iTunes Plus: Major Yawnage.

The good news is that iTunes Plus is sans-DRM. This is smart. This is helpful. This is a good thing.

The stupid news is the quality argument. From Apple’s press release:

featuring high quality 256 kbps AAC encoding for audio quality virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings

Gag me with a spoon. For the mathematically-uninclined (or the “just plain lazy”), let me lay out some math. The music on the CDs you buy at the store is at 1,411 kbps. The music is often recorded in the studio at much higher rates – four times that or more. The studios don’t do that for their health or to keep the disk drive industry happy. For those in the audience keeping score, 256 is about 1/5th of 1,411. Good lossless compression algorithms use variable rates that range between 500 kbps and 1,000 kbps. So at best iTunes Plus is “half of lossless” but on average it’s more like a third of lossless, and at worst it’s still a quarter of lossless.

I know I can be cynical sometimes, but as far as the ‘quality’ issues are concerned, this smells like a marketing gimmick. First, Apple got you to spend $0.99 per track for a whole bunch of your favorite tunes in crap-quality. Now they’re trying to get you to spend $1.29 per track for better quality versions of your favorite tracks. May I be so brash as to predict that in early 2008, Apple will be asking you to re-purchase all your favorites again in “iTunes PlusPlus” to be released in early 2008 for “audiophile quality 384kbps” tracks at $1.49 each?

Truth in advertising: iTunes Plus is about charging higher prices so a select group of publishers can get higher payments per song in exchange for dropping DRM requirements. The rest of it is garbage.


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