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Is iTunes Match Right for You?

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iTunes Match has been around for a while now, but it’s not for everyone. In a Macworld article, I look at whether iTunes Match is right for you, for the way you listen to music, and, more importantly, the way you access data.

Read some other articles I’ve written about iTunes Match:

iTunes Match Still Kinda Sucks

iTunes Match and Mastered for iTunes: Which Tracks Do You Get When Matching CDs?

Update: Bad Tracks from iTunes Match: Who Do You Complain To?

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iTunes Match Still Kinda Sucks

Just saying…

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That’s the mono version of Miles Davis’ Milestones. Which is on the iTunes Store.

I added all nine CDs from the Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings to my iTunes Match library, and, out of 70 tracks, 51 matched and 19 were uploaded. That’s a match rate of 73%.

Sure, I’ve got some discs where all tracks match, and others where none match. But Apple really needs to improve the matching algorithm; it’s simply a failure that only 3/4 of the tracks on these 9 albums, which are in the iTunes Store, match. (I ripped them in iTunes Plus format, 256 kbps AAC, but the format should have no effect on the accuracy of matches.)

001.pngRead what Apple says about matching: “And for the few songs that aren’t…” In other words, they suggest that only a handful of songs won’t match because they’re not available from the iTunes Store. But I’m not writing here about songs that aren’t in that pool of 26 million; I’m writing about the ones on albums that are in the iTunes Store, where only some songs don’t match.

I can point to any number of albums where one track doesn’t match. For example, the last track on each of two Grateful Dead albums, American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, gets uploaded. And these are two of the Dead’s most popular songs: Truckin’ and Casey Jones. If you use iTunes Match, I’m sure you see the same thing when you scroll through your library.

So, yes, iTunes Match still kinda sucks. Apple needs to improve the matching algorithm. Oh, and raise the 25,000 track limit too.

Note: I spotted something interesting when looking at this set in the iTunes Store. I have 70 tracks, and the iTunes Store says “79 items” for the set. I checked each album, and they’re the same. So the iTunes Store counts the album itself as an “item.” I think what’s happening is that the iTunes Store listing has one line for each album name, as well as one line for each track; hence it is counting each line as an item.

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iTunes Match and Mastered for iTunes: Which Tracks Do You Get When Matching CDs?

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Apple touts its Mastered for iTunes tracks on the iTunes Store as “Music as the artist and sound engineer intended.” Mastered for iTunes tracks are therefore supposed to sound better than tracks you rip from CDs. The basic goal of Mastered for iTunes is to provide a direct downsampling of music from 24-bit, 96 kHz files to 256 kbps AAC files, rather than having a first downsampling to the CD format (16-bit, 44.1 kHz), then another conversion to AAC.

Whether or not the difference is audible is debatable; at a minimum, the conversion from higher quality masters can be seen as producing fewer “rounding errors,” though it’s a bit more complicated than that.[1] Also, the Mastered for iTunes process requires that record labels make some slight changes to their files, notably to avoid clipping,[2] but it allows them to create different masters for the iTunes Store than for CDs, if they so desire. (Yet as you’ll see below, I found much more clipping on certain Mastered for iTunes files than CD rips or older purchased files.)

I was wondering what link exists between Mastered for iTunes files and iTunes Match. If you rip a CD, and match it, will you get Mastered for iTunes files, which are currently sold on the iTunes Store (if available), or will you get equivalents of the CD’s ripped files? Since Apple says there’s a difference between the two, how do they handle this?

When you purchase a Mastered for iTunes file, there’s information in the file telling you this. You can see this by selecting a file, pressing Command-I (on Mac) or Control-I (on Windows, then viewing the Summary tab. The Mastered for iTunes badge below shows you that you have premium files.

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If you rip a CD, match it, then download one of the files from the cloud, you don’t ever see the Mastered for iTunes badge. I have a handful of CDs for which only Mastered for iTunes files are available from the iTunes Store (these are new releases where labels only provide files for this format). I added them to my iTunes Match account, matched them, deleted my originals, then downloaded the matched files. I compared them with my original rips (using the methods described below), and saw that these files were not the same; I was clearly getting the Mastered for iTunes files from iTunes Match. But the files don’t display the Mastered for iTunes badge.

Read more

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A Year with iTunes Match

Apple introduced iTunes Match one year ago today. To mark the anniversary, I’ve written an article for Macworld, iTunes Match: One year in, where I discuss some of the problems with Apple’s cloud service, and offer some suggestions for improvement.

I also joined Macworld’s Chris Breen and Dan Moren on this week’s Macworld podcast, to discuss iTunes Match, iTunes and the iTunes Store.

So if you’re interested in iTunes Match, check out the article and podcast.

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New Poll: Do You Subscribe to iTunes Match?

As the iTunes Guy for Macworld, I get a lot of questions about iTunes Match. But it’s hard to know exactly how many people use the service, which one of my editors describes as “half-baked.”

So I’ve set up a poll, over to the right, in the sidebar. Do you subscribe to iTunes Match? If you’d like to post any comments about iTunes Match, and its many problems, feel free to do so in the comments below.

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Update: Bad Tracks from iTunes Match: Who Do You Complain To?

A number of people have found that iTunes Match sometimes matches incorrect tracks; not that the songs are wrong, but that the versions might be wrong. This seems to happen especially with music that has been remastered. iTunes may match either an original or remastered track, and the user who matched the track may have tho one that iTunes doesn’t have. This can be a problem, if, say, you prefer an original album over a remastered version, or vice versa.

But I today I found, for the first time, a bad track coming from iTunes Match, one with an audible problem. It’s one of an excellent set of Bill Evans recordings, The Last Waltz, from the summer of 1980, just before his death, made at the Keystone Korner; the song is Your Story, While iTunes matched these tracks, I was listening to some of this music today, and found a bad track. There’s a gap of about a half-second at one point in the track. Looking at it with Rogue Amoeba’s Fission, you can clearly see the missing chunk of music:



If this happens, you’re basically screwed. Who can you complain to? Contact the iTunes Store? I doubt anything will happen. The only way to have a good copy of the track is to take your original and make sure it stays in your library; if you ever have to download it again, you’ll get the track with the gap. It’s worth noting that this track is not available on the iTunes Store. This makes me wonder exactly how they match such tracks; do they match them to tracks that other people have uploaded?

I don’t expect this will happen a lot, but the fact that it happens at all shows the weakness of this system. iTunes Match clearly needs an option for tracks that you don’t want matched, ones that you want uploaded, because the matched version may not be the same as yours.

Has anyone else found matched tracks that have similar problems?

(As an aside: if you like Bill Evans, there are two box sets of this run at the Keystone Korner, in San Francisco, between August 31 and September 8, 1980. The Last Waltz is music from the first sets, and Consecration has tracks from the second sets. Just a week before his death, Evans was playing some of his finest performances. These two box sets, together with Turn Out the Stars, recorded at the Village Vanguard in June, 1980, comprise 22 discs of astounding piano music.)

Update: my son came across a bad track today. It’s a match of Philip Glass’s Witchita Vortex Sutra, from the Minimal Piano Collection box set. There are clicks throughout the track, with one big dropout at 4:25:



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