iTunes Match: why it’s worth the yearly cost

After announcing iTunes Match earlier this year, Apple finally rolled out the service to its customers this week. The online service lets iTunes users upload their music library to the cloud and share it across all iOS devices and computers attached to the same Apple ID. The service provides unlimited access to your music and costs $25 a year.

I signed up to give it a test drive and see how it works. I was surprised to discover that I actually liked the service and will continue to use it beyond this initial trial. Here’s why.

What is iTunes Match?

iTunes Match differs from other services like Amazon Cloud Player or Google Music. All three provide cloud access to your music files, but with iTunes Match you don’t have to go through the arduous process of uploading your entire library. iTunes scans your music library, identifies your tracks and matches them to songs in the iTunes catalog. There’s no uploading if the songs are matched. Matches are then made available in the cloud as 26Kbps AAC files. Even low-quality files that are matched will be made available at this higher bitrate.

Songs that are not matched are uploaded manually in their original format, but these orphaned tracks were few and far between. Once you scan your library the first time, you only have to scan new songs which means future scans will be incremental and fast. You can store up to 25,000 songs in the cloud and download individual songs to any of your devices anytime you want. It’s that easy.

Why do I want it?

Apple understands that people want a relatively cheap and easy way to share their library between devices. Using a cable and manually syncing files is cumbersome, especially if you use multiple devices and multiple computers. It gets even worse when you start mixing iOS devices with a Mac at home and a Windows PCs at work. iTunes Match is your one-stop solution to getting your music library on every device.

You don’t really realize how important this syncing is until you find yourself needing it. I have a 16 GB iPhone 4S and don’t have tons of space for music. As a result, I don’t sync much of my music. Many, many times I have found myself searching for a particular song on my phone and end up frustrated because it was on an album I did not sync. With iTunes Match that problem is gone. All my tracks are in the cloud and I can download them anytime I want over 3G. If I run out of space, I can delete unwanted tracks from my phone and download new ones.

iTunes Match can also help you update all your tracks to 256K AAC files. Theres a hack described by Macworld that’ll convert all your low quality music into high quality music. All you have to do is let iTunes scan your music and setup your library in the cloud. Once your cloud is established, you can delete the low quality files on your computer and re-download them from the cloud. To make things easier, you can aggregate all the low quality files in a playlist so you can find and download them easily.

To be fair, iTunes Match isn’t perfect. It doesn’t upload all your files (low-quality 90k tracks and podcasts are not allowed) and sometimes doesn’t identify popular songs even when it should, but these were the exception, not the norm. This is the first version of iTunes Match and Apple will likely improve the recognition algorithm.

Another hiccup occurs when you change the song ID tags in iTunes. These changes are sent to iCloud but won’t transfer to your iPhone or iPad until you delete and re-download the modified tracks again. The is inconvenient but fixable in an update. Lastly, iTunes Match won’t stream your music, it only lets you download it. I thought I would miss the streaming but, I find I don’t mind downloading the files on the fly.

For those people who use a Mac and several iOS devices, iTunes Match is a no-brainer. It’s not that expensive and the always available music collection will save you a lot of headaches, especially when you start switching devices or add new ones to your collection.

[iTunes Match]

  • mp99

    maybe you can help with another itunes question ūüôā ¬†without syncing is there anyway to update smart playlist from the phone? ¬†I have playlist that look at “last played” and don’t want to continually sync when i’m at home to get them to update. ¬†Any ideas on how to get around this????

  • The low quality tracks that iTunes refuses to match can be easily fixed. Right-click on them and convert them to AAC. iTunes up-samples them high enough that they can then be matched. The music is no higher quality, so if it doesn’t match, there’s no benefit to keeping the AAC versions. But if it does match, you can then delete the up-sampled copies and download high-quality 256k tracks.

  • Billcoons

    I bought iTunes Match thinking I could stream to my iPhone and not have to store everything on it (I have a LOT of music). Turns out that’s not the case. It will only stream on non-iOS devices? $25 wasted.

  • Billcoons

    I bought iTunes Match thinking I could stream to my iPhone and not have to store everything on it (I have a LOT of music). Turns out that’s not the case. It will only stream on non-iOS devices? $25 wasted.

    • Joseph Thompson

      I really enjoy iTunes match! ¬†as i just found out today that the hard drive i previously had connected with my library on it doesn’t have to be connected to my macbook air any longer! ¬†I was playing around and let my family use my iTunes account and all my music appeared on their iTunes! i then realized what if i deleted my iTunes playlist and see if iTunes would pull from iCloud! ¬†this is exactly what happened! so no when playing music on my computer i no longer have to have my external hard drive due to lack of space on the macbook air i am completely wireless now with over 200 gb of music!

  • Scott Jubenville

    Billcoons, It has the same functionality as pure “streaming”.

    Songs play before completely downloaded (so streamed), but they are also cached for future playing. iOS maintains the cache and deletes oldest songs if space is needed.
    (Which is smart for mobile devices)

    So for the end user it is the exact same as streaming.

  • Bob

    Typo – “There‚Äôs no uploading if the songs are matched. Matches are then made available in the cloud as 26Kbps AAC files.¬†”

    Think you mean 256Kbps.

  • ridware

    i have 145gb /22000 songs in my itunes on my pc laptop. this is synched to my classic ipod 160gb. this works for me up until now as i can plug my ipod into my car system for use while driving, and take either ipod or laptop abroad to play music. BUT i am concious that my itunes will not fit onto my ipod in the not too distant future, and looks unlikely apple will issue a bigger ipod , especialy now they have icloud.  so thats why the icloud is starting to make sense to me. i dont currrently have an iphone or ipad, but might get ipad3 this year.
    unfortunately i live in an area where there is poor mobile signals, so its of little use locally.

    my questions are…………..
    1) as i would need to download my music as required, does that download count as part of  your download entitlement on say an iphone contract or on your broadband contract ?
    2) i understand the limit is currently 25000 (non itunes sourced) tracks. what happens if you have more?  does it just cut off at the limit so you miss out on artists at the end of the alphabet ?
    3) though it now works in uk, presumably it will not work if i try to listen to music in the many holiday / travel destinations i may go to   eg   kenya     trinidad  .. is there a published plan of which countries will get it.

    i hope someone can help me out on those points to make my mind up.

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