A Look at Apple's 'Mastered for iTunes' Program and its Effect on Sound Quality

Earlier this year, Apple began revealing more information about its Mastered for iTunes program, requesting that music professionals supply Apple with higher-quality recordings as source material for the compressed tracks made available for sale through the iTunes Store. The higher-quality source material, processed according to Apple's guidelines, is being requested to allow Apple to create better-sounding tracks in the 256 kbps AAC format used for the iTunes Store.

mastered for itunes logo
Ars Technica takes a thorough look at the Mastered for iTunes program and whether it truly does make a difference to consumers. While the whole article is an interesting read on some of the technical details of audio formats and mastering and the varying perspectives of several music industry professionals, Ars' conclusion is that the Mastered for iTunes program can make a difference in quality of iTunes Store music.

We enlisted Chicago Mastering Service engineers Jason Ward and Bob Weston to help us out, both of whom were somewhat skeptical that any knob tweaking could result in a better iTunes experience. We came away from the process learning that it absolutely is possible to improve the quality of compressed iTunes Plus tracks with a little bit of work, that Apple's improved compression process does result in a better sound, and that 24/96 files aren't a good format for consumers.

Ars worked with a number of audio engineers on test projects comparing various combinations of original 24-bit, 96 kHz master recordings, uncompressed WAV files ripped from CDs, standard iTunes Store tracks, and tracks created by applying Apple's Mastered for iTunes process to the master recordings. In one example, a standard iTunes Store track sounded "boxy" or "muffled" compared to the original CD master WAV file, but after processing through Mastered for iTunes tools, the resulting track sounded significantly better and more "alive" on a subjective basis.

Part of the difficulty in assessing sound quality comes from the emotional response involved in how sounds register to human ears. Some differences in sound quality can be quantified using various tools to analyze the waveforms generated by different audio files, but the ultimate measure of sound quality lies with the human ears receiving and interpreting the sounds.

Nevertheless, Apple markets the Mastered for iTunes program as providing a path for musicians and music professionals to have iTunes Store content more closely match "music as the artist and sound engineer intended", and more and more musicians are taking advantage of the program in attempting to improve the quality of their music available through the world's most popular music vendor.

Top Rated Comments

iBug2 Avatar
118 months ago
I still don't understand why they are not selling ALAC. The huge datacenters they built should support those transfers easily nowadays.
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Exhale Avatar
118 months ago
Unfortunately until "Mastering Engineers" stop with the "Loud is good (//www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tUhguPckZQ&t=5s)" ********, none of this matters.

Its literally the practice of polishing a turd.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AppleDroid Avatar
118 months ago
I still don't understand why they are not selling ALAC. The huge datacenters they built should support those transfers easily nowadays.

This. All I want is a higher quality master copy of my digital songs. 128-256 is great for my ipod + headphones but there's a huge difference playing lossless files through my 7.1 setup vs compressed audio files.

I realize I'm in the minority but it has always felt wrong buying less-than-cd-quality tracks as my "master copy".
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
doctorossi Avatar
118 months ago
I still don't understand why they are not selling ALAC. The huge datacenters they built should support those transfers easily nowadays.

I have the same question. I bought into the iTunes ecosystem only when the iPod started supporting ALAC playback and I expected ALAC content on iTunes to be just around the corner.

Here we are in 2012 and I've never purchased a song from iTunes. If they started selling them in ALAC, I would buy hundreds.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AppleScruff1 Avatar
118 months ago
Once you go FLAC, you'll never go back.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ghostface147 Avatar
118 months ago
Me too...sell me a NON-APPLE PROPRIETARY LOSSLESS FORMAT (such as WAV, APE, FLAC) and I would buy hundreds of songs a year. I own 0 from iTunes. I have over 24,000 songs...all ripped from my cds that I purchase each week from Amazon below $10 a pop with free shipping and 0 tax.

Apple open sourced ALAC late last year as well as made it royalty free.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

tile sticker e1570533758981

Tile CEO: 'We Welcome Competition From Apple, But We Think It Needs to Be Fair'

Tuesday May 4, 2021 9:51 am PDT by
Just after Apple announced its AirTags, Tile CEO CJ Prober relayed his concerns about competing with Apple in the tracking space, and said that Tile would ask Congress to investigate Apple's business practices specific to Find My and item trackers. Prober this week did an interview with Bloomberg, where he further expanded on Tile's complaints about Apple and why he feels that Tile is...
signal instagram ads3

Signal Shares the Instagram Ads Facebook Doesn't Want You to See

Wednesday May 5, 2021 1:29 am PDT by
Encrypted messaging app Signal has had a series of Instagram ads blocked from the social media platform, after it attempted to show users how much data the Facebook-owned company collects about them and how it's used to push targeted ads. In a blog post, Signal described how it generated the ads to show users why they were seeing them, simply by declaring upfront the information that the...
tracking disabled ios 14 5

Analytics Suggest 96% of Users Leave App Tracking Disabled in iOS 14.5

Friday May 7, 2021 1:51 am PDT by
An early look at an ongoing analysis of Apple's App Tracking Transparency suggests that the vast majority of iPhone users are leaving app tracking disabled since the feature went live on April 26 with the release of iOS 14.5. According to the latest data from analytics firm Flurry, just 4% of iPhone users in the U.S. have actively chosen to opt into app tracking after updating their device...
fortnite apple logo 2

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney Admits App Store's 30% Cut Is Similar to Consoles, Would Have Accepted Special Deal With Apple

Tuesday May 4, 2021 1:54 pm PDT by
Apple's legal battle with Epic Games is continuing on, and during the second day of the trial, Epic Games' CEO Tim Sweeney continued his testimony against Apple. Sweeney was grilled by Apple's lawyers, and made several points seemingly favorable to Apple. In addition to mentioning how he prefers Apple's iPhone and values Apple's privacy policies that he's aiming to dismantle, Sweeney...
snapchat dark mode

Snapchat Rolls Out Dark Mode on iOS

Wednesday May 5, 2021 1:17 am PDT by
Nearly two years following the release of iOS and iPadOS 13, which included native, built-in, and systemwide dark mode, Snapchat, one of the world's most prominent social media networks, has finally rolled out a dark mode theme for iOS users. Snapchat began testing a dark mode theme of its app design late last year with a small group of iOS users. Now, Snapchat says that as of this week, it...
netflix sign up

Apple Discussed 'Punitive Measures' Against Netflix for Dropping In-App Purchases

Wednesday May 5, 2021 11:03 am PDT by
As the Epic Games v. Apple trial progresses into its third day, Apple's internal documents and communications with various companies are continuing to surface, giving us some insight into the dealings that Apple has had around the App Store. Back in December 2018, Netflix stopped offering in-app subscription options for new or resubscribing members and instead began requiring them to sign up ...
iphone 12 preorder purple

Apple Begins Transition to Randomized Serial Numbers With Purple iPhone 12

Wednesday May 5, 2021 9:17 am PDT by
MacRumors previously reported about Apple's plan to switch to randomized serial numbers for future products starting in early 2021, and this transition has now started with the new purple iPhone 12 model in multiple countries. With assistance from Aaron Zollo, host of the YouTube channel ZolloTech, we can confirm that the purple iPhone 12 released last month has a new 10-character serial...
airtag 1

AirTag Anti-Stalking Measures 'Just Aren't Sufficient' Says Washington Post Report

Wednesday May 5, 2021 6:03 pm PDT by
The safeguards that Apple built into AirTags to prevent them from being used to track someone "just aren't sufficient," The Washington Post's Geoffrey Fowler said today in a report investigating how AirTags can be used for covert stalking. Fowler planted an AirTag on himself and teamed up with a colleague to be pretend stalked, and he came to the conclusion that the AirTags are a "new means...
iphone 13 pro max dummy notch

iPhone 13 Pro Max Dummy Model Depicts Smaller Notch

Tuesday May 4, 2021 1:08 pm PDT by
Apple's iPhone 13 models are expected to feature a slimmed down notch, marking the first major change to the TrueDepth camera system since it was introduced in the 2017 iPhone X. We're still months away from the launch of the iPhone 13, but Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy managed to get an iPhone 13 Pro Max dummy model that represents what we can expect from the new 2021 device. Dummy...
iPad Pro July Shipping

12.9-Inch iPad Pro Now Delivers as Late as Mid-July

Wednesday May 5, 2021 7:10 am PDT by
While the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is set to launch in the second half of May, orders placed today are estimated for delivery as late as mid-July on Apple's online store in the United States — some two months later. The new 11-inch iPad Pro is faring better so far, with some configurations available for delivery in the last week of May. The new 12.9-inch iPad Pro features a Liquid Retina XDR ...