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Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

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Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Old 06-04-13, 02:51 PM
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Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

I haven't seen this discussed too much here, but it is becoming increasingly more common to see songs on the iTunes store listed as "Mastered for iTunes".

I've read some articles on this that indicate engineers are basically mastering directly for a lossy format like AAC rather than say a 16-bit lossless CD. Typically ripping a CD to the lossy 256kbps iTunes format sounds fine to me.

Personally, I am very leery of buying music specifically mastered to sound good through iTunes and Apple devices. I do more listening in my car than on earbuds so my primary focus is to have my music sound good there first and at higher volumes, which tends to expose poor quality lossy files.

When I finally got the ability to use an iPod in my car through the direct digital connector and not through bluetooth streaming or the 1/8" analog out, I was satisfied with the way 256kbps iTunes files sounded vs a CD of the same music. This was consistent for tracks bought directly from iTunes and tracks I ripped to iTunes from CD. They aren't completely transparent but you'd really have to listen for the differences.

My concern here is if I buy a Mastered for Itunes album and eventually want to burn it to CD for another sound system or play it back on a non-Apple device, is it going to sound worse because nothing's there to interpret whatever metadata the Apple devices use to make it sound good?

Curious to see if anyone else here as looked into this or has experience with how these files sound vs. ones not mastered for iTunes.

Right now I am avoiding them and either buying the CD to rip or getting the tracks from Amazon MP3 which I am hoping don't employ a similar mastering strategy.
Old 06-04-13, 03:47 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

"Mastered for iTunes" = "Brickwalled Beyond Words"
Old 06-04-13, 04:22 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Yeah, I'd avoid that shit.
Old 06-04-13, 04:44 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by Hokeyboy View Post
"Mastered for iTunes" = "Brickwalled Beyond Words"
Actually from one of the articles I read that did some in-depth comparisons with CD's of the same tracks, it appears it actually reduced volume on louder tracks while raising volume on others. So it sort of sounds like they have a nominal level in mind and are normalizing everything towards that. Here's the link:

http://createdigitalmusic.com/2012/0...sic-listening/

I'm not saying that's a good thing though. I'd rather get files encoded with any generic device in mind, and that has been checked for mix quality on a number of different setups.
Old 06-04-13, 04:45 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by Hokeyboy View Post
"Mastered for iTunes" = "Brickwalled Beyond Words"
That's the first thing I thought, too.
Old 06-04-13, 05:07 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Anyone know if there's actually someone who sits and masters tracks for iTunes or if they just run it through some magic MP3 processor software?
Old 06-04-13, 07:30 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Most modern music is so incredibly shittily mastered, I don't know if it would make much difference anyway.

One of the great ironies of the 'loudness wars' is that you can't listen to music loud anymore.
Old 06-05-13, 06:35 AM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by Eddie W View Post
. . . One of the great ironies of the 'loudness wars' is that you can't listen to music loud anymore.
Old 06-05-13, 09:16 AM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by cungar View Post
Anyone know if there's actually someone who sits and masters tracks for iTunes or if they just run it through some magic MP3 processor software?
Based on some of the articles I've read, it does sound like some engineers are aiming for Apple's target rather than what they would normally do. Whether or not that means they do that as an additional master or the only one I don't know.
Old 06-05-13, 03:23 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by bunkaroo View Post
Based on some of the articles I've read, it does sound like some engineers are aiming for Apple's target rather than what they would normally do. Whether or not that means they do that as an additional master or the only one I don't know.
That really makes it sound like BS.
Old 06-05-13, 04:23 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by cungar View Post
That really makes it sound like BS.
I don't like it either. The thing that sucks is iTunes is probably most artist's best chance of getting paid for recordings these days, so I can see why they'd cater to iTunes with the masters.
Old 06-05-13, 06:16 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by bunkaroo View Post
Actually from one of the articles I read that did some in-depth comparisons with CD's of the same tracks, it appears it actually reduced volume on louder tracks while raising volume on others. So it sort of sounds like they have a nominal level in mind and are normalizing everything towards that. Here's the link:

http://createdigitalmusic.com/2012/0...sic-listening/

I'm not saying that's a good thing though. I'd rather get files encoded with any generic device in mind, and that has been checked for mix quality on a number of different setups.
It sounds like from that link that all it's really doing is encoding and setting a consistent volume level. Of course they seem to have a somewhat limited understand of digital audio reproduction in some ways (or I'm misunderstanding them in some parts) so it's possible they don't really know what they're talking about. My assumption is that they do though and it's just a volume limiter. I wouldn't worry about it too much.

That said, I don't really know if all Mastered for iTunes files are just run through that droplet or if some high profile releases actually have different masters for iTunes. We'd have to consult the waveforms for that one.

Lastly, if your primarily listening is in your car, worrying about this is pretty much a moot point. Given the types of music I know you listen to, you can probably drop the levels of your AAC encodes to 160 (or even lower!) because the noise level in a car is so great you'll never notice the difference. I do my mp3 encodes at -V4.5 and have never heard anything bad even though -V3 is often ABX-able with FLAC in optimum listening conditions with headphones.
Old 06-05-13, 08:35 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by bunkaroo View Post
I don't like it either. The thing that sucks is iTunes is probably most artist's best chance of getting paid for recordings these days, so I can see why they'd cater to iTunes with the masters.
It's also their way to compete with Amazon.
Old 06-05-13, 08:59 PM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by cungar View Post
Anyone know if there's actually someone who sits and masters tracks for iTunes or if they just run it through some magic MP3 processor software?
I suspect that is most of the process, with minimal human input. At least in some labels' cases.
Old 06-06-13, 10:11 AM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by Mordred View Post
It sounds like from that link that all it's really doing is encoding and setting a consistent volume level. Of course they seem to have a somewhat limited understand of digital audio reproduction in some ways (or I'm misunderstanding them in some parts) so it's possible they don't really know what they're talking about. My assumption is that they do though and it's just a volume limiter. I wouldn't worry about it too much.

That said, I don't really know if all Mastered for iTunes files are just run through that droplet or if some high profile releases actually have different masters for iTunes. We'd have to consult the waveforms for that one.

Lastly, if your primarily listening is in your car, worrying about this is pretty much a moot point. Given the types of music I know you listen to, you can probably drop the levels of your AAC encodes to 160 (or even lower!) because the noise level in a car is so great you'll never notice the difference. I do my mp3 encodes at -V4.5 and have never heard anything bad even though -V3 is often ABX-able with FLAC in optimum listening conditions with headphones.
I did comparisons a while back between CD's and 128kbps MP3's and could hear it right away. It's usually most apparent on stuff like crash cymbal decay and acoustic instruments. I never bothered with 160 or 192 since by that time all digital stuff being sold was at 256 so I just go with that.

With the Mastered for iTunes thing I'm not as concerned with resolution as I am with the possibility of it having a different "character" of sound than a normal master would have.
Old 06-06-13, 10:13 AM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by Pizza View Post
It's also their way to compete with Amazon.
That would be ironic then since by doing this more they are pushing me to go to Amazon more for MP3.

Typically, if the difference in price for an album between Amazon and iTunes is a buck or less, I'll just buy it directly on my iPhone for sake of convenience. Now I have another reason to look to Amazon besides price.

Also, now that Amazon has the cloud player app, I can buy something while I'm at work and hear it right away on my phone. I just have to download it later into iTunes on my PC which isn't a big deal since I would have had to sync my phone to iTunes to get it in my PC library anyway.
Old 06-06-13, 10:57 AM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

This is the equivalent of saying, "Mastered for those $5 earphones you bought in 1997, even though you might play this on real speakers once in awhile."
Isn't the point of "mastering" to make it the highest possible quality?

Avoid.

I can't wait for the eventual vinyl release with "Mastered for iTunes" blasted on the cover.
Old 06-06-13, 11:10 AM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by bunkaroo View Post
I did comparisons a while back between CD's and 128kbps MP3's and could hear it right away. It's usually most apparent on stuff like crash cymbal decay and acoustic instruments. I never bothered with 160 or 192 since by that time all digital stuff being sold was at 256 so I just go with that.

With the Mastered for iTunes thing I'm not as concerned with resolution as I am with the possibility of it having a different "character" of sound than a normal master would have.
I did a lot of ear training to detect compression artifacts back in the day and a lot of that stuff is really easy to hear in problem samples ("castanets" and "clapping" being two of the most common) but in actual music I listen to (a castanet has never graced my system) it's not likely to matter.

Did you do real ABX testing or just play one sample and then the other and decide which sounded better? I know I beat the dead ABX horse a lot, but it's amazing what the brain will fool you into thinking you can hear. Just last week on another forum we finally convinced a poster to do an ABX test to see if he could hear the night and day differences he and all his friends supposedly could. Turns out none of them could actually hear what they thought they could. If you can hear the differences in an ABX, great!, but it means almost nothing otherwise.

Also you say 128kbps MP3s which is a whole 'nother animal from 128kbps AACs. No one who knows anything about audio encoding would use 128 CBR MP3s. The bitrate is way too low. A Lame encoded VBR MP3 at -V4 is ~160kbps. But as I said, would be almost impossible to hear in the car even at loud volumes (which is the way to listen to music of course). AAC is supposedly a more efficient algorithm and I've heard that 128 AAC is roughly equivalent to a 160 VBR MP3. That's why I'd recommend 160 AAC for mobile use. Should be a great compromise between sound quality and space.
Old 06-06-13, 11:26 AM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

All I did was basicaly listen to the same part of a song from a CD and an MP3 in the same environment and decided from there. Like I said I was focused on certain instruments when doing it. What spurred me to do it was I had burned a lower res MP3 to CD as part of a compilation of other songs ripped from CD, and when I got to that track I noticed problems with the cymbals.

I understand the difference between CBR and VBR, I just haven't gone out of my way to really explore it since I've been fine with things the way they are. I ripped my large CD collection to 256 so I don't want to go through that exercise again. Plus, I had to do a lot of edits on tracks due to how my shitty "premium" audio system in my car likes to clamp down hard on silence and doesn't open up fast enough. Not looking to do that work again at all.
Old 06-08-13, 07:22 AM
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Re: Mastered for iTunes - embrace or avoid?

Originally Posted by bunkaroo View Post
All I did was basicaly listen to the same part of a song from a CD and an MP3 in the same environment and decided from there. Like I said I was focused on certain instruments when doing it. What spurred me to do it was I had burned a lower res MP3 to CD as part of a compilation of other songs ripped from CD, and when I got to that track I noticed problems with the cymbals.

I understand the difference between CBR and VBR, I just haven't gone out of my way to really explore it since I've been fine with things the way they are. I ripped my large CD collection to 256 so I don't want to go through that exercise again. Plus, I had to do a lot of edits on tracks due to how my shitty "premium" audio system in my car likes to clamp down hard on silence and doesn't open up fast enough. Not looking to do that work again at all.
Yes, ripping CDs does suck. Took me a year to do my CDs. Did them in lossless and I'm not doing them all again.

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