Earlier this year I subscribed to iTunes Match, when it became available here in the UK. For less than £2 per month, I can have all of my music backed up to the cloud (in addition to being backed up using Time Machine, and on both my iPod and iPhone), and available on all of the devices that I use, on demand. It seems like a good deal in my eyes.
But the best bit about iTunes Match is the ‘match’ bit.
Firstly, a bit of background. If you’re like me your digital music collection will have been built up over a number of years; I’ve owned a portable MP3 player since 2000 – back then, I had a Samsung Yepp, with an amazing 64 MB of storage. So at the time a 128 Kbps MP3 file took up quite a bit of space, and took a fair amount of time to download on 56k dial-up. Nowadays, we can download multi-megabyte files in seconds, have devices with ample storage space, and all of Apple’s music players support AAC, which offers better sound quality compared to MP3. So those 128 Kbps MP3 files now sound a bit rubbish compared with the 256 Kbps AAC files that Apple now sells from the iTunes Store.
Where iTunes Match comes in is that it allows you to exchange any music files in AAC or MP3 format, for an iTunes Plus file, which will be 256 Kbps AAC. This can result in a noticeable improvement in sound quality – with a decent pair of headphones, you’ll find that your music sounds more vibrant and that you can actually hear individual instruments being played.
Unfortunately, Apple didn’t make it very simple to replace all of your music this way. To do so, follow this guide from MacRumors, which will have you creating a smart playlist that identifies all of the songs eligible to be replaced by iTunes Match. You can then select them all, delete your local files, and then download new, high quality copies.
There are a few things to bear in mind:
- iTunes Match won’t be able match all of your music, especially if you have more eclectic tastes. Don’t expect to be able to replace your entire music library.
- Not all matches are perfect. It’s pretty good, but you find that iTunes Match can’t always substitute like for like.Back up your music collection first – and I mean using Time Machine or some other method where you save your files locally. Otherwise, you may find that iTunes makes an incorrect match, and you could lose the original file.
- 256 Kbps files, as you’d expect, take up twice the disk space that a 128 Kbps file does. If you’re short on space on your computer or iPod, you may want to give this a miss for a while. Especially as Apple is likely to announce changes to the iPod line-up shortly.
- Some of the songs that iTunes Match is able to substitute may be songs that you have previously bought from the iTunes Store. In the early days, all songs were 128 Kbps AAC, and ‘iTunes Plus’ songs were 256 Kbps – when Apple dropped Digital Rights Management (DRM) from all of its music sales, it also bumped all of the songs up to 256 Kbps and made iTunes Plus the norm. If you have any files from before this change, iTunes Match should offer to replace them with better versions.
If after a year of iTunes Match you decide that the service is no longer worth it, you can let your subscription lapse and still keep the high quality files you obtained.
So far, I’ve been impressed with it – its matches have been spot-on and have sounded better than some of the old muffled MP3 files that I’ve had from several years ago.