How Do 'Mastered For iTunes' Tracks Work?

Apple just launched a new section of the iTunes Store called "Mastered for iTunes", which includes tracks specifically mastered to sound good at low bitrates — no matter what kind of audio equipment you're using.

We've talked about bitrate before, and it's pretty simple: the lower the bitrate, the more compressed and low-quality your music becomes. However, since it saves space, most online music stores, like iTunes, sell music in low-bitrate formats so they're quick to download and fit on your mobile devices. The problem is, many tracks these days are mastered for low-end audio equipment, like your iPod earbuds, with things like bass boost added to make them sound less "thin". As a result, they sound bad when you try to play them on good speakers or headphones.

Mastered for iTunes tracks are AAC, as usual, but are mastered with a specific set of guidelines in mind, designed to sound good on any type of audio equipment. Essentially, they're mastering the tracks so that when you downconvert them to AAC, you lose the least amount of data possible. They aren't lossless, but they're designed to be a better compromise between space efficiency and audio quality.

Ars Technica has a great writeup on the ins and outs of the process, and Tested does a good job of summing it up in a more concise, easy-to-understand way, for those of you interested in the process.

For the rest of you, you can check out these new Mastered for iTunes tracks in the iTunes Store right now. Right now there are about 100 albums available, from popular artists like U2, Nirvana, Metallica, Coldplay, and more, with others to be added soon. They look like they're the same price as non-Mastered for iTunes albums too, which is great. Head to the iTunes store to check it out — you should see it right on the front page.

Mastered for iTunes: how audio engineers tweak music for the iPod age [Ars Technica]


    Mastered for iTunes

    It's going to sound average anyway so we didn't put much effort into it!


    So this is how they're going to get you to re-buy everything again. Clever Apple!

    How about they offer ALAC and be done with all of this "Mastered for iTunes" bullshit?

      yeah i'm kinda surprised that for a 'mastered' thing they didn't go with apple lossless. i mean, what do they even have it for?

      This quote from an Apple doc is intriguing:
      "As technology advances and bandwidth, storage, battery life, and processor power increase, keeping the highest quality masters available in our systems allows for full advantage of future improvements to your music."
      Perhaps they might be preparing to start selling Apple Lossless in the future (though that might be later rather than sooner). In the meantime, it doesn't seem like they charge extra for these "mastered for iTunes" versions (a song won't cost more than the AUD2.19 max), nor are you forced to buy it again.

    There really is no substitute for the original uncompressed version of a song. It plagues me to think that people are happy to purchase content from iTunes and other distributors knowing that what they're buying is a cut down version of the original glory.

    These same people wouldn't buy a watered down bottle coke to save money, or have powdered milk in their latte. Both instances 'do the trick', quench thirst, get a caffeine hit - but that's not always what you're buying them for.

    Apple should put in place a mechanism where we purchase the uncompressed version of the song (and own it) - this remains in the cloud - and then we decided to apply a smaller compressed version to our device if we choose, or not. Who's to say in 8 years time we won't be having an iPod with 4TB memory with digital output.. I'm sure our iTunes purchase will still be valid then, and it would make sense for such a device to host uncompressed music for use with either shitty ear buds, or on your mates studio monitors or PA during a party - than obviously compressed crap.

    I'm sure there are a lot of people who scour the internet looking to buy uncompressed digital versions of music they want - only to have to fall back to the illegal alternatives purely because there is no other alternative.

      Bandcamp is great for this. You can buy the music in whatever format you choose (be it lossless or lossy). It would be nice if iTunes offered something similar at the very least.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now