Review: Apple’s iTunes Plus

Apple iTunes“Apple and EMI recently announced that EMI would offer its entire catalogue without DRM (digital rights management) protection at the iTunes store, sometime in May. With just a full day left in the month, Apple made good on the promise, adding unprotected tracks – iTunes Plus – to its online digital media store yesterday,” Christopher Breen reports for PC Advisor.

“To purchase iTunes Plus tracks you must upgrade to iTunes 7.2,” Breen reports. “Once you’ve installed iTunes 7.2, that link takes you to the iTunes Plus page, which holds What’s Hot and Featured Albums boxes similar to those on the iTunes Store’s main page as well as Top Albums and Top Songs columns that list pretty much what their titles suggest.”

“When you click on an album on the iTunes Plus page, you’re asked if you’d like to set your iTunes Plus preference. If you click the iTunes Plus button at the bottom of the dialog box, you’ll always be shown the iTunes Plus version of a music track or music video if one is available. Click Cancel and you’ll continue to be offered protected tracks, although you’ll be told that an album is also available in an iTunes Plus version,” Breen reports. “Regrettably, with iTunes Plus preferences enabled you’re not shown the less-expensive protected version of the track.”

iTunes Plus “files are encoded at a bit rate of 256kbps and are tagged with a .m4a extension. (This is the extension for unprotected iTunes AAC files, versus the .m4p extension appended to the iTunes Store’s protected AAC files.) A four-minute track weighs in at just over 8MB,” Breen reports.

“When signed into the Store, click the iTunes Plus link and you should see an Upgrade My Library area in the upper right corner of the resulting iTunes Plus windows… Albums can be upgraded for 30 percent of the current iTunes album price, upgrades to individual music tracks cost 20p per track. The iTunes store displays the total cost of updating your library,” Breen reports. “Unfortunately, you can’t upgrade individual tracks or albums – this is an all-or-nothing option for your entire compatible library. However, you’re not forced to upgrade an entire iTunes album if you’ve purchased only a few tracks on it.”

MacDailyNews Note: iTunes’ “Upgrade My Library” will be continually updated as iTunes Plus (DRM-free, higher quality) tracks are added. After upgrading your library, iTunes’ “iTunes Plus – Upgrade My Library” section will state that “Your iTunes Plus music is currently up-to-date. There is nothing for you to upgrade. Check back often as iTunes Plus music is continually being added.”

Breen reports, “Apple iTunes Plus tracks are an improvement on their DRM-riddled brethren, but whether iTunes Plus are worth the extra cash will depend on your musical taste and setup.”

Full review here.

15 Comments

  1. I have never been hindered by FairPlay restrictions and my hearing is not what it used to be, so I’ll be sticking with the old-school format and save the 30 cents per iTune. But the choice is nice to have for those who’ll take advantage of it.

  2. 256 is really only useful if you have a really good audio system and play the file through the Toslink port of the Mac.

    Then you’ll hear the quality difference between lesser quality formats right off.

    But from a iPod, forget it. Just use the 128 bit rate.

  3. Following up on TT’s post:

    McCartney’s “Venus and Mars” — 17 iTunes Plus tracks for $9.99, only 59¢ per track (vs. $1.29 a la carte). Not too shabby!

    I bought that album and “Band on the Run” last night. I’d be curious to hear how McCartney’s back catalog is selling. Downloading was pretty slow last night, as if there was a lot of traffic.

  4. Audiophile –

    I can definitely appreciate the added quality of my 320kbps ripped tracks on my iPod through Shure E3c ‘buds. The only way I’d say 128 is “good enough” is if one is listening through cheapo ‘buds or ‘phones. Even Koss’ $40 PortaPro ‘phones are good enough to reveal the difference between 128 and 256.

  5. Audiophile,

    sorry mate, that’s rubbish!
    I listen to music through my iPod:- Shure E500 earphones (unbelievably good!) with Apple Lossless (much better than yer 128 or 256).

    AND THE QUALITY IS FANTASTIC!

    I’m nearly 60 years old and have been an audiophile for many years and my stereo system isn’t cheap (around €15,000) and I can say with absolute authority that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  6. I’m amazed at the number of people who think iPods sound fine with the standard headphones! They’re bloody awful (and they were awful when you spent heaps more for an iPod a few years back.)

    I have a philosophy… if you’re gonna go deaf, at least do it listening to music on quality equipment.

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