Is iTunes Match Worth The Money?

Apple's iTunes Match service launched in Australia last week, bringing its vision of music in the cloud to iTunes and iOS users alike. But what is it, exactly, and is it worth your money? Here's a look at how iTunes Match works and if it's right for you.

What Is iTunes Match?

iTunes Match is a service from Apple that allows you to keep a cloud-based music collection for $34.99 a year. Unlike other services that have launched overseas, however, this doesn't necessarily involve uploading your music and using a web-based player to stream your collection. Instead, iTunes scans the music you already have in your library and tells Apple you have a copy. Apple then allows you access to any music in its existing collection, all encoded as 256kbps AAC files with absolutely no copy protection.

What's especially great is that you get these high-quality files even if your files aren't as good. The iTunes catalogue is huge, so the chances are good that most of the songs you own are already in it. If they're not, however, iTunes will upload a copy of your music to store and sync as well. All your music will be transferred to other machines running iTunes (both Mac and Windows PCs) as well as any iOS devices. This way you'll automatically have all your music synchronised and backed up in the cloud. If you lose all your music in a hard drive crash, you'll be able to get it all back without issue so long as you're an iTunes Match subscriber.

Should I Buy iTunes Match?

Whether or not you should bother purchasing an iTunes Match subscription is going to depend on your needs. To get a better idea of what's best for you, here's a look at the upsides and downsides to help you make the right choice.

The Upsides

The obvious benefits of iTunes Match are easy synchronisation, a backup of your music collection, and access to music files encoded at a high bit rate — a bit rate likely higher than most of your existing collection. The service is pretty cheap; $34.99 isn't much money at all on a yearly basis. If you like and use iTunes, and own an iDevice or two, it's one of your best options for cloud-based music services.

The Downsides

While it's great that iTunes Match can keep your music in sync across devices, that same feature is also one of its limitations. Because you're not able to stream your music in the same way you can with most of its rivals, you only retrieve as much of your matched collection as your computer or mobile device can accommodate. This does not mean iTunes Match is incapable of streaming, but that while doing so it downloads the file to your device. You don't have the option of streaming only. (One exception appears to be that can stream unsync'd music if your device is too full to accommodate any additional downloads.) This can get a little frustrating if you don't want to download a song to your device simply because you've chosen to listen to it. Additionally, there is no option to stream via a web browser so your listening options are limited to your computers (of which you can have a maximum of five) and iDevices.

The Bottom Line

If you are into all things Apple, iTunes Match is likely the best service for you. It's cheap, it keeps your music backed up and synced without the need to upload your entire collection (or possibly any of it), and it will work with all of your devices.

If you're not fully entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, iTunes Match might not be your ideal service. If you need your music on an Android device, for example, you're out of luck. If you're simply dealing with a mix of Mac and Windows PCs, plus an iPhone or iPad here and there, it should work just fine. Plus, if you do have an Android device you will have physical copies of the music files you can transfer over and play without issue.

If you loathe iTunes, then iTunes Match is clearly not for you. Even if you really like the service, it requires the use of the iTunes software to manage your collection. If you can't buy into that you should definitely look for something else.


Comments

    First, check out http://www.giftcardsonsale.com.au/ to save yourself 25% (almost $9) and take it to $26.25...

    I'm certainly happy to pay that a year just as a music backup service. Everything else -- upgrading the quality of my old stuff, all my songs available on all my devices if and when I want them -- are very nice bonuses.

    If I were to mention a downside, it's that I don't seem to be able to copy music onto my iPhone via USB cable when plugged into my computer. It could just be me not understanding how to do it, but it looks like I have to exclusively use the iTunes Match download option on my phone now (which is, of course, not quite as quick and easy as the old sync method over USB).

    PS. I believe it's actually limited to 10 devices -- which is quite a lot, really.

      There is a work-around: http://www.macworld.com/article/163607/2011/11/toggle_between_itunes_match_and_local_syncing.html

    Would be nice if it replaced your low bit rate encodes. I encoded my CD collection when iTunes came out at a low bit rate - be nice to get them upgraded

      That's one of the upsides listed...

      Once a song is matched in iTunes, you can delete it, then there's a button to simply download. This will be the 256kbps version... I've been doing this for everything of mine that's more than a few years old...

    A few more downsides,

    I believe its limited not just to 10 devices as noted above but also to 25 000 songs. Sounds a lot but a few decades of collecting brings my total to over 30 000.

    What about those old songs that you never have a artist or title to...????

      It's limited to 25k that aren't matched - if iTunes already has a copy and doesn't need to upload it, it doesn't count toward your 25k limit...

      For example, if you have the latest Bon Iver album, which is available in iTunes, it won't upload it because it already has a copy. And that also means it doesn't count towards your 25k limit, because it doesn't need to store anything for that album

        Dee, actually if it matches the track it won't upload, but unless you purchased the track from iTunes it will still count towards the 25k limit.

        The only tracks that won't count towards the limit are ones that were bought from iTunes.

    As far as I can tell, it doesn't download the track when you stream it. I've been streaming all day & the songs I've listened to aren't anywhere on my Air. I have 'Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library' turned off. Not sure if that makes a difference.

      By default is streams the tracks when listening to music in iTunes on Mac/PC, but on iOS devices it downloads the tracks (unless - as mentioned in the article - there is not enough space on the iDevice to download the tracks).

    Erm... Wouldn't this be open to dodgy use: People uploading dodgy copies of illegally obtained music just to download the full version from Match?

    Or, just get a single 1-sec mp3, copy it over and over and set the ID3 tags to that of an album you want to download. Let Match do its thing, and suddenly you have a free copy of the full album.

    Just seems... odd.

      They're smarter than that ;) They haven't released the algorithm they use to match songs - it is more than just matching ID3 tags.
      It seems to be a combination of the tags as well as fingerprints (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoustic_fingerprint)

        Incorrect, the service was promoted to record labels and distributors as a way of making up for lost revenue from music piracy, I don't condone it but pirated music will usually get matched if it's in the iTunes store. (I say usually because there's a few bugs where for some reason it doesn't seem to match 100% of all music)

    So now it seems this is mandatory if you want to download/buy music on Apple TV. Retrograde.

      Before Match you never had the option to actually download/buy/browse music directly on your Apple TV (second generation), so this is hardly retrograde.

      You had to either AirPlay from an iOS device or iTunes, or have an iTunes computer open with Home Sharing enabled. iCloud now allows you to stream your collection straight from the internet without you having to AirPlay from your iOS devices or have iTunes open on your computer.

        With an AppleTV 1 you could purchase and store music. Yes, I know, it had a built in hard drive. At the very least, it would be good to be able to purchase and cloud-store new tracks on AppleTV2 without having to pay the up front subscription fee first. Certainly feels retrograde to me. The new TV show purchasing option doesn't come with the same cloud-tax.

    "If you’re not fully entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, iTunes Match might not be your ideal service. If you need your music on an Android device, for example, you’re out of luck. "

    But it will help you with your move. If you have iTunes Protected (DRM'd files), iTunes Match will let you replace those files with DRM free 256kbps AAC files that'll play happily on your Android device.

    "Because you’re not able to stream your music in the same way you can with most of its rivals, you only retrieve as much of your matched collection as your computer or mobile device can accommodate. This does not mean iTunes Match is incapable of streaming, but that while doing so it downloads the file to your device. You don’t have the option of streaming only. (One exception appears to be that can stream unsync’d music if your device is too full to accommodate any additional downloads.)"

    This isn't quite true - while on iOS it's true it'll keep the song you just played (effectively downloading instead of streaming), on the computer iTunes will actually always stream the file you start playing, unless you choose to download (either by using the little iCloud download button next to the song, or right clicking and hitting download).
    This means this could be fantastic for people who have a big iTunes library at home, and would like to listen to your library at work without having to manage two libraries - your whole library (including playlists, play counts, ratings) appears at work, you just stream and that's that.

    "If you loathe iTunes, then iTunes Match is clearly not for you."

    Thanks for making it easy. iTunes is a POS. Always has been and always will be.

    And it's inane that it downloads each time instead of just streaming. F.U. apple. And your useless "genius bar" empolyees.

      What a rational, well spoken gentleman.

    One thing I've found is that streaming or downloading music that was purchased or matched is fine, but music that had to be uploaded is so slow it runs out of buffer within 5-10 seconds.

    I tend not to use it much on the go, but rather download music at home before I head out to save on my 3G data (even browsing your library tends to chew through it)

    Having my whole collection on demand on my work laptop has been made it worthwhile though.

    Isn't streaming, just temporary downloading to Cache anyways?

    What's the big idea with downloading and having a copy, as opposed to downloading and then residing in Temp Cache?

    What if most of the music you have has been illegally downloaded???

    Ca n you loose all your songs on your iphone if you turn the itune match?

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