Mastered for iTunes
I just got an email offering a free sampler of an EMI download from iTunes. Seems there are some downloads which are marketed as "Mastered for iTunes". There's a plausible explanation at - http://images.apple.com/itunes/maste...for_itunes.pdf, but are they really any good?
I bit the bullet and downloaded an LSO Live release: Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances and Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements (Gergiev conducting — and wonderful performances, especially the Rachmaninov).
It sounds fine, with perhaps a tad more presence than other material I've got from the iTunes Store. As usual, the difficulty is that you expect things to sound better when you've been told they will.
I only rarely get anything from the iTunes Store these days, due to the proliferation of web sites which offer digital downloads, many at CD quality or better. I may turn to further Mastered for iTunes releases if there's something I can't get elsewhere.
Last edited by DublinJimbo; 15-03-12 at 00:15.
But what exactly does 'mastered for iTunes' mean? I can't believe LSO Live and others would produce separate mixes to sell on third-party sites; what's in it for them?
If you read the article I pointed to it suggests that Apple have negotiated access to hi-res masters. They prefer 96/24 but will process other hi-res formats. They then encode this using aac. As far as I can see, they do this to 256 kbps VBR, which to many people will sound transparent compared with the original - or so it's claimed. I think that aac does go to higher bit rates, and of course it does do CBR, but I couldn't find any reference to higher rates in their article. Their argument is that because aac uses floating point calculations it can preserve the 24 bit resolution of the master tape (well, more or less), and that the degradation from the master by the aac processing is less damaging to the sound quality than downsampling to 44.1 kHz for CD, and then truncating and/or dithering the samples to 16 bits.
Originally Posted by Mahlerei
It is possible that they may be correct, but I'd be interested to hear what others think - including anyone who has actually tried these downloads. I'll probably try the free sample - though will have nothing to compare it with. I do have some of the LSO live CDs, and the Gergiev CD mentioned sounds like a good buy, so maybe I'll buy the CD/SACD and then do selected track compares with a couple of track downloads.
Re what's in it for LSO Live and other record companies - Money - of course! There are presumably agreements between the companies, and the recording companies will pay Apple for the distribution. That could easily be cheaper for them than doing deals with shop based retailers, and will also give potential access to world-wide markets. If there really is a shift towards downloads, then they effectively outsource their distribution to a firm with access to a huge market. In practice companies may use more than one distribution network, but it's perfectly plausible to think that Apple will be most effective. Additionally, the labelling of the recordings as "Mastered for iTunes" might provide competitive advantage.
Having said that, how many people actually looked at CDs with the initials SBM or other arcane acronyms on them? Sony's SBM (Super Bit Mapped) discs were supposed to sound better. They possibly did, but did most buyers really care?
For me sound quality matters, and I think I can tell the difference between good and bad. This is not always due to bit depth or sampling rate. It is possible to make a recording which will sound good at 44.1/16 and another which will sound bad using 192/32. Microphone positioning, balance, frequency adjustments, and the (cloth?) ears of some producers/engineers all contribute to whether a recording will sound good or bad. A very good recording may be degraded by the transmission network or the distribution medium, but a poor one will never be satisfactorily rescued.
Um, as in the 320kbps (average data rate) aac-lc offered by the iPlayer's HD Sound stream? Apple are just being stingy with an average data rate of 256kbps.
Originally Posted by Dave2002
I'd assumed that the use of 24/96 masters was a precursor to Apple offering a 'high resolution' iTunes store. It seems not - in the short term at least.
I've now read the article and I'm even more sceptical about their claims. In particular, I don't like their constant assertion that you need their 'tools' to make it all happen. It's a familiar Apple marketing ploy, all these 'tools' designed to keep the music in the family as it were.
I love Macs, and have done so for years, but I really don't care for Apple's proprietorial - and faintly patronising - attitude to their customers. I much prefer to pick and choose where I buy my high-res downloads and decode them the way I want to (preferably using open-source tools. not Apple's).
I think there's quite a range of kit and software which will play aac files, so it's not as closed up as you suggest.
The AAC format has nothing to do with Apple - despite beginning with an 'A'. Apple's use of it has more to do with avoiding patents/royalties associated with MP3s. It would be nice if they supported FLAC though, no problems converting, but it would be good not to have to convert.
Originally Posted by Dave2002
One other annoyance is tha while iTunes supports high resolution recordings AirPlay doesn't.
It is possible to get iTunes to play FLAC files, though it's a pity it doesn't just do it anyway.
There is a set of Script files called Fluke which should enable this.