Friday, August 9, 2019

“Mastered for iTunes” Becomes “Apple Digital Masters”

Nick Heer:

The way this is written makes it sound like Apple Digital Masters is equivalent to the lossless files offered by other platforms, but it is not. It is a rebranding of the Mastered for iTunes spec — probably because Apple is no longer using the soiled “iTunes” branding to refer to their music products, with the exception of the iTunes Store. This spec is important because it helps labels deliver music that is mastered specifically for a compressed audio format, not just a conversion from the CD or vinyl master. This is great.

It still uses 256kbps AAC files.

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At some point folk are going to have to accept that Apple are as nefarious and dishonest as every other large company.

If you read the story at Pixel Envy, it's Billboard that are misinterrupting what Apple are offering in their report.

@csnazell I don’t see anything nefarious about Apple Digital Masters.

It's great that this is continuing under a new name - the 'Mastered for iTunes Beatles tracks sound fantastic on decent speakers - wish they had the same for Steely Dan... now that my turntable has packed-up.


"Digital Master" is a term commonly used to indicate that the file is a lossless representation of the studio master. A number of streaming services offer this level of streaming for an extra fee on their regular subscription pricing. Some recording studios also offer outright purchase of this grade of audio quality.

By renaming "Mastered for iTunes" which is not of "studio master" quality and is lossy encoded, to "Apple Digital Masters", Apple is muddying the meaning of "Digital Master" for consumers and undermining the value offered by their competitors. It's the same kind of behaviour as AT&T's renaming their HSPA+ 3G service "4G" in order to undermine their rivals who were making hay off of their rollout of 4G LTE. It's anti-choice & anti-consumer.

@csnazell OK, I see what you mean now. I agree that the name is misleading.

As far as Nick Heer's point:

It’s a mistake to conflate lossless audio files and better mastering. One will noticeably improve the way your music sounds; the other simply requires far more disk space.

As someone who reluctantly just downgraded his own FLAC audio collection for a high bit rate MP3 collection, while not an unfair assessment, Nick does not adequately explain his position either. With Bluetooth streaming, no, I could not detect any difference in a blind test of many different tracks. To be fair, it was difficult to detect much difference with cheap laptop speakers or inexpensive small speakers connected with a wire. However, with a fairly inexpensive receiver and decent set of speakers (nothing in the audiophile class, just stuff that might cost $200-$500) there is a detectable difference between the FLAC tracks and AAC or MP3 or Ogg equivalents. So it just depends on how people listen to their music.

So why did I proceed to ditch most (not all, I kept some of the rarer stuff in FLAC) of my lossless music? I generally use Bluetooth headsets or Bluetooth car connections, my ears are aging and with age my hearing certainly will not get better at detecting often subtle differences, and frankly a 2/3 reduction in storage space for my 6000ish tracks was a rather compelling argument. Yes, I did consider offloading all my music to the media server and then only syncing MP3 versions to my laptop, but it's fine, almost all my purchased digital music is MP3 anyway.

Why am I kvetching about such a minor difference in interpretation? Especially since I arrived at the same place anyway. Since Nick was harping on people making misleading statements, it was weird to turn around and offer such a generalized statement of his own, without qualifying such parameters.

TL;DR For people listening on cheap earbuds or anything Bluetooth, yeah, the better mastering will likely make a difference, even with 256 AAC encoding. Maybe that would add a sentence or two to the post, but likely worth it.

@csnazell I agree. While the formerly named "Mastered for iTunes" offered a nice quality bump, "Apple Digital Masters" makes it sound like a lossless encoding from the studio master.


I've offered lengthier explanations to my short quip in previous posts, including in the piece I linked to just above that line ( — which, itself, contains links to pieces I've written. Didn't want to rehash it in detail, but I appreciate the feedback.

@Nick Thanks for the link! To be fair to you, after reading the link your provided, the tickle of memory makes me think I have read your prior post on the issue! Sorry about being overly prickly about such a minor point. Again, I did not disagree with the general thought behind your post.

I do think Apple should be better about their marketing. Intentional or not, their words are…let's say, confusing. "Remastered for Apple Music" would be fine really, assuming the iTunes name is meant to be excised from Apple vernacular.

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