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Apple Music Launches 'Digital Masters' Initiative Out of Old 'Mastered for iTunes' Program

Apple Music today announced a new initiative called the "Apple Digital Masters" program, which aims to combine all of its "Mastered for iTunes" songs into one streaming catalog (via Billboard).


According to Apple, it's slowly been introducing Mastered for iTunes songs into ‌Apple Music‌ for some time. The company said that 75 percent of the Top 100 songs in the U.S. are Apple Digital Masters, and 71 percent of the Top 100 global songs are also part of the new program.

Apple began the Mastered for iTunes program in 2012, allowing engineers to optimize music for the digital download format by encoding from high-resolution masters. This placed the iTunes songs as close to possible as the original master recordings, and were designated specially as "Mastered for iTunes" in the store.

In ‌Apple Music‌, Apple doesn't designate whether a song is under its Digital Masters program or not. Still, for people who care about lossless audio, it's a good sign that the company has formally acknowledged a plan to move forward with adding more high-quality audio tracks to ‌Apple Music‌.

Numerous other streaming music services have lossless audio plans that are priced separately from the standard streaming tiers. Namely, Tidal offers a HiFi subscription for $19.99/month (compared to the base $9.99/month plan) that lets users stream lossless audio on demand.

Top Rated Comments

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11 weeks ago
How about the studio masters in lossless bit rate? That would be nice.
Rating: 27 Votes
11 weeks ago

Im still hoping Apple will just buy Tidal and input all the good from them into Apple Music..but I’m glad to see them start someplace


There are many claims from people that they believe lossless sounds better but there has yet to be a study where people can prove it in a blind test. It is very easy to be fooled into thinking something sounds better, a placebo type of effect occurs and people do not realize it.

Apple pushing properly mastered music does a lot more for sound quality than simply pushing lossless will ever do.
Rating: 18 Votes
11 weeks ago
The article seems to muddy the waters on this, but Mastered for iTunes (and Apple Digital Masters, presumably) isn't lossless. People who "care about lossless audio," though I'm not one of them, are unlikely to be all that impressed by this. It's an improvement over standard Apple Music tracks, but the tracks are still certainly lossy.
Rating: 15 Votes
11 weeks ago

There are many claims from people that they believe lossless sounds better but there has yet to be a study where people can prove it in a blind test. It is very easy to be fooled into thinking something sounds better, a placebo type of effect occurs and people do not realize it.

Apple pushing properly mastered music does a lot more for sound quality than simply pushing lossless will ever do.


Pretty much this.

Even on very expensive gear into the $10k range it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between a well encoded 256kbps AAC track and a lossless track at any bitrate/resolution. Correct mastering matters FAR more than simply releasing lossless tracks will ever do.

If audio quality matters to you, invest in a better pair of headphones and/or speakers. A good separates amplifier even a very modestly priced one will do a better job than the one in your phone. If you're using speakers, good quality cable matters, it doesn't really matter what (digital) coax, hdmi or optical cable you use. You can build from there if you want. Only after you've exhausted all those details to the point you're flat broke and close to ruin should you even consider lossless audio as an option, and even then you're better off spending the money on whisky.
Rating: 11 Votes
11 weeks ago
If you want to get into the weeds of why mastered for itunes might be better than any old AAC file, Apple provides a pretty thorough breakdown on how their process limits clipping, aliasing, dithering, etc. here: https://images.apple.com/itunes/mastered-for-itunes/docs/mastered_for_itunes.pdf

Apple lossless through Apple Music (ala Tidal HD) would be nice, however, I do question how many people consider where their weak links are.. If you are listening to music via bluetooth through a car that doesnt event support AAC - you'd totally be wasting bandwidth. Even if you listen through proprietary Beats/Apple headphones/earpods via bluetooth you are still going to convert to AAC when the signal goes out to your phones. So, yes it would be great for everyone listening to Apple Music while wearing lightning connected headphones with a quality D/A converter, but what Apple is doing with Mastered for iTunes is probably really good for most real world use situations.
Rating: 10 Votes
11 weeks ago
Backstory on 'Mastered for iTunes':

Lossy formats are unforgiving with loud audio levels or peaking near the clipping point. "Mastered for iTunes" gives producers the tools and information to encode and monitor their audio so that it does not clip or distort when encoded to iTunes' lossy format. It's pretty much about making lossy-encoded music suck less. :p

This latest announcement, however, is likely just marketing speak since Apple is ditching the iTunes moniker for it's Music service...
Rating: 7 Votes
11 weeks ago

Master recordings were a big thing for LPs and CDs. I’m not understanding why improving what they compress will make that big of a difference.

Proper mastering makes a far bigger difference than the minute (and probably imperceptible) differences between 256kbps AAC and lossless encoding. One of the biggest benefits of the "Mastered for iTunes" program in my book is that the songs usually use less dynamic range compression, which prevents distortions and other problems (google "loudness wars" if you want to know more). That often makes them sound better than the corresponding CDs.
Rating: 7 Votes
11 weeks ago
i would pay double for hifi music from apple music. tim if you're lurking get on with it
Rating: 7 Votes
11 weeks ago
As others have noted, this doesn’t appear to be an increase in bitrate/decrease in compression. Apple Music doesn’t compare to Tidal for sound quality.

Master recordings were a big thing for LPs and CDs. I’m not understanding why improving what they compress will make that big of a difference.

Why not just offer lossless for those who want it? Bandwidth is cheap now.

I love the convenience of Apple Music but not the sound on a good system.
Rating: 6 Votes
11 weeks ago

There are many claims from people that they believe lossless sounds better but there has yet to be a study where people can prove it in a blind test. It is very easy to be fooled into thinking something sounds better, a placebo type of effect occurs and people do not realize it.

Apple pushing properly mastered music does a lot more for sound quality than simply pushing lossless will ever do.


I think Apple's AAC sounds really good for the size, and I don't think I'd ever be able to tell the difference between 256 AAC and 24/192 on wired earbuds, and obviously AirPods transcode anything down to 256 AAC anyways, but at home on my big A/V system with moderately good receiver/speakers/amps, I can absolutely tell the difference between a 256 AAC and HD audio standards. On higher end audio systems, it's even more transparent. Redbook might be tougher especially depending on the recording which is true across the board.

But I'll say, I think you notice it more the more you listen to higher-res audio. I've been doing a lot more listening to lossless and/or HD audio (24/96 and up) and I was AirPlaying some stuff from my phone today for convenience sake and I was shocked by how noticeable the downgrade in quality was. On some level it's subtle, but in the higher-res recordings in particular, there's an unmistakable air and sustain that's missing in lossy audio. It's easier to miss if you're not used to hearing it, but again, listen consistently for long enough and all of the sudden your ears tune into things that you weren't even aware were there because you've spent so much time listening to lousy audio.

Granted, I'm an enthusiast, former professional musician, and have worked in recording studios and production. I'm aware of a lot more to listen for to begin with than most, and I do think on some level a lot of hi-fi stuff is lost on many people who don't critically listen or have a system capable of reproducing higher resolution appropriately. That said, I see no reason why Apple and others shouldn't offer the option to those interested. Like others have said, I'd gladly pay double for lossless, though I'd really love to see a 24/96 option given that much of the music being submitted to Apple at this point is in 24/96 before being converted down to 256 AAC. A $19.99 24/96 Apple Music (ideally that let me upload my collection of non-streaming HD music in lossless as well) would be incredibly compelling. If I had to pay $24.99 to upload my collection that isn't on streaming (live recordings released directly by acts mostly), I'd gladly pay that, though I'd hope they'd adapt Apple TV to output it correctly. I'm very much over the crudeness of HEOS and Plex...
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Pretty much this.

Even on very expensive gear into the $10k range it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between a well encoded 256kbps AAC track and a lossless track at any bitrate/resolution. Correct mastering matters FAR more than simply releasing lossless tracks will ever do.

If audio quality matters to you, invest in a better pair of headphones and/or speakers. A good separates amplifier even a very modestly priced one will do a better job than the one in your phone. If you're using speakers, good quality cable matters, it doesn't really matter what (digital) coax, hdmi or optical cable you use. You can build from there if you want. Only after you've exhausted all those details to the point you're flat broke and close to ruin should you even consider lossless audio as an option, and even then you're better off spending the money on whisky.


100% agree that good mastering is the most important part if you've been given a good set of recordings/mixes. **** mastering will sound like **** at 24/192 just as much as it does at 256 AAC. But good mastering of a good recording on a good system is absolutely better sounding than a 256 AAC if you are an avid listener. Again, you can't just plunk someone down and ask them if they know the difference. Most people won't know, and most people might not even realize what they're missing if they're not familiar with the improved fidelity of higher-res music reproduced on a decent system. By no means am I suggesting that this is as glaring as the jump from SD to HD video, it's more like HD to 4K HDR, in that many won't see a difference, or at least not right away, but if you are familiar with what to look for or get used to it, when you step down, you likely will notice more of what's missing.
Rating: 5 Votes

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