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. I have to agree with Krakow. The cost of the songs through Apple’s service is to high for a product that does not offer the same quality as uncompressed audio files. If the price was 49 cents each, then I would have already downloaded some. As it stands now, I have not downloaded a single song. I want a bigger discount since I am getting a lower quality.

  2. Just a question, but why would turning the sound “enhancement” option off improve sound quality?

    I’m not a techy so I don’t understand. I just want to know how to get the best sound quality from my cds and my selections at the iTunes store.

  3. The article say you can’t burn an Audio CD in iTunes from the AAC. I’m pretty sure you can and it will play without any problem in audio player.

    Just choose the Audio CD format in iTunes/Preferences/Burn. I admit that this is a little puzzling for begginners. Burying that kind of pref is not a good idea.

    I suspect he burned MP3 CDs, not AAC data CDs, so it maybe explain the bad sound… I’m pretty sure MP3 CD is the default option.

    I’m not sure AAC files play on any DVD player, neither on any PC, but MP3s play on a lot of them.

  4. I’ve bought several songs from ITunes and think they sound great! If they are compared to mp3 they sound better by quite alot.

    Also, iTunes leaves Media Player in the dust… no comparison.

  5. How does turning the sound enhancer OFF improve the sound? Also, the pricing does need to be more competitive as far as full length recordings go. Think of it this way, okay you’re getting the entire recording for $9.99 which is about $2 to $3 cheaper than a store bought CD in some places, BUT you are NOT getting uncompressed files, the physical CD, or the associated packaging including the artwork, lyrics, and liner notes. Many people may not care but I and many others certainly do. By the way, don’t kid yourself, the artists make a very small percentage off of a CD. Getting music for free is more of a concern for the record companies getting ripped off NOT the musicians.

  6. Sound Enhancer is evil. It’s like “Loudness” or “Mega Bass” or any other nasty EQ schema that affects the original mix of the music. It doesn’t work well for every type of music. Basically, if you want to hear music closest to the way the artist intended, use a quality player/headphones/speakers and turn off the EQ and any other extra “Sound Enhancer” crapola.

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