Neil Young came right out and said what everyone was thinking while he was on stage at the AllThingsD media conference: iTunes music quality sucks. Way too much information is being lost between mastering a track in studio and running it through the Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) algorithm before a song gets distributed on iTunes. Approximately 80 to 85 percent of the information present at the time of recording is lost during the process of converting the files to something Apple’s iTunes store will recognize. It seems Apple has finally taken the complaints to heart, and it’s now focusing on helping studios master their tracks for iTunes. In addition to providing studios with the tools they need to create the best sounding mixes of their catalogs, Apple has set out an area in the iTunes store for consumers. The new sections highlights albums that have been specifically mixed just for iTunes.
Apple has released a series of mastering tools and and help sheets to educated audio engineers on the ways that they can best mix for Apple’s iTunes store, as well as provide the best listening experience on a range of Apple products and average-sounding headphones.
Apple now wants studios and sound engineers to provide them with 24-bit 96kHz resolution for their audio recordings before Apple runs them through the AAC algorithm. It’s all about the masters:
[quote]As technology advances and bandwidth, storage, battery life, and processor power increase, keeping the highest quality masters available in our systems allows for full advantage of future improvements to your music. Also, though it may not be apparent because there may not always be a physical, tangible master created in LP or CD format, the iTunes catalog forms an important part of the world’s historical and cultural record. These masters matter—especially given the move into the cloud on post-PC devices.[/quote]
The Apple Mastered for iTunes document provides a great deal of information on using the iTunes Droplet for converting master tracks to iTunes Plus tracks. It also highlights information on using the afconvert utility from the command-line, in addition to providing detailed afclip, and AURoundTripAAC Audio Unit information.
Apple, my ears thank you.