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  • Some Offhand iTunes Match Observations

    November 16th, 2011

    I have anticipated the arrival of iTunes Match with somewhat mixed feelings. I’ve only purchased a modest number of tracks from iTunes over the years, and many of the gems in my aging CD collection date back to the earliest days of the classic rock era. I can already rip my songs and have them accessible by the Macs and iOS devices on my account. So where’s the gain?

    At the same time, there are undeniable advantages in matching all or most of your music with Apple’s online equivalent. If you captured (ripped) your music with a lower bit rate, you’ll get the 256K AAC version, with one major exception. Apple sets a floor of 96K or less, no doubt to stop people who are trying to match low resolution pirated music with a legal version. At the same time, it doesn’t appear that Apple otherwise looks for any internal data in an effort to verify legality, so that $24.99 annual fee you pay for the service may make you essentially legal. I don’t know if this encourages or discourages pirating. But the music industry, who shares in these subscription fees, may be happy to get something out of the deal rather than nothing.

    The other issue is whether Apple will match older masters of an album with the latest and greatest. As I wrote yesterday, my first test, using the classic “Revolver” album from The Beatles, had a positive result. I had purchased the original CD in the 1980s, but these tunes have since been digitally remastered, and I expect the version sold by iTunes is based on those remasters. To test this possibility, I ripped the CD, and had iCloud update. I was pleased to see the entire album was listed as “Matched.”

    However, I didn’t fare quite as well with “Abbey Road” or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” In each case, one tune was labeled “Uploaded” instead, meaning that it couldn’t be reconciled with the online version. Oh well, no big catastrophe.

    Next, I tried “Magical Mystery Tour,” but this time I was afforded a message asking which version I wanted of the two offered. I choose the “2009 Stereo Remaster.” The same selection was made for “Let It Be.” I’m not a mono person by any means, though I realize the early Beatles albums were recorded that way (but not these). I’m sure the died-in-the-wool purists in our audience will complain about my lack of taste, but I don’t really care. The more channels the better. On the other hand, no such choices were offered for the “White Album” or “Help.” Oh well.

    When iTunes Match scanned these albums, it was the same mixed bag. Some tracks were “Matched,” but others “Uploaded,” with neither rhyme nor reason. It wasn’t a Beatles thing either, because I ran into the same situation with “Best of Blondie.” Album artwork was also unavailable for some of these albums. I would love to know the inscrutable logic the service uses to scour the databases to sort these things out. My only hope is that there will be a further opportunity to resync these songs, perhaps after some of the early bugs are worked out.

    I still have over 100 albums in my storage cabinet that have never been imported into iTunes, but I’ll be doing  a few each day until the process is complete. It’s going to make a load of a difference on a long trip, at least when I’d rather listen to something in my music library than a satellite radio feed.

    Aside from the early hiccups with the iCloud transition, the new service has worked all right, except in the key category of handling multiple Apple IDs. That’s where things get dicey.

    Now in my case, I followed a direct route, transitioning my MobileMe account to iCloud. That left me with the MobileMe username as an Apple ID used for that service. However, my iTunes content, and that includes my iOS App Store library, was acquired with yet another ID. Are you seeing the dilemma?

    Unfortunately, your Mac, PC, or iOS device expects to see one Apple ID at a time. It’s not that you can use both, nor has Apple devised a scheme to allow you to merge them. So I was put in a situation where, when trying to get new apps on my iPhone, it would ask me to login via my iCloud ID, not the standard Apple ID, which, however, worked for updating existing apps. You with me so far?

    I contacted Apple support to attempt to sort things out. The iTunes people responded via email, and they punted me to the iCloud section, where you can communicate with Apple via an online Express Lane chat.

    The solution: Log out of the iCloud accounts on all my gear, and delete these accounts. Login with your iTunes Apple ID. You then have to manually add your former MobileMe email account, which is easy enough on a Mac using Apple Mail, because all the settings are filled in for you once you enter your email address. But it’s not so easy on an iOS gadget. There you have to be counterintuitive, choosing “Other” among the choices for the email accounts you want to add, even though iCloud and MobileMe are offered. All the setup information has to be manually entered and rechecked.

    When all is said and done, this kluge was only partly successful. Although the same Apple ID is entered on my iPhone 4’s iCloud, Music and Store settings, I’m not able to play music. Instead, I see a message warning me that “This Device Is Already Associated With an Apple ID.” I’m also reminded that you can only change IDs once every 90 days, but clearly that wasn’t the intent of this screwy arrangement, so I’m awaiting an email response from iTunes support to sort this out. And I do hope Apple CEO Tim Cook keeps his early promise to allow you to combine your Apple IDs. The arrival of iTunes Match only increases the need for a final solution.



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