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
124 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
124 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
124 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
124 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
124 months ago
Once you go FLAC, you'll never go back.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ghostface147 Avatar
124 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

studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
affinity designer contour tool

Serif Updates Affinity Photo, Designer, and Publisher With New Tools and Functions

Thursday February 4, 2021 1:58 am PST by
Serif today announced across-the-board updates for its popular suite of Affinity creative apps, including Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer, and the Apple award-winning Affinity Publisher for Mac, all of which were among the first professional creative suites to be optimized for Apple's new M1 chip. "After another year which saw record numbers of people switching to Affinity, it's exciting to...
maxresdefault

Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak Discuss iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, Privacy, Shortcuts on Mac, and More

Saturday June 12, 2021 6:12 am PDT by
As is tradition, Apple executives Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak joined Daring Fireball's John Gruber in an episode of The Talk Show to discuss several announcements that Apple made over this weeks WWDC, including iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and a large focus around privacy. Federighi kicks off the conversation discussing the common architecture, now thanks to Apple silicon, across all of...
M1X MBP Feature

Leaker: Upcoming MacBook Pro to See Price Hike Over Current Model, Equal Performance Across 14 and 16-Inch Sizes

Tuesday August 24, 2021 5:28 am PDT by
The upcoming 14-inch MacBook Pro is set to be more expensive than the current 13-inch MacBook Pro and both the 14 and 16-inch models will offer the same performance, according to the leaker known as "Dylandkt." The leaker shared the information on Twitter, explaining that both of the upcoming MacBook Pro models, expected to come in 14 and 16-inch sizes, will feature the same performance due...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
General Apps Messages

Android iMessage Competitor Puts Pressure on Apple

Friday July 30, 2021 3:15 am PDT by
Google and the three major U.S. carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, will all support a new communications protocol on Android smartphones starting in 2022, a move that puts pressure on Apple to adopt a new cross-platform messaging standard and may present a challenge to iMessage. Verizon recently announced that it is planning to adopt Messages by Google as its default messaging...
YouTube Picture in Picture Feature

YouTube Premium Subscribers Can Now Use iOS Picture-in-Picture: Here's How

Wednesday August 25, 2021 3:55 am PDT by
Google has rolled out picture-in-picture support as an "experimental" feature for YouTube premium subscribers, allowing them to watch video in a small window when the app is closed. If you're a premium YouTube subscriber looking to try out picture-in-picture, follow these steps: Launch a web browser and sign into your YouTube account at YouTube.com. Navigate to www.youtube.com/new. Scroll...
iPhone 13 Dummy Thumbnail 2

Kuo: iPhone 13 to Feature LEO Satellite Communications to Make Calls and Texts Without Cellular Coverage

Sunday August 29, 2021 7:39 am PDT by
The iPhone 13 will feature low earth orbit (LEO) satellite communication connectivity to allow users to make calls and send messages in areas without 4G or 5G coverage, according to the reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In a note to investors, seen by MacRumors, Kuo explained that the iPhone 13 lineup will feature hardware that is able to connect to LEO satellites. If enabled with the relevant...
twitterqrcode

Twitter Introduces QR Codes for Sharing and Following Accounts

Wednesday November 16, 2016 4:13 pm PST by
Twitter today introduced Snapchat-style QR codes, which are designed to make it easier to find and follow friends on the social network. Each Twitter QR code is unique to an individual Twitter user, so when scanned, it'll bring up the person's account. To access your Twitter QR code, you'll need the official Twitter app for iOS. In the app, go to your profile, tap on the gear icon, and select...
macOS Monterey on MBP Feature

Apple Seeds Sixth Beta of macOS Monterey to Developers

Monday August 30, 2021 1:11 pm PDT by
Apple today seeded the sixth developer beta of macOS Monterey, the newest version of the macOS operating system. The sixth beta comes three weeks after Apple released the fifth macOS Monterey beta. Registered developers can download the beta through the Apple Developer Center and once the appropriate profile is installed, betas will be available through the Software Update mechanism in...