Embracing iTunes Plus, or from LPs to MP4a, or some 32 years of music 

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Upgrading my iTunes library with DRM free tracks

Apple launched their DRM free music (256kbps AAC) last Tuesday by creating a new entity of the iTunes Store called iTunes Plus. All of EMI's catalog was to be offered in DRM free form sometime in May, and user would be offered the possibility of upgrading the tracks they own for a minor fee (the actual difference between the price they paid and the new price). What I understood too was that if you'd acquired the album, as opposed to buying singles tracks, you would be gracefully offered the new DRM free high res album free of charge.

The actual picture is somewhat different. I must have misread the announcement, or taken my dreams for reality, because I was unable to find that last offer on their site. On the other hand, you are able to upgrade your existing library, but only in its whole. This means either you pay to upgrade all your tracks and albums, or you don't. You can't for instance upgrade some tracks/albums and not others. You can't choose. Oops.

The iTS offers to upgrade all your former purchases even if the original tracks have been moved off your computer at some point. On the good side, the album price of the new iTunes Plus store remain the same as the former one, meaning that if you select to buy an album, you'll be downloading the DRM free one, even if you buy it from the regular iTunes Store.

This appeals to me because I tend to buy more albums than single tracks. A generation thing I suppose. Old habits die hard. I started buying LPs around the age of 12 or 13 years old. I remember cycling home from the record store with the album carefully wrapped up and stored between the break cables of my bike. Hours were then spent exploring the cover art, reading the lyrics, listening to the music. I didn't compulsively acquire music as I do today back in those days. It was a real and important event.

So, Wednesday, call me Mr Compulsive, I clicked the "Upgrade my Library" button without thinking twice, and began to download the 180+ tracks or so from iTunes Plus. It took me over four attempts spaced out over three days for all the tracks to home in safely. The load must have been tremendous, and there must be a number of sysops that lost sleep these last nights. I was confident they eventually would get there, as I have a good experience with iTune Store's error recovery procedure. I encountered a wild number of errors 500 and 504. But it was all sorted out eventually.

iTunes download 504 error

The 256kbps encoded tracks weight between 5 and 8Mb and {I must subjectively admit} sound better. Subjective? What the heck. That is how I hear them today. I haven't, and probably won't, play around comparing them as I, for one, have deleted my previous AAC protected 128kbps tracks † (you can opt to move them out of the folder or delete them), and, for two, haven't the time currently to enjoy that kind of exercice.

Most of my music library is in DRM free format as it originates from the CDs I acquired over time. I've been buying music online since the former iTunes Music Store was available in Switzerland (back in May 2005 according to invoices I tracked down in my mail). My buying habits switched rapidely to focus essentially on the iTS. The number of boxed CDs I acquire has rapidely decreased ever since. At first, I took the habit of burning for backup purposes and ripping back to a DRM free format the albums bought on iTS, but I have now passively renounced to rip them back and hence the introduction of the DRM free tracks suiting me down to the earth.

I have used 192kbps MP3 up until now, but I changed my import settings to 256kbps after listening to my newly downloaded tracks. Initially, I chose to MP3 for portability purposes, but AAC is widely supported now and does sound better at that encoding rate. Especially classical music and some jazz.

It is funny to see how the formats and their use evolved over time (for me):

  • 1975-1985: LPs and compact cassettes
  • 1985-1990: LPs, compact cassettes and CDs
  • 1990-1995: CDs and compact cassettes
  • 1995-1999: CDs and MDs
  • 1999-2005: CDs and MP3 (remember Audion?)
  • 2005-2007: CDs, MP3 and MP4p
  • 2007- : MP4a (and CDs?)

This post is getting much longer than I anticipated, so I'll leave you here and get to work. It's Monday morning, 08:45 CET, the sun is shining and all my thoughts go to Mum entering hospital for her bi-yearly checkup.

† deleted? well not really, I do keep backups of everything. But they are deleted from my active computers.

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