Saturday, June 09, 2007

iTunes Plus -- Update

At the end of a recent post (following the link to the Wilson Rothman piece), I mentioned the news that Apple's iTunes store would soon be offering music that comes at a higher bit rate and without DRM restrictions. Last week, PC Advisor posted a review by Christopher Breen of this optional (and slightly more expensive) service.

The review is mostly about the details of the web store, but Breen did talk a bit about the fidelity of the new offerings. I was surprised to read that he wasn't too impressed. However, the test sounded a little half-hearted and the methodology is not well-described. Basically, Breen burned both versions of a couple pieces of music to CD and listened on a "living room setup," from which he concluded "the difference between protected and unprotected versions is anything but startling."

I wouldn't have expected startling differences, and good for him for not being a fanboy, but I would have liked to read at least a description of the audio equipment used.

I also wish he had run the test on a few more songs. It's hard for me to imagine how "Angie" could be made to sound much better (this is not, at the moment, an editorial comment) merely by doubling the bit rate, given how long ago it was recorded. I would have appreciated his testing a rock song recorded during the current millennium.

Breen also ran the test on a piece of classical music, Brahms's "Requiem," but did not say which version of the song he used. I know little about classical music, but I do know there are many, many recordings of this piece of music, doubtless of widely varying quality.

I'd have liked to hear impressions produced by listening to a few other types of music; e.g., an acoustic guitar, a small jazz combo, and a piece of heavily electronic trance music.

Between the uncertainty about the quality of the audio equipment and the limited choice of test data, it's easy to speculate that the results could be explained in four letters: G.I.G.O.

Finally, there was no mention of any other people involved, or whether any kind of blind techniques were employed. One wonders if deadline loomed, a quick CD burn and play was conducted, and twenty minutes later, the (solo) test ended.

I don't have any water to carry for Apple, and I'm not even heavily emotionally invested in moving the world to a higher bit rate. I just wanted to register my irritation with the weakness of the test and the limited writeup.

We now return the readers to their regularly scheduled Internets, and the author of this post to his meds.


2007-06-09 21:11 EDT

Elsewhere on the PCA site, I am reminded of the obvious: that Apple may be over-hyping the increased fidelity because it's probably not so politic to only hype the DRM removal. And in still another piece, a mildly creepy aspect is revealed: Your name and email address are embedded into all iTunes Plus songs that you buy. Share safely, kids.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know about the embedding. Since I share an iTunes account with my 15-year-old son, who favors tunes such as "Knife Blood Nightmare," I guess I'm out of the running for President.

On second thought, it may be an advantage to run as a candidate and sport obvious bloodthirstiness.

It certainly would have been more "authentic" than the "good ol' boy" traits recent candidates have tried. (Reference Krugman today.)

bjkeefe said...

All good points. I apologize for not having noticed your comment before today.