iTunes Match Review – Does iTunes Match Live up to the Hype?


One of Apple’s most eagerly awaited new cloud storage features, iTunes Match, debuted yesterday. For the last six months or so Amazon, Google, and Apple have all competed to offer music lovers new ways to access their music libraries while away from the desktop.

I wanted to try out iTunes Match as soon as it was available because unlike Amazon or Google’s cloud music lockers, iTunes Match promised to give me access to my music without burdening me with the tedious process of uploading each individual tracks.

Aside from the $24.99/year fee, here are the minimum requirements to run iTunes Match:

  • OS X Lion 10.7 or later
  • Windows Vista or later
  • iTunes 10.5.1 or later
  • iOS 5 or later on iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S iPod touch (3rd and 4th generation), iPad, or iPad 2.

Fortunately the process of getting iTunes Match went a lot smoother than it did when I tried to upgrade to iOS 5. I purchased the service through iTunes on my iMac. Although it took over ten hours for all of my music to upload, I was able to start listening to music on my iPad via iTunes Match after only about two hours. I have more than 70 GB of music, so smaller libraries may upload more quickly.

If a song was available in iTunes, it was “matched” but if it wasn’t then it was simply “uploaded,” so the speed of the process relates to how many songs need to be matched versus uploaded.

Not every song in my iTunes library was eligible to be matched or uploaded. According to Apple, “songs containing DRM (Digital Rights Management) will not be matched or uploaded to iCloud unless your computer is authorized for playback of that content.” Apple also won’t match songs files that are too big, or upload files whose sound quality is below a a bitrate of 96 kbps.

Oddly, but fortunately most of the files that iTunes now lists as “not eligible” still wound up being available for me to play. The lion’s share of these titles comprise older CDs that I had read into iTunes, but that do not have a digital compliment. Presumably, the more of old CDs one has read into iTunes, the more common this message will be.

After subscribing and uploading the music, the iTunes Match library is available by tapping the “More” tab in the lower left. Find iTunes Match under shared. The library will bear the name of the user’s Apple ID that it is associated with.

The interface is clean and uncluttered, allowing users to display their music by artists, albums, playlists, and even podcasts.

All of the songs that I played sounded good — were they upgraded, as Apple says — to “256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality” — my ears couldn’t tell, but I haven’t encountered any technical difficulties using iTunes Match so far.

iTunes Match will run in the background, and displays the artwork from the album you are listening to on the lock screen. Remember that iTunes needs to be running on the user’s desktop to be accessible from a remote location. (Remember this before you power off your computer next time you leave on vacation.) Most importantly, iTunes Match requires a Wi-Fi or 3G connection to work, and does not support off-line caching the way that popular subscription radio services such as Spotify or Slacker Radio do.

The appeal of iTunes Match for me was that I wouldn’t have to designate any of my iPad’s 16 GB to store music. The vast majority of my music was matched and available to me. For just over $2.00 per month, iTunes Match is a great deal for any music lover with an outsized MP3 collection and limited mobile storage.

Update: Much of the detailed information in the above paragraphs refers to the Family Sharing option on the iPad, rather than iTunes Match. Because I had not used family sharing since upgrading to iOS5 and purchasing a new computer, I simply didn’t recognize the interface.

iTunes match does not require a computer to be running in the background. Also, if files are not able to be matched or uploaded the will not appear once the user starts finally using iTunes match.

I apologize for creating confusion, and wanted to describe my brief experience with the iTunes Match to clarify how the program works.

In short, my iTunes match experience has been very unsatisfying. It took more than 48 hours for all of my music to upload. When it was finally time to start using iTunes match I learned quickly that I had to download music to my iPad because iTunes match only streams to other computers.

As it turns out, iTunes match is not a solution for listening to music on my crowded iPad. Plus I will have to go in and manually delete songs I no longer want from my device, or wait for the device to delete those I play rarely.

So working with what I now know to be the limitations, I tried make iTunes match work for me. I tried to make a playlist on-the-fly from the iPad. The app froze while I typed. Adding songs to playlist was tedious. My 2011 playlist has 120 songs. It took more than 20 minutes to download them all to my device, but I could start using the playlist while the rest of the songs finished.

  

I would have been wise to listen to the motto of the recently bankrupt Syms Department store: “An Educated Consumer is our Best Customer.” I wish that I had waited to see what other user’s experience was with iTunes Match before I plunked down my money. Admittedly, I was excited and didn’t think it through.

While iTunes Match works, it is a real pain to use. The lack of streaming to iOS devices means that I still have to make a choice between making room for apps or music on my iPad.

For me, paying for iTunes Match is similar to renting a storage space for a bunch of stuff I should probably get rid of. Seeing all of my music in the cloud just reminded me how I didn’t want to listen to 90 percent of it anyway.

As a listener I am always looking to check out new bands, so not being able to access the release date from the music app on my iPad was a real limitation.

I am aware that my listening habits are idiosyncratic. Hopefully other users will have a better experience with iTunes Match, though I suspect those folks will all have laptops or desktops with less limited storage capacity, where the option to steam or download music is less imperative.

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About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_B633WZKUKQFXVMO4JEPLY6AUHA Curmudgeon

    What happens when you re-rip your music at a higher bitrate, say like when someone reimports the CD using ALAC but iTunes match already scanned the music? Does iTunes Match rescan music on command, or does iTunes Match scan new music upon import (much like how iPhoto scans for Faces)

  • Bho2012

    this is the first I have heard of that too! It is important because I don’t keep my computer on especially when I go on vacation. I hope they were wrong about that.