Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Stop it, iTunes, you’re killing me

Filed under : Music
On June 8, 2007
At 12:55 am
Comments : 9

So this evening I did something I’ve said I would never do, that is, buy something from the new iTunes Plus store. Actually two things. And actually, I didn’t really buy them. See, I had two song credits from buying my Crowded House tickets (my concert-going companion doesn’t read this blog and therefore doesn’t know I spent his credit too. Shhh.) And while I was having a look at the e-mail I noticed that the credit was for a song, not for 99 cents. I always like getting the most bang for my buck (or buck twenty-nine) so I decided to go for the plus version.

If you weren’t aware, iTunes Plus is the new part of the iTunes store where for 30% more you get DRM-free, higher sound quality (it’s less compressed) music. DRM (digital rights management) is the “lock” Apple places on the song so that it can’t be copied more than a certain number of times. I should add that this is at the behest of the record companies. Apple never liked it and, let’s just say it, neither do consumers. But nobody should really care about it because with a little effort, anyone can break DRM and as for sound quality, once a file is compressed that much it isn’t supposed to matter once you get over a bitrate of, say 160 or 192 kbps. Previously iTunes songs had been in 128 kbps. iTunes Plus tracks are in 256 kbps. There are four major distribution groups of record labels in the US and only one agreed to release their music this way. That would be EMI. Because they’re in last place they have little to lose if everyone starts rampantly copying their music. There may be indie labels in there too but I didn’t see any.

So all I had to do was find two EMI songs I wanted and I’d be set. If you’re like most people, you don’t pay much attention to what label any particular title is on and therefore, this will just leave you browsing through the iTunes Plus area or just lucking into finding something you like and seeing the plus sign next to it. That’s the way I am about movies; I couldn’t possibly tell you what studio released anything. But I’m pretty aware of what artists are on what label and even if they have been on several labels. I decided for my experiment to get two songs I might see some difference in, so I chose two slow, intense, deep numbers, Coldplay’s Trouble (this is actually the only Coldplay song I like; then he became a dopey wanker who named his kid after fruit) and Camille’s Pâle septembre.

And what was the result? I think my normal bitrate must suck because they were both fabulous! I think I heard Camille cough. After listening to both songs twice on my iPod, I can hardly listen to anything else the same way. The stuff I imported from my tape player is now just unbearable. This is a problem for me as I’ve already imported 2000 songs and I’m not doing them again in a higher bitrate. And I’m not “upgrading” my songs (the ones I’d be able to, anyway) at 30 cents a pop.

I suppose my saving grace is the combination of NY street noise, the roar of the subway, and crappy headphones. Will I really notice the sonic brilliance then? Not to mention, the songs take up nearly twice the space. Coldplay, at 4:30 comes in at 8.5MB. Yikes! To compare, one of the Alphaville (shut up!) songs I imported from an old cassette last week at nearly the same length at 160 kbps (my typical bitrate) is just 5.3MB. That kind of thing adds up. Luckily, I only keep a small percentage of tracks I own on my iPod so it’s not even half full.

I’m sure real audiophiles will think this stuff blows, but my verdict? Don’t download from iTunes Plus if you ever want to be able to tolerate the rest of your collection again.

Luckily I don’t want most of these things anyway. Jimmy Eat World? Simple Plan? The Tubes? And who the hell is Ferry Corsten? You don’t know me, iTunes!

I’d love to upload one of my songs but with all that publicity about my name and e-mail address being in there, I don’t want it all over the Interweb. Love ya, Steve Jobs!

Coldplay – Trouble

Camille РP̢le septembre

Edited to add: Look! I found a fun way to stream music at So here are the songs, streamed without me having to host them and worry about my copyright conscience. Of course, they won’t be clear enough to demonstrate the point of this post, especially since I had to convert them into mp3 at 192kbps, but what the hey, have a listen anyway.


9 Comments for this post

  1. kb says:

    I just learned about this whole compression and bitrate business in my theatre sound and acoustics class. It really does make a difference.

    Hey, for something a little different but pretty darn cool, put your headphones on and listen to this:

  2. Lydia says:

    I wish I’d learned about the bitrate business before I ripped my CD collection. Bugger.

    And, ummmmm, hey, I like Jimmy Eat World. That’s where my GDT name comes from. But, I know I have sucky taste and I’m all right with that.

  3. JF says:

    it’s better with this Box thing. I never managed to listen to the songs on napster…

  4. JF says:

    PS : you ruined my saturday with this september song.

  5. sarpon says:

    So if anyone ever needs an example to explain the saying “ignorance is bliss,” here it is: not only do I not know any of this music, I really can’t distinguish the difference in anything but the most glaring disparity in quality between different formats. I’m the person who still doesn’t understand what they mean by the “hiss” on LPs.

  6. Celia says:

    Sarpon, I hear you. I consider it a blessing to be undiscriminating in this and a number of other matters (for example, food). I know of someone whose sense of pitch is so precise that she cannot bear to listen to most recorded music because it sounds off-pitch to her and makes her, reportedly, physically ill. That can’t be enjoyable.

  7. Becca says:

    kb, neat, thanks!

    Lydia, I didn’t say you couldn’t like them just that I don’t understand why iTunes suggested them to me in particular. They’re supposed to understand my taste after all this time. I did always dig that Nada Surf song, though.

    JF, yeah, Napster only works inside the US and, as well, you have to sign up which understandably a lot of people aren’t into. I’m going to try to use the box a lot more now. It’s pretty cool.

    Ha! Yes, I should have warned everyone. The two songs I chose are terribly depressing. Don’t let them ruin your day.

    Sarpon & Celia, I swear, I didn’t think I’d notice either. That’s why this was so surprising and life-destroying. But at least now I know what I’ll be doing with all that spare time I don’t have.

  8. KP says:

    So you are saying you like Hoobastank then?

  9. Becca says:

    Let’s go over them all, shall we? I hate misunderstandings.

    First the categories. Those are my Top 5, I can’t fault them on that. Then the four on the left. As I said, I don’t know who Ferry Corsten is but I looked him up and I have no idea why anyone would think I’m into Trance. I’ll give them a zero on that. I do indeed own Duran Duran’s Rio and have purchased music from Emily Loizeau and Cali. Three out of four ain’t bad.

    Now that Top 10 list.
    1. I can only assume this is because I looked up the singer Raphael. Instead, they are offering me a song called Raphael by a singer I’ve never heard of. Um… not exactly the same thing.
    2. I like the one song I’ve heard by this artist. I’ll give them some points for this.
    3. Duh, I just bought a song by her. That took a lot of imagination.
    4. I do love Tones on Tail. Good choice. I’ll think about it.
    5. We already went over this one.
    6. Gah!
    7. I own this CD, so points to you, iTunes.
    8. As I said, this is a fun song but not one I think I’d listen to very often. Still, good suggestion.
    9. I loathe The Tubes, but I guess with my appreciation for 80’s music it would be hard for an algorithm to know this.
    10. Since 9 of 10 people do actually dig this song, it’s a good choice statistically. But I’m that other one.

    And there you have it.

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