When Will Apple Start Selling Lossless Files on the iTunes Store?

Update: I posted this article in January, 2014. Recently, there are new rumors around the possibility that Apple would be selling high-resolution audio files in the iTunes Store. Notwithstanding the fact that high-resolution music is a marketing ploy, I consider it highly unlikely that Apple will sell such files in the near future. This rumor isn’t new; it’s been around since early 2011. Apple requests high-resolution files from record labels in order to correctly create Mastered for iTunes files. Apple’s portable devices simply don’t have enough storage to hold many high-resolution files. However, I do think that Apple will soon begin selling lossless files. Here’s what I wrote a few months ago, with some slight changes to bring the article up to date.

A while ago, I posted an article discussing Why iTunes Doesn’t Support FLAC Files. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, both in comments to the article and in emails, from people wondering when Apple will start selling lossless files on the iTunes Store. (These are music files that are the exact equivalent as music on CDs, and Apple could use the format that they developed, Apple Lossless, to provide this quality.)

I think Apple will eventually do this, but that they’re in no hurry to do so. The quality of the AAC files that Apple sells (at 256 kbps) is certainly “good enough” for most uses. If you do the kind of test I discuss here, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear a difference. And unless you have very good audio equipment, then you most certainly won’t.

Nevertheless, many music fans (though certainly a minority) want lossless music files. And, just as Apple has pushed its “Mastered for iTunes” files – which, interestingly, are not always better quality than regular AAC files – they could use the sale of lossless files as a marketing tool.

If so, I think they would do so in a way similar to the way they sell video. Currently, you can choose between SD and HD videos for most movies and TV shows you get on the iTunes Store (older shows and movies in SD only don’t offer that choice). And, when you choose HD, you can choose from two qualities. As you can see below, you can choose from levels of HD quality.


I can imagine that iTunes would offer the option to download lossless or lossy files, perhaps with a premium for the former, as they do for HD video (though they have to keep the price below that of CDs, which, of course, are lossless and easy to import into an iTunes library). And there would most likely be an upgrade option for music you’ve already purchased, as they did when they moved from 128 kbps files to 256 kbps.

But I also think that you would have the option of downloading lossy files as well, notably to use with iTunes Match on iOS devices. Because lossless files are much larger, using them would fill up an iOS device very quickly. You can convert lossless files to lossy versions when syncing to an iOS device, but if you download music directly onto an iOS device, you don’t have this option.

While the market is small, the marketing value is large; if Apple were to offer lossless files, they’d be the first major music retailer to do so. (Many labels that sell their music directly offer lossless files, but no large music retailer does.) I can foresee Apple doing this in the next year or two, after they’ve worn out the Mastered for iTunes campaign.

Do You “Own” Movies You Buy from the iTunes Store?

Apparently not. In spite of what Apple’s graphics say:



You don’t really own them. Because, as Apple’s terms and conditions say:

You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death.

So be aware that, when Apple says you can “own” a movie, it’s not true. This differs from music, which, not having DRM, does not need an Apple ID and password to play. But for movies, TV shows, books and apps, you never really own them; you’ve just paid a price to use them until you die.

What Happens to Content Purchased from Apple When You Die?


You use your Apple ID for a lot of different things. It’s your email account, if you use iCloud email; it’s your iMessages connection (though you can also use your phone number); and it’s especially the key to any content you’ve bought from Apple. You use it to buy from the iTunes Store, the Mac App Store, the iOS App Store, and the iBookstore.

But what happens to all that content when you die? Since your Apple ID is the key to all of this, if you haven’t given someone the password, then it becomes orphaned. In fact, according to Apple’s terms and conditions:

You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death.

This means that, not only do your next of kin not get access to purchases you’ve made from Apple, but also to your email, photos and documents, as long as they’re protected by an Apple ID.

The UK newspaper The Telegraph reports today that “Apple […] refused to unlock iPad belonging to cancer victim’s son ‘without written permission’ of his late mother”. In this particular case, the son didn’t even want to access his mother’s content, but simply be able to use her iPad. Since Apple’s Activation Lock security prevents you from resetting an iOS device without the Apple ID and password of the current owner, there was no way this person could use the iPad as his own.

Apple does say that “Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted,” and, in this case, it finally deleted the account. But it seems like a very big hassle to go through, and one you might want to avoid.

For this reason, I strongly recommend that you leave your Apple ID password in a safe place for your next of kin, just in case. It could be written down and stored in a safe deposit box, or it could be stored in a password manager, if you have one, as long as your spouse, partner or children know the password to access that app.

I’ve written about The Problem with Apple IDs for Macworld, and this was one of the issues I raised.

Another point to make is that Apple’s terms and conditions make it clear that you do not own any content you purchase from the company, but are only granted access until your death. That’s a much more complicated issue that may, one day, have to be dealt with by the courts.

In any case, make sure you have a spare set of keys – your Apple ID password – in a safe place. Just in case.

iTunes Match and Mastered for iTunes: Which Tracks Do You Get When Matching CDs?

002.pngApple touts its Mastered for iTunes tracks on the iTunes Store as “Music as the artist and sound engineer intended.” Mastered for iTunes tracks are therefore supposed to sound better than tracks you rip from CDs. The basic goal of Mastered for iTunes is to provide a direct downsampling of music from 24-bit, 96 kHz files to 256 kbps AAC files, rather than having a first downsampling to the CD format (16-bit, 44.1 kHz), then another conversion to AAC.

Whether or not the difference is audible is debatable; at a minimum, the conversion from higher quality masters can be seen as producing fewer “rounding errors,” though it’s a bit more complicated than that.[1] Also, the Mastered for iTunes process requires that record labels make some slight changes to their files, notably to avoid clipping,[2] but it allows them to create different masters for the iTunes Store than for CDs, if they so desire. (Yet as you’ll see below, I found much more clipping on certain Mastered for iTunes files than CD rips or older purchased files.)

I was wondering what link exists between Mastered for iTunes files and iTunes Match. If you rip a CD, and match it, will you get Mastered for iTunes files, which are currently sold on the iTunes Store (if available), or will you get equivalents of the CD’s ripped files? Since Apple says there’s a difference between the two, how do they handle this?

When you purchase a Mastered for iTunes file, there’s information in the file telling you this. You can see this by selecting a file, pressing Command-I (on Mac) or Control-I (on Windows, then viewing the Summary tab. The Mastered for iTunes badge below shows you that you have premium files.


If you rip a CD, match it, then download one of the files from the cloud, you don’t ever see the Mastered for iTunes badge. I have a handful of CDs for which only Mastered for iTunes files are available from the iTunes Store (these are new releases where labels only provide files for this format). I added them to my iTunes Match account, matched them, deleted my originals, then downloaded the matched files. I compared them with my original rips (using the methods described below), and saw that these files were not the same; I was clearly getting the Mastered for iTunes files from iTunes Match. But the files don’t display the Mastered for iTunes badge.

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Apple Refunds Purchasers of Split Breaking Bad Season 5

breaking-bad-season-52.pngI recently wrote about how Apple had split the final season of Breaking Bad into two parts to get people who had paid for season five last year to pay again. Shortly after I posted that article, someone filed a class action lawsuit against Apple for this deceptive practice.

As I pointed out, AMC, the network which airs Breaking Bad, and the actors and creator of the show, have always referred to the second part of the fifth season as part of season 5, but Apple was selling it as Breaking Bad, The Final Season.

I today received the following email from iTunes Support:

“We apologize for any confusion the naming of “Season 5” and “The Final Season” of Breaking Bad might have caused you. While the names of the seasons and episodes associated with them were not chosen by iTunes, we’d like to offer you “The Final Season” on us by providing you with the iTunes code below in the amount of $22.99. This credit can also be used for any other content on the iTunes Store. Thank you for your purchase.”

Whether or not Apple intended to deceive purchasers, the point remains that the description of the season pass for season 5, which you can see to the left, made it clear that this season pass included all episodes of season 5. I don’t think this was Apple’s fault, but they will certainly need to rethink their wording for season passes. Breaking Bad is not the only series that has been split like this, and I’m sure others will complain about not receiving what they expected from a season pass.

In any case, I welcome Apple’s resolution of this issue.

iWant: Searches by Label on the iTunes Store

001.pngThere’s a small change Apple could make to help listeners find more music on the iTunes Store. They could allow customers to search by record label. And, they should set up their listings so you can click on the name of a label to find all of its releases.

As you can see here, each album shows the name of the record label; here it’s Mode Records. I like the music of Morton Feldman (you might want to check out his astounding 6-hour String Quartet No. 2), and would like to see which other recordings the same label has released. Especially since a search for this recording by the composer’s full name – Morton Feldman – does not find it; you have to search for “Feldman string quartet.”

I’d like to be able to see the latest releases from the classical labels I like a lot: Hyperion Records, Naxos Records, Harmonia Mundi, and others. And when I come across an interesting new recording, I’d like to see what else that label has released. Because record companies – other than the majors – have personalities, and their catalogues reflect those personalities.

The same is true in Jazz, where there are long-standing labels like ECM, who have a unique style, and a whole slew of independent labels. Plenty of other genres have vibrant indies too – be it rap, electronica, or folk – and plenty of music fans follow these labels.

Adding label searches could only improve the iTunes Store, and make it easier for music fans to find new music they might like.

What’s Going On With Truncated iTunes Downloads? (Updated)

I’m re-posting this, since I keep getting emails from people who have come across the problem. If you have this issue, see the end of the article for an AppleScript that can find truncated tracks in your iTunes library.

I got an e-mail the other day from someone I’m in touch with regularly at a classical music label. He had bought some music from the iTunes Store, and found that a couple of the tracks were truncated. They were the correct length and size, but the music cut off before the ends of the tracks. In his case, these were tracks downloaded automatically. He had bought the music on his iPhone, and had iTunes on his PC set to automatically download his purchases.

I came across a similar problem yesterday. I bought some music from the iTunes Store, and one of the tracks cuts off after about 4:15 (the entire track is 12:59). Here’s how it looks:

This is similar to what my friend reported, but in my case these weren’t automatic downloads; these were regular downloads. Curiously, when I went to my Purchased list, the album in question doesn’t show up, even though the order is in my order history. I’ve contacted iTunes Store support to get another download, but I’m curious if other users have been seeing this problem. If so, post a comment below.

Update: My problem got fixed when a friendly iTunes Store representative put my purchases back in my download queue. (Interestingly, they don’t ask you to re-download from the Purchased list.) But I’ve heard from many other people who have had this problem, one of whom e-mailed me today saying that Apple is now asking for a lot of network information, such as his ISP and the type of connection he has (DSL, dial up (!!!), cable, etc.)

Update: since I first posted this article, I’ve heard from a number of people who are getting truncated downloads when they download tracks from iCloud. These are matched tracks, apparently, not tracks that were uploaded, and this seems to be happening fairly often. I downloaded 53 tracks yesterday, and 4 of them were truncated; that’s 7% of them, or 1 in 14. Re-downloading them results in good tracks, so this is clearly a server issue. If you have downloaded truncated tracks from iTunes Match, post something in the comments.

Update 2: Doug Adams wrote an AppleScript that can detect truncated tracks.

Why Record Labels Don’t Provide More Digital Booklets on the iTunes Store

A few months ago, I pondered why there are so few albums with digital booklets on the iTunes Store. I had discovered at the time that Apple imposes their own page format, which is not that of CD booklets, adding an extra step in the production process for record labels.

Well I found out something else recently: why record labels don’t add digital booklets to older releases. The answer is interesting; it’s because they can’t. Apple won’t let them. If a label has uploaded an album to the iTunes Store and wants to add a digital booklet later, the only way they can do this is to delete the original, and create a new album listing with a new SKU. And if they do this, then purchasers will no longer be able to re-download music listed under the old SKU.

It’s kind of foolish; it should be drop-dead simple to add something to an album on the iTunes Store, but Apple’s system is so rigid that it’s impossible. So if you wonder why your favorite label hasn’t added digital booklets to older releases, you now know why.