Mastered For iTunes: Do You Hear A Difference?

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by JPM42, Apr 2, 2012.

  1. JPM42 macrumors 6502

    Oct 21, 2007
    So I've been very intrigued with the Mastered For iTunes suite and I spent last night listening to samples of some Elton John albums available and comparing them to my CD rips (256 AAC). While in an ideal world I'd love to have ALAC, I did notice a difference. It was subtle, but noticeable, and most notably, I've noticed more dynamic range.

    I was wondering if any of you have also noticed a difference and in which ways? It seems all of the articles I've come across have been about the technical underpinnings of how they're doing this, which is interesting. But at the end of the day: how does it sound?
  2. Destroysall macrumors 65816

    Feb 28, 2012
    United States

    There was a video where a guy conducted a test and said that AAC ripped files were much more accurate than the Mastered for iTunes files. I rarely buy from iTunes. Most of the time I usually get Singles from there or albums that I can not find anywhere, but that's it.

    CDs are still the way to go and so is lossless format. No matter what its label, it's still in AAC format (which is still a lossy codec).
  3. BlackMangoTree macrumors 6502a

    Sep 30, 2010
    Apple offering music in lossless won't do a thing for quality. On paper it's better, to our ears we are going to gain nothing. Especially with todays very poorly mastered music. (loudness Wars grrr)
  4. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    But doesn't "mastered for iTunes" attempt to correct poorly mastered music that is mostly mastered for radio and TV where they want it to stand out. (or by now I should say "stand with")
  5. TMRaven macrumors 68020


    Nov 5, 2009
    They might, but in most cases it's either just engineers attempting to remaster a song to play better with the compression artifacts of AAC or not doing anything at all-- thus being a marketing scheme on apple's behalf. If I see more dynamic range within the waveform of a song in a 'mastered for iTunes' album then I'd consider buying it.

    Mastering also means **** if the original recording was garbage.
  6. BlackMangoTree macrumors 6502a

    Sep 30, 2010
    I go with not doing anything at all. THe few Mastered for iTunes tracks i have sound identical to the non mastered for iTunes. I call one big scam.
  7. dj-anon macrumors member


    Mar 23, 2011
    That video only proves that guy completely misunderstood what Mastered for iTunes is about. He read somewhere, that Mastered for... would provide a sound closer to the original CD, and so this guy did a phase comparison test, that proves absolutely nothing.

    Mastered for iTunes has three main objectives:

    1. Provide a way to directly master with AAC as the target format, instead of the Red Book standard, after all it makes more sense to do that when iTunes is a digital store.

    2. Provide a standardized way of handling and converting the master to AAC.

    3. Get rid of the loudness war by relying on Sound Check to handle apparent volume parity.

    However, it seems no label really cares about point number three.
  8. paolo- macrumors 6502a

    Aug 24, 2008
    Agreed. I personally keep it on. I think Apple should start shipping with Sound Check on by default on everything (iTunes, iPhone...). That would end the loudness war right then and there. Most people wouldn't bother to uncheck it and most who would take the time to learn about it probably would keep it on.

    I have yet to have listened to a mastered for iTunes song yet. Though it's not clear if it's just that the AAC file was created from a 24bit-96kHz file or if the mastering engineer actually bothered to do a different mix. Mastering for AAC would be pretty hit and miss, I'm not sure how much the engineer can improve the track for it and would be quite time consuming to have to encode the track to hear what happens. I just hope we don't start getting stupid masters for people listening on ipod earbuds...

    Though this is interesting!
    I'll try posting something going from 24bit-96kHz to AAC and WAV to AAC later today. I kind of doubt the difference will be noticeable. After all, most people have a hard time discerning between 320kbps MP3 and wav... Though it's a small step in the right direction.
  9. TMRaven macrumors 68020


    Nov 5, 2009
    I don't see why sound check on would be a good thing. It doesn't magically make a brickwalled mastering have more dynamic range. If anything it just lowers the overall volume of the song to match the rest of your songs, probably with the result of some fidelity loss due to extra digital processing as well.
  10. paolo- macrumors 6502a

    Aug 24, 2008
    It wouldn't change anything for past albums, it's just a robot playing around with the volume knob lol. But lots of people listen to music on iTunes or their i-devices. If they suddenly started to sound check, there would be no point in brickwall mastering anymore. It would just sound annoyingly un-dynamic compared to all your other songs, not louder. I think Apple has a big enough market to make headway for decent mastering.
  11. dj-anon macrumors member


    Mar 23, 2011
    Yep, what Apple is saying is that labels can continue doing things their way with CDs and radio, but in the digital domain, with Sound Check and replay gain, you don't need to compete on a loudness level, software can take care of that. It is up to the labels to actually do it. A lot of the Mastered For iTunes content is already stuff that is considered to have sane dynamics (Pink Floyd stuff, classical, jazz.)
  12. BlackMangoTree macrumors 6502a

    Sep 30, 2010
    Just one example of the Mastered for iTunes being some marketing scam.

    Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie, from the album I'm With You (produced by Rick "Most Deaf" Rubin).
    iTunes Music Store AAC file from 6 months ago: AAC 256kbps, 44.1kHz, -9.94 dB replaygain.
    iTunes Music Store AAC file, "Mastered for iTunes": AAC 256kbps, 44.1kHz, -11.07 dB replaygain.

    Decreased dynamic range. The Mastered for iTunes track is louder (hence the larger negative gain)

    The main problem is that its is based upon unsubstantiated FUD and risks other people being suckered into the same conspiracy theory about lossy formats. That the resultant files might sound different to those mastered by someone with any idea of the relevant technology is a valid concern
  13. fa8362 macrumors 65816

    Jul 7, 2008
    Does it really matter? All compressed music is compromised, so why argue about it?
  14. richpjr macrumors 68030


    May 9, 2006
    I couldn't tell the difference on the few tracks I listened to (and this was through studio monitors).
  15. BlackMangoTree macrumors 6502a

    Sep 30, 2010
    Yea it does, they are trying to scam us.

    Compressed music like Mp3 AAC act.. have prove to be transparent so very much not compromised for sonic purposes
  16. TwoBytes macrumors 68030


    Jun 2, 2008
    Agree with the posters on point 3. As long as labels are at arms with the loudness war, it's still the same crap.

    Labeled know that tracks are played outside iTunes which won't have soundcheck so they kill dynamics by making their tracks hot as possible ruining the sound.

    It will take some brave acts to go against this
  17. Winter Charm macrumors 6502a

    Winter Charm

    Jul 31, 2008
    ^ While this is true, mastered for iTunes tracks cost the same. So It all comes down to what you prefer...
  18. Icaras macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    I personally can't quite hear the differences between Mastered for iTunes and regular iTunes AAC tracks yet, but I seriously have to disagree with your claim that "lossless won't do a thing for quality." Not through my ears.

    I have several ripped-from-CD ALACs in my iTunes library and the difference in dynamic range is quite noticeable. And although I agree that ALAC in today's music may not matter much due to the innate harshness of the mastering, don't forget that recorded music existed before things started getting out of hand, and I'd love to hear catalogue music in lossless, especially with classical and orchestral where dynamic range is perhaps the greatest.

    So its definitely still my hope that one day Apple will be able to offer ALAC versions through iTunes.
  19. Destroysall macrumors 65816

    Feb 28, 2012
    United States
    Yes! This!!
  20. sanning macrumors newbie

    Jun 7, 2013
    Hello world!

    Hi Everyone!

    As an owner of a mastering/mixing studio ( and as a full-time professional musician and music lover I've been very interested to read all your posts.

    General consensus seems to be that the loudness war sucks, and Apple are getting round this with Sound Check option. Someone interestingly pointed out that if Apple begin to ship their products (and I'm going to email them to request this) with Sound Check ticked by default, the loudness war will end. Music with greater dynamics will prevail.

    So, for me now, when a client requests 'Mastered for iTunes', I do not smash the final mixdown through the latest digital 16-band multi-band dual-mono compressor. Instead, run similar on individual tracks as necessary and use dynamics to highlights sections musically. Also leave the transients of kicks and snares as more natural so that music has more punch and everyone out there can actually use their amps to get more of a kick out of their speakers. This all of course within reason. Less fatiguing on ears also this way.

    I'm just about to upload an album called 'Everything to Everyone' by The Rooftops (Aus) and it's mastered for iTunes with this in mind.

    On a self plug - tell your friends and bands to email me if they want their music mastered more suitably/subtly for iTunes with a higher dynamic range.

    -- Steve

    Looking forward to when this takes off :)
  21. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    You may have discovered the reason why some people can't hear the different between lossless and not. Those people are listening to newer tracks that are mixed for radio.

    Try anything from Deutsche Grammophon That still has a "DDD" on the back of the package.
  22. Irishman macrumors 68030

    Nov 2, 2006
    Lossless Audio is not a scam. The next time you think it is, listen to a blu-ray concert disc or watch a well-mastered Blu-ray movie.

    It's most certainly NOT a scam.
  23. hogger129, Jun 9, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2013

    hogger129 macrumors newbie

    Feb 24, 2013
    What is the difference between "Mastered For iTunes" and iTunes Plus (256 AAC)???

    Most of the time, I just go out to the store and buy the CD and rip it as Apple Lossless because it costs less - especially when I can find an older version of the CD at the secondhand music store, that wasn't destroyed by compression and loudness.


    As for high-resolution audio being a scam, it's not. 24-bits gives you a better sampling of the original source. Think of it like comparing Dolby Digital to DTS on a DVD. On a sidenote, I don't know what the reason is for having frequencies of 88.2, 96, 176.4 or 192khz though. Even movies I've never seen any soundtracks encoded above 48khz.

    CD is almost always good enough for most people though. It just needs to be mastered properly and many today are not.
  24. Julien macrumors G4


    Jun 30, 2007
    You seem to be confusing sampling rate with bit depth. The bit depth is not about the sampling of the original. 24 bits gives a dynamic range of 144dB (6dB per bit x 24) while CD (16 bit) is 96dB. Also the higher bit depth allows for lower quantization errors. Sampling rate is how many samples per second (Nyquist filter determines frequency response) are taken. CD is sampled at 44.1KHz and most HD audio is sampled at 96KHz (and some at 192KHz).

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