My iTunes Match review

Yesterday, I read (again) about iTunes Match. I already knew about that service but felt like it was useless to me. Read more about iTunes Match on it’s official Webpage. Short story is: iTunes Match is a Cloud service that scans your actual iTunes music library, checks which music iTunes knows about and enables you to get that music from any of your device, using your iTunes account. The service costs about $30 per year and is limited to 25000 songs and 10 devices.

I have a music repository of 7345 songs, according to iTunes. I started my e-music library in the early 90’s. So the first files I got were music I ripped from Compact Cassette and Vinyl Record (both 33 and 45 rpm) with my Thomson VTM-2800 (or similar) Hi-Fi. Then I ripped from audio CD I bought or got for Christmas and ended buying WMA/MP3 files from various e-shop (such as Fnac Music, Virgin, Amazon and iTunes). All of those files have various quality. I must admit there are some vinyl rips that I have replaced with MP3 files found on the Internet. I’ve never been sure about how legal this was but I felt like as I bought the cassettes and vinyls and didn’t aim at reselling them, I could keep such MP3 files and still continue to sleep peacefully.

I went to iTunes Match for 3 main reasons:

  • I could get high quality (256-Kbps AAC) files for all my stuff ;
  • I wouldn’t need to sync my music from my MacBook and stop feeling like “damm I don’t have it on the iPhone” when on my way to work ;
  • I would be sure every files would now be officially owned.

So here’s my trip to the iTunes Match service.

Subscribing to iTunes Match

This was really simple. Just launch iTunes, click the “iTunes Match” icon from the left pane, fill-in your iTunes credentials. iTunes Match can also be activated from the “Store” menu, using the “Turn On iTunes Match” item. That’s all.

First steps

Once subscribed, iTunes with gather information about your music library and match you songs with the iTunes Store. Finally, it will upload any eligible songs that iTunes doesn’t know about.

In my particular case, it took more than two hours. I can’t tell how much time exactly because I went to bed. But the whole process was done when I woke up the next morning.

iTunes says I have 7345 files. iTunes Match only failed for 15 of them. 2 of them were marked as duplicated, 2 were marked as error and the rest was marked as non eligible. The may reason to not be eligible seem to be a too low bitrate. Every files that were under 92 Kbps were marked as non eligible.

Fixing errors

The music library can be sorted by “Cloud Status”. This allows you to get the errors grouped.

I check the duplicated files by searching their name. Indeed there were two references. So I clicked on each of their cloud icon and was prompted to either keep or drop that double. I did drop them in the Trash.

For both non eligible files and those with errors, I converted them to AAC. From iTunes, I selected the files and, form the “Advanced” menu, clicked the “Generate AAC” item. That creates file with 256 Kbps faked quality. The initial files can them be dropped to Trash. iTunes Match did detect the new AAC files and started automatically a match process.

One of the “error” file couldn’t be converted to AAC. So I just dropped it and rerip it. The hardest part was finding the CD…

Switching to full quality library

Once every files are registered in my account, I dropped all of them so that my local repository is empty and iTunes only lists online files. I also looked at “Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Music” to drop remaining files.

Then, I selected a bunch a music, right-click on them and select “Download”. After a bit of time, the files were downloaded and stored locally.

Looking closely at bit rates, I saw I still have low rate files. I created a smart playlist with the following criteria:

  • Media Kind is Music ;
  • iCloud Status is Matched.

This brought me a list of 6056 files from a total of 7345, all in 256Kbps, some in AAC format and some in MPEG-4. Some of them came from Audio CD ripped in 192Kbps, some came from Fnac Music in 192Kbps.

Modifying the smart playlist, I could look at the 1286 files that were “not matched”. Surprisingly, I found a Lily Allen album that I bought on iTunes… How could this not be matched… Some MP3 purchased on Fnac Music were half matched ; a same 192Kbps album contains both matched and unmatched tracks. Some music from ripped CD, in 192Kbps, were not matched.

Music and the iPhone

Once iTunes Match ran and files were available from iCloud, I dumped all the music from the iPhone (v4) and activated iTunes Match on it.

Setting the “Show all the music” option, you can see which music is available on iCloud, listen to it using online streaming and download the file on the iPhone (to listen to it when no networks available). Disabling the option, the iPhone only lists files locally available.

Conclusion

“What’s the point of this iTunes Match?” She asked. Well…

  • You have an external backup of your whole music library in the Cloud ;
  • You can free space on your iPhone/iPod/iPad and still get music since you have network ;
  • You can install your whole library on several Macs ;
  • You can get better quality music, since iTunes matches it.
  • It is quite a cheap service.

Does it work well? This is a difficult to answer… Here’re a few numbers:

  • 6056 files over 7345 is 82% of matched/improved music ;
  • 1208 files over 7345 is 16% of untouched/uploaded music ;

From the unmatched songs, most a them are really known one, like The Beatles, Madonna, Metallica, The Offspring or Placebo. Some known French musicians that I could find on iTunes were not matched either. The most annoying thing is that those files are encoded in 192Kbps MP3 (from Audio CD) and I don’t fell like doing it again ; even the ripping tool can match the exact ID3s simply by reading the CD…

Hopefully, I did a full backup of the original iTunes library. So I’ll probably dump the whole iCloud storage and re-import the whole sets (nearly) one by one. Especially those particular music that should be easily matched.

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