MSNBC: iTunes Music Store AAC audio sound quality ‘inferior’

Gary Krakow writes for MSNBC, “Apple has chosen AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) compression for the [iTunes Music Store]. (AAC is actually Dolby’s version of the MPEG-4 audio codec.) Apple says AAC is more efficient than older formats like MP3 and that ‘expert listeners have judged AAC audio files compressed at 128 kbps (stereo) to be virtually indistinguishable from the uncompressed audio source.’ I’d love to meet those experts.”

Turn off Sound Enhancer in iTunes Effects Preferences, Gary. Try the EQ, too.

Krakow continues, “Last night, I downloaded the latest album by The Wallflowers to hear what Apple’s downloads sound like compared to the ‘real’ CD, which I own. After my one-click download, I burned a CD of the cuts. The CD played on the Apple computer, on my PC and in my two standalone DVD players. (Any device that can play a DVD can play burned copies of Apple’s AAC-compressed songs.) The burned disk did NOT play in any of my CD players. Not in the ones hooked up to my stereo, my portable players, or even in an old laptop without DVD capabilities. Nor did they play on either of my older MP3 players.”

That’s because they are AAC files, Gary. Try burning an audio CD next time, okay?

Krakow continues, “It’s true: Apple’s AAC cuts sound great with the tiny little speakers that come with computers. And they sound pretty good on an original (but AAC upgraded) iPod through the stock headphones. But listen through good headphones and what you’ll hear is dull-sounding bass, slightly sibilant voice quality and a lack of three-dimensionality. When I moved up to the DVD player connected to my stereo, the difference was huge. The AAC cuts had a complete lack of air around the singer and instruments in the band. The sound quality was somewhat dynamic, but dull sounding. When I compared the downloaded songs to the real CD it was no contest. The uncompressed CD .wav files sounded much, much, much better.”

Turn off Sound Enhancer in iTunes Effects Preferences, Gary. Try the EQ, too.

Krakow continues, “This might not matter to most people, but consider this: The Wallflowers CD cost me $11.99 when I bought it. I can make as many legal copies as I like for my personal use – and those copies all sound great and play on any device I can think of. I can also rip the songs onto my MP3 players and the iPod. The Wallflowers download from iTunes cost me $9.99, is limited in where I can play and store it… and the sound is inferior.”

Turn off Sound Enhancer in iTunes Effects Preferences, Gary. Try the EQ, too.

Krakow continues, “Even if you think AAC cuts are good enough for your listening needs, you’re paying way too much for this near-CD quality when a few cents more per cut can get you the real thing. Apple should consider slashing the price of their music to reflect the ultimate quality of its offerings. For now, I’ll stick with CDs.”

You do that, Gary. Full article here.

Gary’s email address is – you might want to let him know that he should “turn off Sound Enhancer in iTunes Effects Preferences and try the EQ, too.”


  1. Apple should ship iTunes with the Sound Enhancer completely OFF to avoid this sort of mistake made by Windows-centric, uninformed, moronic reviewer. Note Krakow’s picture: I think he just realized Wintel sucks and he’s in serious pain about all of the money and time he’s wasted.

  2. Better yet they should detect when an AAC file is playing and switch it off automatically.

    Not sure how Sound Enhancer could possibly have affected the playback through a hi-fi though.

    And wouldn’t you rather have a ‘real’ CD for $2 more ? With a real insert ? I know I would.

  3. I don’t think there would be 1,000,000 downloads (in 1 week) if it costs too much for too little. Apparently there are a few people out there that completely disagee, and they voted with their hard earned non-MIcrosoft dollars!

  4. Drive to the “Record” Store to get it? Nope I don’t like milling around records stores, looking at all the nifty album er, I mean CD art. I like the “now” convenience. I agree though they sound enhancer should detect on the fly, or a setting telling it to do so.

  5. Oh, how rude. Putting a digital file filled CD in an audio cd player and expecting it to work… or actually just making statements that will burn the impression into nontechnical minds that the itunes are not suited for outside of an ipod or imac.

    iTunes isnt for making CDs, its possibly the next way to get music. iPod is replacing the idea of a walkman, and with the fm transmitter, you dont need to upgrade to a cd player in your car, much less one with mp3 compatibility.

    A stable, fun way for musicians to continue to get paid for thier work AND people to get the music they want at a decent price. Viva Las iTunes!

  6. For a “technical” writer, this guy needs to get a few more Continuing Education credits under his belt. I guess he’s so used to playing Windows Media and MP3 files on all his CD players that he assumed they can play any ol’ format you throw at them ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

    Since he is a Windows user, I find it interesting that he would take the time to cut down a service that is “leaving more than 90 percent of its potential users out in the cold” — when referring to the current Mac-only state — without adding, “although a Windows version is expected by years end”. I suppose they should stick with Windows Media Player Music Store… wait a minute!!!

    Unfortunately, every article written by “Gary Krakow”, and others cut from the same cloth, the general public gets misinformed about the beauty and simplicity of the Mac platform.

  7. “The Wallflowers CD cost me $11.99 when I bought it. I can make as many legal copies as I like for my personal use…”

    A growing number of CD’s are “protected” so that users can no longer exercise their former rights to make personal copies without breaking the law by disabling the DRM. Extrapolating the author’s reasoning, the cost of protected CD’s should be reduced.

    Regarding the quality of AAC-endocded music – the author has already admonished Gary for not properly setting up iTunes to maximize quality. I find it interesting, however, that the author only compared AAC-encoded music to uncompressed formats. MP3 is considered “good enough” by countless millions of people, but the author did not bother to compare the relative merits of AAC versus MP3.

    I do not consider MSNBC to be an unbiased source on this topic.

  8. I think when iTMS reaches Europe, I’ll use it for individual songs. I’ll use it for stuff I can’t find in a record store (this is assuming the catalogue opens up hard-to find obscure or deleted stuff and isn’t just a hits hypermarket (

    For whole albums, I’d prefer to get the real thing. For individual songs, I think it’s great value. For albums it’s good value for some thing and not for others. I put that down to the service being in it’s infancy. There will be different price points and even bargain bins in the not too distant future I hope.

    I’d expect sales to slow down after the first week. There’s the novelty factor to consider. And then there’s the Visa bills to deal with for the over-enthusiastic early adopters who went a little crazy at the convenience of the whole thing ! They may steer clear for a coupls of months.

  9. Regardless of Gary Krakow’s expertise in computers – let alone Macs or anything Apple, I believe the real point that he was trying to make was that he didn’t perceive VALUE comparing an $12 CD album which included aiff files plus artwork, lyrics, et al., contrasted with and ‘album’ of compressed AAC files, no extras – for $10.

    Atleast on that one issue Mr. Krakow is absolutely correct.

    BTW, I’ve read a few of his dead wrong ‘articles’ before.

    The issue isn’t whether iTunes is a good service. It is. But rather, it’s whether or not 99� is fair.

    The expenses to the RecordCo to deliver those music files are reduced substantially. That SHOULD be passed on to their customers.

    If an AIFF file’s price is about $1 on a CD, why do I want to pay $1 for a AAC file delivered thru a wire?

  10. Among all the points previously stated, Krakow misses another one:

    What if I don’t want the whole CD?

    Therein lies the true genius of iTMS: only the songs you want, none of the songs you don’t.

    What’s the record store’s answer to this? CD singles for five bucks? Sorry. Don’t think so.

    And what’s all this boohooing about liner notes? The only really exclusive liner note-type fare comes with box sets, which isn’t the focus of digital music distribution anyway. The more mundane stuff like lyrics and photos are copiously available on the internet. Finally, for the patient ones among us, it seems with the convergence of print and digital documents that online liner notes are on the way, and the album artwork feature in iTunes 4 seems easily expandable to include lyrics, personal statements, credits and so on.

    Whenever the public goes bananas over something truly cool like iTMS, there will always be a sniper waiting in the journalistic wings; sideline critics are a fact of news. Krakow’s article is simply another not-so-unique example of singing to hear one’s own song.


  11. Well, as much as I disagree with some of his negative comments, this article wasn’t exactly a slam against it.

    for example: “�Overall, the experience is a lot better than anything that previously existed. The using and buying experience gets an A-plus.”

    He does a reasonable job of laying out positives and negatives, although it is evident that he needs a bit of education in areas that have been previously mentioned. But this article isn’t as full blown an assault as it’s being portrayed.

  12. While I agree that this article is biased there are some valid points made. I’ve downloaded the new Coldplay and compared it to my roommates store bought CD. We both noticed a difference in the quality. All of the above suggestions were taken into account when the CD was burned and the iTunes one wasn’t nearly as rich and full in sound. Also, the iTunes CD did not play in our DVD player. This has nothing to do with how the CD was burned (all the files are in .aiff format), but rather the fact that the DVD player can’t play CD-Rs of any kind. It played the Coldplay Store CD just fine. I have an iPod and I plan to use the iTunes Music Store for most of my music purchases, but until the codecs catch up with .aiff I’m not ready to fully give up on CDs just yet.

    Also, how does the Sound Equalizer option under the burn options effect sound quality? I noticed that my iTunes CD has to be turned way up to reach the volume level of the store CD.

  13. well, the fact he’s from MSNBC says enough…

    but to the point, the $1 per song issue has come up a lot, but then again, as an early adopter, what do you expect? I still remember when the 10GB was like $500 when it first came out. Anything brand spanking new, including the iTunes store is going to have some high startup costs, that’s just how it is. As demand grows, I think the price will go down just like mass production. However, it all depends on how greedy the record companies want to stay.

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