Although delivered a month late, Apple has finally shipped the complete cloud integrated version of iTunes. This includes iTunes Match, a much awaited feature allowing both online streaming of music and “upgrading” library content from the iTunes Store. Here’s how to upgrade your old low bit rate MP3 files with high quality 256 bit AAC replacements from Apple’s server. Best of all, iTunes Match is completely legal, allowing you to “go legit” even with files illegally downloaded in the past.
How iTunes Match Works
|Before: DRM-ed||After: Unprotected|
Apple has always stored iTunes music “in the cloud”, but it was never accessible except at the time of purchase. In other words, Apple would allow you to buy a song and download it but you could not re-download purchases, let alone stream them to other computers or iDevices.
ITunes 10.5.1, now available for download, enables online streaming and re-downloading the of media to any authorized computer or device. This means that all of your past and future iTunes Store purchases are now available on all the devices you own. You can stream them over the Internet for casual listening or download them for off-line use. This includes movies, television shows, and books as well as music.
But iTunes Match is the signature feature of this upgrade. Using technology acquired from Lala, Apple now offers an annual subscription allowing you to “match” your off-line library with the online iTunes store. This match technology will scan your entire library and make available all songs in it, regardless of source.
ITunes Match allows you to “upgrade” your music library with legal, licensed, high-quality files regardless of the source. This includes DRM-protected iTunes store purchases, which are also upgraded to 256 K bit DRM-free AAC files. This is a huge benefit: Building a high-quality non-DRM library is well worth a year $25 per year even without online streaming.
For example, if you bought an album from Amazon or ripped a CD (or even if you downloaded music through Bittorrent), it will be available for streaming and downloading to iTunes, iPhones, iPads, and iPods. Even better, the downloaded version will be Apple’s high quality 256 kbps AAC “iTunes Plus” version, even if yours was a lowly 128 kbps MP3 file.
How to Upgrade a Song
Upgrading is fairly straightforward, and iCloud “has your back” if you make a mistake. Still, I recommend backing up your music files before proceeding!
The first step is subscribing to the iTunes Match service. Download and install the latest version of iTunes, and click on the new iTunes Match entry in the menu bar. Apple will prompt you to sign up and pay your $25 using your existing iTunes account.
Once you have subscribed to iTunes Match, iTunes will scan your library for songs, match them to the online library, and begin uploading any that it did not find. You can continue working with iTunes while the upload proceeds, since we will be working with files that do exist on the iTunes servers.
Right click on the menu bar above the song listing in iTunes’ Music pane and add the new “iCloud Status” column. You might also want to add the “Kind” column to determine which files should be upgraded.
Locate a file to upgrade. There’s no need to replace songs that are or 256 kb iTunes Plus format, so look for those with “Kind” listed as “MPEG audio file” or “Protected AAC audio file”.
Next, check the “iCloud Status” column to make sure the song is “Matched”. Now you’re good to go with the upgrade.
I created a backup folder to save a copy of my music just in case the upgrade fails. Just drag and drop the file right out of iTunes and into a backup folder.
In iTunes, select the song you wish to upgrade and press the delete key. ITunes will ask if you’re sure: Go ahead and click “Delete Song” but do not select “Also delete this song from iCloud” just in case.
Once the song file has been deleted, you will notice that it does not disappear from the iTunes interface. Instead, a new icon will appear in the “iCloud” column. This is the iCloud download button: Click it and iTunes will re-download the high quality version of that song directly into your library. Or just press “Play” to stream it over the Internet!
Note that any metadata, such as custom year or composer, will not be lost. Even star ratings will be retained, though it appears that play counts are not saved.
This process can be repeated for multiple items at once, allowing you to upgrade your library with just a few clicks.
|Before: Low-bitrate MP3||After: 256 kbps AAC|
The ability to “go legit” and upgrade older music files is a huge benefit, and makes iTunes Match well worth the $25 annual fee. Having all your music online for streaming is pretty cool, but probably wouldn’t have enticed me to spend money. I will definitely be upgrading my entire iTunes library this way!