will be gone in the next update, especially if anybody at Apple sees this post.”

Well, three and a half years later, it’s still there.

App Store001.png

To display this menu, open Terminal and enter the following command and relaunch the Mac App Store app:

defaults write ShowDebugMenu -bool true

(My son never entered the Terminal command, so I suspect there’s also a secret keyboard shortcut that turns on this menu.)

To remove the debug menu, choose Debug > Enable Debug Menu, which unchecks that menu item. Relaunch the Mac App Store app and it will no longer display.

So what can you do with this menu? Well, you might want to clear cookies, if you’re having trouble downloading items, or you might want to view the download folder, to delete it, again, if downloads are not working. And the Reset Application menu item might be a last resort if you can’t download apps, get updates, or purchase apps.

Much of the rest of the menu is about debugging and logging, and these might be useful for Apple’s tech support team.

So this menu doesn’t offer many useful commands, but some might help if you’re stuck trying to purchase or download apps from the Mac App Store.

The iTunes Guy Looks at Magic and More

itunesguy-thum-100004188-gallery.jpgIt’s easy to forget that some of the technology we use is, to paraphrase a great author, nearly indistinguishable from voodoo. One reader wrote in asking for some clarification about lossless compression, and I explain the magic in this week’s column. I also look at a question about iOS device backups, and one about missing audiobook chapters in iOS.

Read this week’s Ask the iTunes Guy at Macworld.

The Guardian Looks at High-Res Music, and Gets a Lot Wrong

An article in the Guardian today, How much difference is there between MP3, CD and 24-bit audio?, examines a question I’ve looked at here often: can you here a difference between high-resolution music and CD-quality music?

They discuss “24-bit audio,” without talking about sample rates. Most “high-res” music is 24/96, or 24-bit, 96 kHz, but they treat the subject as though the 24-bit depth is all that matters. [1]

They go on to test high-res music, and to do so, enlist a purveyor of such music, Linn Records. Now, one could argue that it’s best to examine a product by a company that sells it, but Linn Records is interested in proving a certain outcome in any such tests. This company set up tests, using their own “high-quality system and speakers.”

The problem with the test is, according to the way it was described, it wasn’t blind. One of the test subjects says:

…listening a very high-quality set of Linn speakers, going from low quality MP3, to high-quality MP3 and finally the high resolution studio master,

If they know what they’re listening to, their confirmation bias enters into the equation. But the same person goes on to say:

My impression at the end of our listening session was that yes, there’s a distinct quality difference between the kind of compressed, middling MP3 commonly downloaded from the major platforms and the 24-bit high-res studio master. But mostly I found the CD-quality track on Linn’s superb hi-fi equipment to be the overall best listen for my particular ears.

When vendors of these products run tests, they generally start with a crappy MP3 rip; the kind that no one listens to any more. I don’t know what the “middling MP3 commonly downloaded from the major platforms” is, because the test claimed to also include a 320 kbps MP3 file, which is not “middling.”

But the article does point out one thing that I’ve often mentioned:

But that difference wasn’t always a good thing. It was disappointing to hear a recording of Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma sound worse in studio master, as it exposed the fact that the orchestra and the tenor’s tracks were recorded separately in different environments. They sounded disconnected – something that is masked in the CD version.

A bad master can sound worse in a higher resolution; however, this is likely only to be noticeable on a very high-end stereo. And what the person heard is likely not a different environment, but different miking. It’s possible, however, that either the singer or the orchestral parts had a slightly different amount of reverb applied to them.

So the Guardian articles did three things wrong: they got someone interested in proving that high-res music is better to run a test (who chose which recordings were tested); that test was done on high-end equipment, that none of them could probably afford; and the test wasn’t blind. At least their comments weren’t astounding praise of the music quality, but they’ve misled readers by falling into a test using the conditions that a retailer wanted, rather than truly objective conditions.

  1. I wasn’t going to niggle about the “44 kHz sample rate” they discuss, but after an email from a friend, I decided to add a comment. It’s not hard to get a number right: it’s 44.1 kHz, and it’s easy enough to find out. But it’s typical of The Guardian’s tech reporting that they get the details wrong too. (I’m reminded of an article about Android phones they ran a couple of months ago, illustrated by a photo of an iPhone.)  ↩

Save Disk Space by Moving iOS Device Software Updates to an External Disk

If you’ve got an SSD in your Mac, you probably have limited storage. With most SSDs only 256 GB, you can quickly run out of disk space, especially if you have lots of music or videos. Every gigabyte may count with an SSD.

There are some files you can easily offload to an external hard drive; assuming you have one. One type of file is iOS device software updates. Unless you download iOS software and updates directly on your devices, you’ll have some pretty large files hanging out on your SSD.

First, check and see how much space they take up. In the Finder, choose Go > Go to Folder, and type ~/Library/iTunes. You’ll find one or more folders here which contain software updates:


Each of these Software Update folders may contain just the latest update to the software for the device(s) you own, or it may contain several. If you’ve never looked in these folders, you may be surprised how many updates they contain, each of which – for iOS devices – is more than 1 GB.

You can safely move all of these folders to an external disk. If you even need to restore an iOS device, you can either re-download the software (if you have a fast internet connection), or choose one of the files on your external disk; the software doesn’t need to be on your startup disk. To do this, hold down the Option key and click Restore. A dialog will ask you to locate the software; navigate to it, select it, and restore.

In the future, it’s good to remember that these folders can hold large files. If space is at a premium, think about moving or deleting them.

The Committed Podcast Discusses Travel and Tech Gear

The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01You know how, sometimes, you take a trip and you have all this stuff to take with you? On this week’s episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths and I discuss the way we each plan for trips – local and international – and which gadgets we take with us. Rob tells us more about his drowned and resuscitated iPhone. And we briefly discuss Apple’s Enterprise Developer Program. We also find out that my pick of the week is one of Ian’s faves.

Listen to The Committed, Episode 46: Minimum Viable Backpack.

Get Three Years of VPN Service from VPN Unlimited for Only $19

There are lots of reasons to use a VPN. You may want your internet activities to be encrypted; you may want to be safer when surfing on public wifi hotspots; you may simply want to be sure that when you access certain websites your IP address can’t be traced.

For me, the main reason to use a VPN is to access web sites in other countries that block content because of my location. This is mostly the case for US sites, for services that don’t allow access to people outside the US.

For this reason, I jumped at the chance to grab a three-year subscription to VPN Unlimited for only $19. I had tried the service out a couple of months ago, but hadn’t yet decided to pony up the money, but at that price – three years for the price of one – you can’t beat it.

VPN Unlimited is easy to use, and offers servers in a number of countries. There are apps for all platforms: Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android.

VPN Unlimited002.png

So, next year, I’ll be able to watch the Tour de France on the French TV web feed instead of here in the UK, where there are 20 minutes of commercials an hour. That alone is worth the $19.

Get your three-year subscription to VPN Unlimited here.

Streamline Email Creation by Deleting Previous Email Recipients in Apple Mail

Apple’s Mail for OS X has a feature whereby it stores your previous recipients so you can quickly address new emails to people you’ve already communicated with. This helps make emailing quicker, since you may need to email people who aren’t in your Contacts list.

In addition, your iCloud account syncs these previous recipients to your iOS devices (if you sync contacts with iCloud), so if you’ve emailed someone on your Mac, their address will be quickly available on your iPhone.

However, these previous recipients can get in the way, especially if you reply to a lot of people who you don’t want to keep as contacts. From time to time, I go through the list to cull those people I don’t plan to be emailing again, so when Mail suggests auto-completion for email addresses, there aren’t too many.

You can only do this in Mail on OS X; there’s no way to clear these addresses on iOS devices. In Mail, choose Window > Previous Recipients. (Sorry, I have to blur all the names and addresses…)


You’ll see names, email addresses, and the date you last sent an email to each person. You’ll also see icons in the loft column for those people who are in your Contacts.

Here’s how I cull them. I first click the leftmost column header to sort all those people in my Contacts together. I select them all then delete them; this doesn’t delete the contacts, but just their entries in the Previous Recipients list.

Next, I sort the remaining people in the list by name. For those I want to get rid of, I delete them by pressing the Delete key. For the ones I want to add to my contacts, I select a few at a time, then click Add to Contacts.

You might want to keep some of these names and email addresses in the Previous Recipients list; such as those with whom you’ve corresponded recently. To do this, click on the Last Used column header to sort them by date, and delete all of them that are, say, more than a few months old.

Think about clearing these addresses every few months, and you’ll have fewer auto-complete suggestions in Mail on the Mac, and on your iOS device.

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