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iTunes Match

iTunes Match rescued my messy MP3 collection

Posted on 15 Nov 2012 at 09:21

Paul Ockenden reveals how iTunes Match helped bring order to his eclectic digital music collection

Although it isn’t intended for this purpose, the Match deduplication facility provides a neat way to organise a music collection: just throw all your tracks at the service from one machine (a Mac if you have one, or a "Hackintosh" running in a VM – iTunes runs like a three-legged dog on Windows), then install a clean copy of iTunes with a blank database onto another machine and download everything. Voila! The Match service has turned your horrible mess of files into a neat and tidy music collection.

There are a few gotchas, however. First, iTunes Match isn’t free – it costs £22 a year in the UK – but if you’re using it only as a clean-up tool, you could cancel after the first year. Second, any files matched (rather than uploaded) will arrive on your second machine as 256Kbits/sec AAC files rather than MP3s. They’re not DRM-protected, though, so you can easily revert to MP3s if you want to, although most modern music players will work fine with AAC files. Third, if you have a large music collection it will take several days to complete the match/upload/download process.

I’ve always hated iTunes, especially running on a PC – it’s slightly more tolerable on a speedy Mac

In addition, you may experience occasional problems with the matching process itself: in particular, I found several files that iTunes showed as "ineligible" once I’d turned on the iCloud Status column (it’s normally hidden, but you’ll find it in iTunes’ column chooser). On closer inspection it turned out that these were variable bit-rate MP3s that had somehow been flagged as 32Kbits/sec, probably because those tracks started with silence and so the encoder could drop the bit rate right down to save a few bytes; iTunes appears to look at the initial bit rate, and if it’s below 64Kbits/sec, rejects the whole file. The simple answer is to right-click the affected tracks and select "Create AAC version", then under Store select "Update iTunes Match", at which point the AAC files will either match or upload.

All in all, this is a long-winded way to clean up a music collection, but the results are worth it – on the second machine you’ll find you’ve downloaded a well-structured music collection with lots of cover art and track names. What’s more, many of your grotty, low bit-rate files will have been transformed into beautiful 256Kbits/sec copies.

I’ve always hated iTunes, especially running on a PC – it’s slightly more tolerable on a speedy Mac, but still seems to spend minutes at a time seemingly locked up before springing back to life again. I never thought I’d have anything good to say about it, but iTunes Match has changed all that.

Do keep an eye on its competitors, though: Amazon Cloud Player needs only a deduplicate function to bring itself into contention, especially since it’s based on 256Kbits/sec MP3 rather than AAC, and who knows what Google might add to its own cloud music player in the future.

There are exciting times ahead in the cloud music space, but right now Apple is winning.

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User comments

Hmmm

Sounded good until, 'install a clean copy of iTunes with a blank database onto another machine and download everything.' Nevermind....

By huwparry on 15 Nov 2012

Hmmm

Sounded good until, 'install a clean copy of iTunes with a blank database onto another machine and download everything.' Nevermind....

By huwparry on 15 Nov 2012

Google Music

if only you'd help back a few hours to release this story: Google Music does have a match service. Saved me a lot of bandwidth (and time) when uploading my tunes last night.

By BabyDinosaur on 15 Nov 2012

For those that don't realise...

These RWC columns will usually have been written over two months ago, and appeared in the magazine a month or more back. Only then do they magically appear on the website.

A good reason to subscribe, huh? Or maybe buy the Enhanced App if you have an iPad. (Thought I'd better get that in to keep in Barry's good books!)

By PaulOckenden on 15 Nov 2012

Early adopter

Mistake I made was signing up to the service too quickly. As a lot of my collection was also obscure, it took over a week - running 24 hours a day - to upload & synchronise the collection...

Other than that, it's OK.

By bronven on 15 Nov 2012

First Day Adopter...

That's what I was...and given that I've bought into the whole ecosystem (iPhone, iPad), I'm very happy with it - especially with a 3 unlimited data contract which means that streaming all my music all the time is a viable prospect...

By u404261 on 26 Nov 2012

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Paul Ockenden

Paul Ockenden

Paul is a contributing editor to PC Pro specialising in smartphones, mobile broadband and all things wireless. He's technical director of a combined IT and marketing company, which works on websites and intranets for several blue-chip clients.

Read more More by Paul Ockenden

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