Apple: Higher quality 256 kbps AAC DRM-free music on iTunes Store coming in May

Apple StoreApple today announced that EMI Music’s entire digital catalog of music will be available for purchase DRM-free (without digital rights management) from the iTunes Store worldwide in May. DRM-free tracks from EMI will be offered at higher quality 256 kbps AAC encoding, resulting in audio quality indistinguishable from the original recording, for just $1.29 per song. In addition, iTunes customers will be able to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free versions for just 30 cents a song. iTunes will continue to offer its entire catalog, currently over five million songs, in the same versions as today—128 kbps AAC encoding with DRM—at the same price of 99 cents per song, alongside DRM-free higher quality versions when available.

“We are going to give iTunes customers a choice—the current versions of our songs for the same 99 cent price, or new DRM-free versions of the same songs with even higher audio quality and the security of interoperability for just 30 cents more,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, in the press release. “We think our customers are going to love this, and we expect to offer more than half of the songs on iTunes in DRM-free versions by the end of this year.”

“EMI and iTunes are once again teaming up to move the digital music industry forward by giving music fans higher quality audio that is virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings, with no usage restrictions on the music they love from their favorite artists,” said Eric Nicoli, CEO of EMI Group, in the press release.

With DRM-free music from the EMI catalog, iTunes customers will have the ability to download tracks from their favorite EMI artists without any usage restrictions that limit the types of devices or number of computers that purchased songs can be played on. DRM-free songs purchased from the iTunes Store will be encoded in AAC at 256 kbps, twice the current bit rate of 128 kbps, and will play on all iPods, Mac® or Windows computers, Apple TVs and soon iPhones, as well as many other digital music players.

iTunes will also offer customers a simple, one-click option to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free format for 30 cents a song. All EMI music videos will also be available in DRM-free format with no change in price.

The iTunes Store features the world’s largest catalog with over five million songs, 350 television shows and over 400 movies. The iTunes Store has sold over two billion songs, 50 million TV shows and over 1.3 million movies, making it the world’s most popular online music, TV and movie store.

Apple iTunes

MacDailyNews Take: The pressure on other labels to follow EMI’s lead will be impossible to ignore. Note that, when all is said and done, iTunes Store’s new track price will $1.29 going forward. We’re not sure how long the 99-cent DRM-laden, low quality tracks will remain for sale on iTunes Store, but our initial hunch is not for as long as some might think. How long do you think the 99-cent DRM tracks will last?

Related article:
EMI to sell entire music catalog without DRM, higher quality; Apple first to sell new downloads – April 02, 2007
EMI rejects Warner Music buyout bid – March 04, 2007
EMI halts talks about selling DRM-free music – February 26, 2007
Warner Music approaches EMI in possible takeover bid – February 20, 2007
Macrovision posts pro-DRM open letter to Steve Jobs and digital entertainment industry – February 16, 2007
Warner’s DRM-loving Middlebronfman warns wireless industry it may lose music market to Apple iPhone – February 14, 2007
Monster Cable announces full support of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ call for DRM-free music – February 13, 2007
BBC columnist doesn’t believe Steve Jobs’ Apple would stop using DRM if music labels would allow it – February 12, 2007
EMI may sell entire music catalog DRM-free – February 09, 2007
Recording Industry Association of America wants their DRM, calls for Apple to license FairPlay – February 08, 2007
Warner’s Middlebronfman: Jobs’ DRM-free music call ‘without logic and merit, we’ll not abandon DRM’ – February 08, 2007
Apple’s Jobs jolts music industry; Zune exec calls Jobs’ call for DRM-free music ‘irresponsible’ – February 07, 2007
Technology Review editor gets a lot wrong in his article about Apple CEO Jobs’ push to end DRM – February 07, 2007
Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ posts rare open letter: ‘Thoughts on Music’ – calls for DRM-free music – February 06, 2007


  1. flappo, you can upgrade all your songs for an additional 30¢ per track.
    You can buy an entire album with all tracks at 256k for the same price as before.

    Good move Apple and EMI!

    How about Apple Lossless tracks!

  2. Academic point, but what about upgrading whole albums – since they are the same price as before, does one still have to pay 30c to upgrade them? I guess time will tell, unless someone on this post was involved with the deal.

  3. Finally the music industry (part of it) has woken up. This is how it should have been from the beginning.

    I’d love to see how M$ can backtrack from their entrenched position of DRM DRM DRM DRM.

    The Apple/EMI deal vs M$ Zune/Universal deal. One of them is looking dead in the water can you guess which one?


  4. Flappo…

    There will apparently be an upgrade process on individual EMI tracks. Pay 30¢ or 20p and get the new DRM-free 256 AAC version. Don’t want it – then don’t pay it. Want it – pay it. All seems pretty clear to me.

    This will probably make me an iTunes customer once UMG come on board with the Motown back catalog.

  5. Being locked into a format and bitrate has been what has held me back from purchasing entire albums on the ITMS. Just the gesture that Apple will allow you to replace your previously downloaded content for something improved is fantastic!

  6. I have a Dream… where digital music sounds just like the original record, where songs can be played on any digital music player, where music fans and the music industry shake hands and enjoy the music.

    PS: I will personally still keep my iPod to serve me as that “any digital music player”.

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