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Master Engineer: Apple's "Mastered For iTunes" No Better Than AAC-Encoded Music 312

Posted by timothy
from the ask-the-master dept.
New submitter Stowie101 writes "British master engineer Ian Shepherd is ripping Apple's Mastered for iTunes service, saying it is pure marketing hype and isn't different than a standard AAC file in iTunes. Shepherd compared three digital music files, including a Red Hot Chili Peppers song downloaded in the Mastered for iTunes format with a CD version of the same song, and said there were no differences. Apple or someone else needs to step it up here and offer some true 'CD quality downloads.'"
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Master Engineer: Apple's "Mastered For iTunes" No Better Than AAC-Encoded Music

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @01:59PM (#39187049)

    You want CD quality downloads? Yeah, magic keyword "FLAC".

    Piracy: giving you for free what the market won't since the first bestiality video was filmed.

  • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:02PM (#39187091)
    While I agree that its all bunk, I would be interested in knowing if the two files where bit for bit the same or just sound the same to the listener?
  • RHCP? C'mon! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:05PM (#39187129) Homepage Journal

    To test with Red Hot Chili Peppers is rather pointless, I would think - they're one of the most compressed bands there is, probably not using more than the top 4-5 bits out of 16. So yes, it's going to be fairly similar no matter what the format, unless you can get ahold of the sources to the original masters.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:10PM (#39187203)

    Um, all "Mastered for iTunes" does is allow producers to preview how the final file will sound when placed on iTunes, so that they can make changes to the master file. Not sure what the point of the story is, and it definitely has nothing to do with CDs or FLAC.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:13PM (#39187251)

    This "mastered for itunes" stuff is pointless crap as long as we are still fighting the Loudness War. [wikipedia.org]

    The Red Hot Chili Peppers are a particularly bad test case because all of their albums have massive loudness-compression. And the same guy responsible for that travesty has started to do the mastering on recent Metallica albums [youtube.com] so their stuff is going to be all suck too.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:32PM (#39187489) Homepage Journal

    Um, all "Mastered for iTunes" does is allow producers to preview how the final file will sound when placed on iTunes, so that they can make changes to the master file. Not sure what the point of the story is, and it definitely has nothing to do with CDs or FLAC.

    If you are selling it as "Mastered" for a purpose and the quality is identical than it is only "Mastered" for hype and profit.

    I've got some LP singles, which were intended for radio play, back in the day, which are of an improvement over the usually horrible 45 RPM mass productions, possibly better than mass produced LP versions as well. But consider Apple's source is unlikely in most cases to be original mastering materials (who in their right mind would turn over digital originals to Apple?) for them to manipulate for their product (iTunes). Odds are, 95% of their market can't tell anyway because they're hardly audiophiles and are listening through headphones with absurdly limited range and reproduction quality.

  • by GWBasic (900357) <slashdot@and[ ]r ... m ['rew' in gap]> on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:32PM (#39187493) Homepage
    Mastered for iTunes is better then CD quality assuming that the producer encodes directly from the 24-bit master. AAC is totally floating-point; its compression process arguably creates a more accurate sound then decimating 24-bit to 16-bit.

    If you're going to ask for FLAC, at least make sure it's 24-bit. Otherwise, you're just wasting space to carry around the distortion created when decimating to 16-bit sound.

  • by 1u3hr (530656) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:34PM (#39187525)

    but just because something has a FLAC extension does not mean it was created from a lossless source.

    The whole idea is to use an uncompressed source. If you're an asshole, you can use a crappy 96kB MP3 and blow it up into a FLAC file. Same as people upload cam videos as DVD rips. In both case, it gets noticed fairly quickly.

  • by smcdow (114828) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:35PM (#39187535) Homepage

    If you want to put those FLAC downloads on your iOS device, keep in mind that FLAC to ALAC is easy-peasy using ffmpeg [wikipedia.org]. It even preserves the tags.

  • by phayes (202222) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:37PM (#39187551) Homepage

    The sample size is ridiculous: One song was compared between CD/AAC/AAC (Mastered for iTunes), not even one album just one song!

    This may be just another tempest in a teacup because somebody uploaded the wrong file to AAC (M4iT) & people are making wildly erroneous extrapolations from it.

  • by geekoid (135745) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {dnaltropnidad}> on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:39PM (#39187591) Homepage Journal

    This completely misrepresents what the 'Mastered for iTunes' represents.

    If give the producer the tools and options to create CD quality files.

    If a producer is putting a mastered for iTunes stamp ion the song that hasn't been improved beyond the most filmiest technicality, then it's on the producer.

    There are a lot of issues regarding Apple products, and how Apple runs it's business. Lets not try to make some up, m'kay?

  • by vought (160908) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:39PM (#39187595)

    But consider Apple's source is unlikely in most cases to be original mastering materials (who in their right mind would turn over digital originals to Apple?)

    Your values are not the same as those looking to make money by reselling audio content. I can assure you that various music distributors would have no problem at all working in the studio with their own or third-party engineers to produce "Mastered for iTunes" versions of a catalog if that's what they think will lure more buyers. Whether or not "Mastered for iTunes" involves a substantively changed version (for example, engineered toward smaller drivers with more bass cutover, increasingly popular these days).

    Regardless of your opinion about how something should work, this kind of collaboration is an every day occurrence in the industry and never relies on "turning over" anything to Apple.

  • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwashNO@SPAMp10link.net> on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:40PM (#39187597) Homepage

    Inherently FLACs dont have to be CD quality* but in most cases they probbablly are.

    Music is usually realeased by artists in CD quality. The MP3 and AAC files sold on digital distirbution services and distributed on pirate networks are a result of applying lossy compression to the "CD quality" files the artists release..

    I would expect the FLAC files released by any self respecting release group (whether legit or pirate) to be a lossless encoding of what the artist released.

    Of course it is possible to produce a flac file from a downsampled version of the original audio and it is also possible to produce a FLAC from a file that has already been through lossy compression and then decoded but frankly i'd expect such files to be pretty rare even on open sharing services. Those who know about and use FLAC are mostly those who care about audio quality AFAOCT.

    You can also have FLAC files in better than CD quality but only if the artist has released the music in such a form which afaict most don't.

    * That is 44.1 kHz, 16 bit no lossy compression.

  • by rinoid (451982) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @02:50PM (#39187737)

    CD quality is not at all high audio quality ... if you ask audiophiles.

  • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @03:01PM (#39187887)

    Has anyone in this thread claimed that FLAC was magic?

  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @03:07PM (#39187961) Homepage

    The MBA types will say that most consumers don't care and many are simply uninformed. The loudness war was the result of improved numbers in the listening audience. There are all sorts of marketing data points to draw upon that ultimately come to this conclusion.

    Simple, short, and to the point. Minority audiophiles such as yourself ultimately cost businesses money when it comes to providing downloadable content. The extra cost of bandwidth and master engineering is currently not accountable in the current business scope of services. So while business changes could be made to cater to the audiophile, it's extremely unlikely. It's one of those MBA sayings of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". I'm sure placing unnecessary restrictions or anything else burdensome is frowned upon too.

    It's all about the numbers and how efficiently you can generate them.

  • by Golden_Rider (137548) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @03:21PM (#39188093)

    As others point out, it's as good as the source, but only as good as the source. A FLAC file encoded from the original CD track will indeed be 100% CD quality. If you instead encode it from, say, a 96kbps MP3, then it can only be as good as the MP3 was.

    FLAC is very good. It is, however, not magic.

    Yes, but it is generally kind of expected to use CD quality (or better) source material when you use FLAC to encode. What would be the point of encoding a 96kps mp3 with FLAC - you'd end up with the same audio quality, but a larger file...

    So while "FLAC" technically does not necessarily mean "CD quality", in general everyday use, it does.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @03:21PM (#39188097)

    How about Inna Gadda da Vida? :)

    (captcha: virtuous)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:37PM (#39189031)

    The claim in the article is that there is "no difference". This claim can be validated quite easily by simply taking the two sources, with normalized amplitude, inverting the phase of one signal and then summing. What remains of the signal is the difference, or the lack thereof, between the two sources. With digital sources, anything other than a null result is considered "coloration" and we are into subjective territory. The questions then begin with "is the color within the potential threshold of human perception?" And if the answer is "yes", then you cannot rely on a single person's opinion to make a determination about the character of the coloration.

  • by Pf0tzenpfritz (1402005) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:42PM (#39189089) Journal
    "Mastered for iTunes" is indeed optimized for iTunes: it's optimized for separating the gullible from their money.
  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:25PM (#39189607) Homepage Journal
    I guess.

    It is sad when I grew up....all of my peers strove to get as good of stereo as they could.

    I find somewhere along the way...young people stopped even KNOWING about good sound reproduction.

    I have friends over that are younger, and friends kids over...they hear me fire up my stereo and I see their mouths drop open, in that none of them were even aware these days...that you could even have quality sound reproduction.

    I find that when people hear a decent stereo, they do 'care' about it...it is just we've lost a generation or two that even knows it is possible?

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