Tuesday, June 5, 2007

iTunes Plus Gets an A+ in My Book

While not the perfect interface, iTunes and and iPod have been a convenient and powerful way to manage my music library and DAP usage over the years. The one glaring problem with this situation has been iTMS. I refuse to own music that is locked into one player so my use of the iTMS has been limited to one album and maybe a half dozen tracks out of hundreds of albums and thousands of tracks.

Well not anymore!

Enter iTunes Plus - Stage Right

The idea had been kicked around for a while that Apple was working deals to make a DRM free music store, but those theories were quickly dismissed by the technology community since no big label had yet to greenlight such a use. Steve Jobs himself even sent out an "Open Letter" to the music publishers and still people doubted it would ever happen.

Then it was announced ushered in a new chapter in digital music downloads.

iTunes 7.2

So I downloaded iTunes 7.2 in a recent software update and figured "What the Hell?" I would give this new store a whirl. Amazingly enough I was no sooner in the iTunes Plus store I was upgrading the one album I bought for a paltry $3. In total I still spent less on this album then I would have in a local store.

Browsing the store it's apparent that the sock is limited in many regards, but there is still quite a bit of good music there. Within the first two hours I had bought another 2 albums ( Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head $7, Royksopp - Melody Am $10 ) both for less than I would find them in the stores or at Amazon. While I'm sure that there are some genres that will benefit from the doubling of the bitrate, so far I can't hear any perceptible difference between the two sets of tracks.

The Good

Higher bitrate tracks with no DRM. I copied the tracks over to another library in my household and they played as expected with no questions from iTunes. As I said before I can't tell any difference between the 128 kbps tracks and the 126 kbps tracks, but maybe it's because I have not turned up the stereo enough. Now as a point of reference I can easily pick out a poorly encoded mp3 track even with earbuds. The higher bitrate will allow for transcoding to other formats like mp3 without too great a loss vs converting the CD yourself.

The Bad

Your name, email, and purchase date are encoded in the file... big whoop. I really can't see the problem with this as it does not prevent any legitimate fair use rights or even bending fair use rights. The larger files will affect the storage capacity of the iPod if you patronize the iTMS a lot. AAC format rather than Apple Lossless. The change to the single track pricing "feels" like a back door price increase. The store is still going through "growing pains" and there have been a few occasions where things on the site have not worked as expected.


If you have avoided the iTunes Music Store because of DRM now is the time to reexamine what they offer. With DRM gone you can now use the music without worry that someday you might want a non-iPod DAP and have to repurchase all of your music. I will be happy to spend money at the iTMS on plus albums rather than hoofing it out to a B&M store to try and find a CD.

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