Ars Technica tests quality of Apple’s ‘Mastered for iTunes’ music

“Apple’s push to increase the quality of songs distributed via iTunes has been formally realized in the company’s ‘Mastered for iTunes’ program—but does it really make music sound better?” Chris Foresman aks for Ars Technica.

“Some musicians and record executives have recently bemoaned the fact that what ends up on a fan’s iPod or iPhone is of arguably much lower quality than what is laid down on tape or hard drives in the studio,” Foresman reports. “While some players in the industry have pushed for higher resolution downloads, Apple’s current solution involves adhering to long-recognized—if not always followed—industry best practices, along with an improved compression toolchain that squeezes the most out of high-quality master recordings while still producing a standard 256kbps AAC iTunes Plus file.”

Foresman reports, “British recording engineer Ian Shepard called the entire process of specially mastering audio files for iTunes to sound more like the CD version simple ‘BS’ … So, we set out to delve deeper into the technical aspects of Mastered for iTunes.”

Much more in the full article here.

Related article:
Mastered for iTunes: Music mastered specifically for iTunes for increased audio fidelity – February 22, 2012


  1. Amen to that. Time for Apple to offer Apple Lossless codec songs on iTunes. I already re-ripped all my many CD’s to AL and its great. You should then be able to automatically encode to any AAC bit rate you want in your portable devices from there.

  2. I know it sounds awful to say so, but I really don’t give a crap about perfect audio quality. I listen to the vast majority of my music at work, in the car, or while walking or riding. Almost never do I listen to music in a silent room, which is the only place where you can notice the difference between an MP3 and a CD.


    1. I give a crap. I’m a musician. And I hear, or should I say- “feel” the difference. According to Neil Young, Steve Jobs used to listen to vinyl at home. I hate scratches and hisses, so I don’t go that far.

  3. I recently upgraded my music listening to a 2010 Mini with a lossless library (other than songs purchased from iTunes) connected via USB to a Peachtree Audio Nova driving two Wharfedale EVO 2-20s (all for under 2 grand).

    Amazing how good the digital sounds.
    Then I listened to this Mastered for iTunes album

    I swear it feels like the vibrato from holding the cello, violin, and especially the double-bass is in my apartment. It is very impressive for 256K.

    Now I see they have ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’

  4. Good read. I loved the quote, “As audio engineers, we do the best we can, relying on our ears and our brains. But I’m convinced that we never hear ’empirically.'”

    I still wish “Mastered for iTunes” was 48kHz instead of 41.1kHz. 41.1kHz is very close to the limit of the human hearing range, but 48kHz surpasses this range by a healthy margin. I’m certain that at least I can hear the difference between the two, and I prefer fidelity going slightly beyond my hearing range rather than slightly below.

    DVD audio is 48kHz, so it’s not unprecedented to have audio of this quality in a consumer format.

    I actually think 256kbps is too much bitrate – you might as well use a loss-less format if you are going to take up all that disk space. 196kbps AAC sounds just as good to me.

      1. 320kbps AAC seems like an odd choice to me. I think of audio formats as a compromise between disk space and audio quality. 320kbps AAC seems to takes up nearly the same disk space as AIFF, but it is still sacrificing quality by using lossy compression. To me, it’s like the worst of both world compromise: noticeable loss in audio quality, with no noticeable benefit in disk space.

        Why don’t you just use AIFF? It’s better quality, and about the same disk space.

  5. well ONE of the problems that Apple has is the whole AirTunes eco system. When I copy the CD’s that I own, I copy them uncompressed… but when I stream them along with other songs purchased from the iTunes store, the bandwidth that is used remains just about the same… which means that iTunes is compressing my uncompressed songs to send them out via AirTunes(or whatever Apple wants to call it these days….)

  6. My ears are trained and my hearing is golden. My audio equipment is incredible. I deserve the best, so give me the best… Bla, Bla, Bla.

    Same posts every time audio is mentioned

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