iTunes Match ver­sus Ap­ple Mu­sic

Two Ap­ple mu­sic ser­vices. Plenty of cross­over. Craig Gran­nell looks at iTunes Match, Ap­ple Mu­sic and iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

We’ve come a long way since por­ta­ble mu­sic was a whirring tape con­stantly in threat of be­ing eaten by a brick-sized cas­sette player. And hav­ing long since blazed past Ap­ple’s orig­i­nal iPod that could “put 1000 songs in your pocket”, many

peo­ple now want all of their mu­sic ev­ery­where, at any point, re­gard­less of the de­vice they’re us­ing at the time.

And now that the HomePod has ar­rived, many are won­der­ing whether to sign up for Ap­ple Mu­sic, or if there is a cheaper op­tion to get ac­cess to their iTunes Mu­sic col­lec­tion on that de­vice.

Ap­ple pro­vides a num­ber of means of ac­cess­ing such col­lec­tions among which are Ap­ple Mu­sic and iTunes Match, sub­scrip­tion ser­vices that put your iTunes in the Cloud, and make use of iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary, but in sub­tly dif­fer­ent ways. Each ser­vice of­fers spe­cific fea­tures and lim­i­ta­tions, and they can even be used si­mul­ta­ne­ously. This ar­ti­cle aims to help un­pick what each does, and the best choice for you.

iTunes in the Cloud

iTunes in the Cloud if how Ap­ple refers to the mu­sic you own that you can stream to a de­vice from the cloud. It’s a free ser­vice from Ap­ple and means you have ac­cess to all your iTunes Store pur­chases in your iTunes mu­sic li­brary wher­ever you are – so you can down­load them to all your com­put­ers and iOS de­vices, or stream them on your Ap­ple TV, Ap­ple Watch or HomePod.

How­ever, if you have mu­sic that you have added to your col­lec­tion some other way (rip­ping a CD, for ex­am­ple) you won’t have ac­cess to this mu­sic via the cloud, un­less you pay for iTunes Match or Ap­ple Mu­sic.

iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary

iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary is slightly dif­fer­ent to iTunes in the Cloud. It’s Ap­ple’s name for a copy of your en­tire mu­sic li­brary that’s stored in iCloud (rather than just the tracks

you’ve pur­chased from iTunes). You have to sub­scribe to ei­ther Ap­ple Mu­sic or iTunes Match in or­der to have iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary. Re­gard­less of the Ap­ple ser­vice you sign up to, iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary con­tains all the data about the mu­sic you own in­clud­ing the your playlists and other in­for­ma­tion about the tracks you en­joy lis­ten­ing to. As long as all your de­vices are synced with your iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary you will have ac­cess to all your mu­sic, playlists and play count in­for­ma­tion wher­ever you are.

Ap­ple lets you store up to 100,000 songs in iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary, ex­clud­ing any tracks you bought in iTunes, so that’s a lot of mu­sic. Once all rel­e­vant mu­sic files have up­loaded (which, note, can take a very long time), they (and your playlists) are ac­ces­si­ble on any de­vice logged into the rel­e­vant Ap­ple ID.

If you have an un­lim­ited, fast and sta­ble web con­nec­tion, you can ben­e­fit from iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary by stream­ing your mu­sic on de­mand. If your con­nec­tion is slower or you want to down­load some files for off­line play­back, you can tap the usual down­load icon (a cloud with a down­ward-fac­ing ar­row) to add an al­bum or in­di­vid­ual track to a de­vice’s lo­cal li­brary.

iTunes Match

If you sub­scribe to iTunes Match you can ac­cess all your mu­si­cal con­tent via the cloud. For a yearly sub­scrip­tion of £21.99 Ap­ple will store all the mu­sic in your col­lec­tion in the cloud – in­clud­ing the tracks you have im­ported from CDs and pur­chased else­where.

If Ap­ple is un­able to find a match for a track in your col­lec­tion in its own mu­sic store, it will up­load

your track and store it in the cloud for you. Ap­ple will up­load 100,000 un­matched songs – your iTunes Store pur­chases don’t count to­wards this num­ber. So that’s 100,000 songs in ad­di­tion to any bought on iTunes. Any­thing longer than two hours or larger than 200MB won’t be up­loaded to iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary.

How­ever, the fea­tures of iTunes Match are avail­able as part of Ap­ple Mu­sic, so you don’t need to sub­scribe to both ser­vices.

If you use iTunes Match you won’t have ac­cess to your Playlists but you will be able to play mu­sic ac­cord­ing to al­bums and genre, and in­di­vid­ual tracks

To start the process of sign­ing up to iTunes Match, go to Store > iTunes Match in iTunes. If you’ve al­ready signed up to Ap­ple Mu­sic, Ap­ple ‘hides’ the iTunes Match op­tion, but you can still sign up by click­ing the sub­scribe link on Ap­ple’s web­site. Once iTunes Match is

ac­ti­vated, iTunes scans your mu­sic li­brary and at­tempts to match it to con­tent on the iTunes Store.

Tracks Ap­ple suc­cess­fully matches be­come avail­able to your de­vices as 256kb/s AAC down­loads, even if your orig­i­nal copy was of a lower qual­ity. These files can be ac­cessed from any de­vice. Should you delete an orig­i­nal file from iTunes, the matched one can be down­loaded. Un­matched files are up­loaded from iTunes to iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary, and can also later be down­loaded should you need to, although they won’t get an ‘up­grade’ in au­dio qual­ity.

In the­ory, iTunes Match can match a large range of file for­mats (AAC, MP3, AIF, WAV, and more) at a range of qual­i­ties. In re­al­ity, the ser­vice is scat­ter­gun in its ef­fec­tive­ness. It’s not un­com­mon for iTunes Match to suc­cess­fully match all but one track from an al­bum, or, for that mat­ter, only one track on an al­bum. This is be­cause iTunes Match doesn’t just use meta­data to match songs, but also their wave­forms, which vary de­pend­ing on the qual­ity of the file and even the mas­ter­ing used on the orig­i­nal source. If you al­low your iTunes Match sub­scrip­tion to lapse, your mu­sic li­brary will no longer au­to­mat­i­cally sync be­tween de­vices. How­ever, you re­tain lo­cal down­loads in­def­i­nitely.

Note that iTunes Match orig­i­nally pro­vided ac­cess to iTunes Ra­dio, but that fea­ture was dis­con­tin­ued in early 2016. Any­one want­ing sta­tions based around gen­res or artists must now use Ap­ple Mu­sic.

Ap­ple Mu­sic

Ap­ple Mu­sic is a £9.99 a month sub­scrip­tion ser­vice that gives you ac­cess to 45 mil­lion songs. You can sign

up for a free trial that lasts three months. You can play any track in Ap­ple Mu­sic if you have a data con­nec­tion, and you can down­load any mu­sic from Ap­ple Mu­sic and lis­ten to it off­line.

You can un­sub­scribe from the ser­vice at any time, should you do so any Ap­ple Mu­sic tracks you had down­loaded will no longer be avail­able un­less you pur­chase them.

In ad­di­tion to the songs avail­able in Ap­ple Mu­sic you will also have ac­cess to your en­tire mu­sic col­lec­tion on all your de­vices, as per iTunes Match above.

You also gain ac­cess to Beats 1 ra­dio sta­tion and a lim­ited se­lec­tion of TV and Films, which are mu­sic re­lated videos and a few pro­grammes Ap­ple has made.

You can sign up to Ap­ple Mu­sic by go­ing to Store > Ap­ple Mu­sic in iTunes or (click­ing the ‘Try’ link) on Ap­ple’s web­site. The big­gest dif­fer­ences be­tween Ap­ple Mu­sic and iTunes Match are the range of mu­sic you get ac­cess to and pric­ing. Ap­ple Mu­sic is more ex­pen­sive than iTunes Match, at £9.99 per month (ver­sus £21.99 per year), but you gain ac­cess to ev­ery­thing on the iTunes Store.

Dif­fer­ences be­tween Ap­ple Mu­sic and iTunes Match

Ap­ple Mu­sic used to be at a dis­ad­van­tage to iTunes Match in the way it matched lo­cal tracks with an on­line cat­a­logue. If an Ap­ple Mu­sic user had tracks in their ex­ist­ing iTunes li­brary, when the soft­ware tried to match that al­ready paid for track to its Ap­ple Mu­sic equiv­a­lent, the re­sults were of­ten less than pleas­ing.

In July 2016, Ap­ple started to roll-out an im­prove­ment to this match­ing sys­tem that uses the same au­dio fin­ger­print tech­nol­ogy as iTunes Match to match users to their cor­rect songs. Pre­vi­ously, Ap­ple Mu­sic’s match­ing tech was based on a more prim­i­tive meta­data ver­sion of iTunes Match. The au­dio fin­ger­print method is far more ac­cu­rate, which is why it’s great that it is slowly be­ing in­tro­duced to all Ap­ple Mu­sic users.

Put sim­ply, if you ac­ci­den­tally delete a song from your per­sonal iTunes li­brary, you can still down­load it like be­fore from iCloud – now though, it will not be copy­right pro­tected un­like your orig­i­nal down­load, a process re­ferred to as DRM (dig­i­tal rights man­age­ment). It’s a sub­tle change, but means that the track you down­loaded be­fore is ex­actly the same this time.

The new down­load to re­place your old one would be son­i­cally iden­ti­cal, but your per­sonal rights as­so­ci­ated with its own­er­ship were not.

It won’t af­fect too many users, but it’s good to see Ap­ple ac­knowl­edg­ing a flaw (and one so sub­tle most peo­ple don’t know about it) in its sys­tem and chang­ing it for the ben­e­fit of its users.

Re­mem­ber though, this doesn’t mean you get to keep your Ap­ple Mu­sic tracks if you can­cel your sub­scrip­tion to the ser­vice. The match­ing sys­tem has been up­dated to bet­ter pull in your phys­i­cal col­lec­tion from iCloud.

Can­cel your Ap­ple Mu­sic mem­ber­ship and files you down­load, even if they were matched from a CD you ripped and you sub­se­quently deleted your orig­i­nal

files, will no longer play in the app. As we note in the next sec­tion, keep­ing at least one copy of your orig­i­nal lo­cal files is there­fore very im­por­tant when it comes to Ap­ple Mu­sic.

It’s also worth not­ing that you can use Ap­ple Mu­sic with­out iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary, although in do­ing so you lose the abil­ity to add al­bums and playlists to your col­lec­tion for eas­ier ac­cess.

iTunes Match or Ap­ple Mu­sic which is best for HomePod

If you sub­scribe to Ap­ple Mu­sic or iTunes Match your mu­sic and playlists should be avail­able in the cloud – so, if you sub­scribe to iTunes Match you might as­sume you would be able to ask Siri on the HomePod to play your playlists. Un­for­tu­nately it seems that this only works if you are sub­scribed to Ap­ple Mu­sic. When we tried to ac­cess playlists, and add to playlists with only a iTunes Match sub­scrip­tion we were un­able to do so. iTunes Match will give you ac­cess to all your mu­sic on the HomePod, but nav­i­gat­ing it will be eas­ier if you use Ap­ple Mu­sic.

Can I delete my lo­cal li­brary with ei­ther ser­vice?

In the­ory, yes, but we do not rec­om­mend this. In fact, we strongly rec­om­mend you make a full backup of your en­tire mu­sic li­brary be­fore sub­scrib­ing to ei­ther Ap­ple mu­sic ser­vice. We’ve heard too many re­ports of iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary de­mol­ish­ing peo­ple’s mu­sic li­braries to con­sider it fully re­li­able. (We had no ma­jor is­sues dur­ing test­ing, although matches were some­times for

the wrong ver­sion of songs, and al­bum art­work was oc­ca­sion­ally in­cor­rect.)

Even if you do find your­self with a per­fect mu­sic li­brary af­ter sign­ing up to iTunes Match or Ap­ple Mu­sic, be mind­ful of the usual ar­gu­ment re­gard­ing data: any­thing you con­sider im­por­tant should be stored in at least two lo­ca­tions. iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary could be con­sid­ered one of them, but you should have an­other back-up else­where. Note that this needn’t nec­es­sar­ily be on your Mac. If you need to free up space, back up your iTunes mu­sic li­brary to an ex­ter­nal drive be­fore re­mov­ing lo­cal files from iTunes.

Should I use iTunes Match, Ap­ple Mu­sic, or both?

Ap­ple Mu­sic and iTunes Match are not di­rectly com­pa­ra­ble prod­ucts, and the best choice will de­pend on your spe­cific needs.

iTunes Match should be con­sid­ered if you want ac­cess to your ex­ist­ing mu­sic col­lec­tion across a range of de­vices, but noth­ing more. For £21.99 per year, we’d say this of­fers rea­son­able value for money, and should

only be avoided if your col­lec­tion is so huge it won’t fit into Ap­ple’s gen­er­ous 100,000-track per-user locker. We did find dur­ing test­ing that match­ing was hit-and­miss, but as­sum­ing you’ve a rea­son­ably fast in­ter­net con­nec­tion and a bit of pa­tience, your en­tire col­lec­tion will sooner or later be avail­able to you.

A mooted al­ter­na­tive rea­son to use iTunes Match is as a one-off ‘lazy’ up­grade op­tion for ex­ist­ing dig­i­tal col­lec­tions. If you once ripped many hun­dreds of CDs to iTunes and used a low­ish bit-rate, you might dread the thought of do­ing all that again at a higher qual­ity. In the­ory, iTunes Match should be able to match most of them, and you can then cre­ate a smart playlist to in­clude tracks with an iCloud Sta­tus of Matched and bit-rates be­low Ap­ple’s 256kb/s de­fault. You can then delete the lo­cal ver­sions, down­load the su­pe­rior iTunes

Match files, and can­cel your iTunes Match sub­scrip­tion be­fore the year is up.

‘Up­graded’ tracks will re­main on your Mac, but you may find not enough of your col­lec­tion is matched for this to be worth­while. Ei­ther way, we strongly rec­om­mend mak­ing a full backup of your lo­cal files be­fore try­ing this.

Ap­ple Mu­sic is a good bet if you want ac­cess to your mu­sic col­lec­tion along with ev­ery­thing else on the iTunes Store. It also pro­vides ac­cess to Ap­ple’s gen­re­and artist-based ad-free ra­dio sta­tions, along with a de­cent range of in­ter­est­ing playlists that might help you dis­cover new mu­sic. The For You fea­ture is es­pe­cially nifty, grad­u­ally learn­ing your lis­ten­ing habits and then serv­ing up new al­bums and sin­gles you’ll en­joy.

Re­gard­ing your ex­ist­ing col­lec­tion, we’ve noted Ap­ple Mu­sic works in much the same way as iTunes Match, mean­ing you can get at your mu­sic on all of your de­vices. How­ever, the big dif­fer­ence is DRM be­ing added to down­loaded files. This means if you lose the orig­i­nals and down­load re­place­ments from iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary, they won’t play if you can­cel your Ap­ple Mu­sic sub­scrip­tion.

Ap­ple Mu­sic is there­fore a bet­ter bet if you’re the kind of per­son happy to splash out on a monthly sub­scrip­tion to ac­cess your col­lec­tion and the tens of mil­lions of tracks on the iTunes Store, with no in­ten­tion of ever can­celling it. It also has the ad­van­tage of work­ing on An­droid, if you have de­vices with­out an Ap­ple logo stamped on them. Sub­scrib­ing to both iTunes Match and Ap­ple Mu­sic is an op­tion if you want the best of both worlds – ac­cess

to the iTunes Store’s mas­sive mu­sic col­lec­tion, and the op­tion of DRM-free down­loads or qual­ity ‘up­grades’ of old rips. How­ever, dur­ing test­ing we dis­cov­ered a long-stand­ing bug was still quite preva­lent where Ap­ple Mu­sic files would in­cor­rectly down­load in­stead of iTunes Match files. We also found on one ac­count that iTunes Match fared very poorly on a sys­tem where Ap­ple Mu­sic was al­ready ac­tive, match­ing only a third of the lo­cal li­brary.

On that ba­sis, if you want to up­grade an ex­ist­ing col­lec­tion, you should prob­a­bly sign up to iTunes Match first, up­grade your files, en­sure you have a full back-up of your li­brary, and only then sub­scribe to Ap­ple Mu­sic.

Avoid­ing iCloud Mu­sic Li­brary en­tirely is a fi­nal op­tion, and there are al­ter­na­tive ser­vices out there. None have strong in­te­gra­tion with Ap­ple’s ecosys­tem, but if that doesn’t bother you, and you pri­mar­ily want ac­cess to mil­lions of tracks, your £9.99 will get you a sub­scrip­tion to Spo­tify. That ser­vice is far more ma­ture than Ap­ple’s, with some great mo­bile apps. In­te­gra­tion with ex­ist­ing col­lec­tions is iffy on desk­top and non-ex­is­tent on mo­bile, how­ever.

Google Play Mu­sic is an op­tion for peo­ple who want a dig­i­tal on­line locker for ex­ist­ing col­lec­tions. It al­lows you to up­load 50,000 tracks, and at no cost. With an ‘All Ac­cess’ pass (£9.99 per month), you get un­lim­ited ac­cess to a cat­a­logue that’s es­sen­tially iden­ti­cal to Ap­ple’s, along with per­son­alised ra­dio sta­tions sim­i­lar to those in Ap­ple Mu­sic.

Ama­zon’s mu­sic li­brary is an­other op­tion that many will al­ready have ac­cess to if they are cur­rent sub­scribers to Ama­zon Prime.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.