Rumors of the Death of iTunes might not be greatly exaggerated
While the death of the CD has been foretold for many years, the death of iTunes has not had as many predictions from the soothsayers. However, unless iTunes can add 24 bit/192kHz playback for high definition sound, offer a “lossless compressed” option in the iTunes store and drop the limitations on sharing purchased music, its days are numbered.
iTunes offers easily downloaded digital music that can be played back conveniently on a computer and on any portable Apple capable device. iTunes music isn’t much cheaper than a CD, but it is much more convenient and portable. However, the popularity of iTunes compressed music files reached its peak when hard drive storage space was expensive and physically bulky.
Today, one or two Terabyte hard drives are priced as low as $125 and they are not much bigger than an iPod classic. Larger and more affordable memory storage means that file sizes could be larger. Music could be ripped “one to one” without compression and deliver more accurate sound reproduction.
Go to iTunes—Edit—Preferences—General—Import Settings and go to the dropdown menu that says “import using,” and you will see a choice to import your music as “Apple Lossless Encoder.” Selecting this option enables you to rip your CDs onto your computer and import it to iTunes as a “one to one” rip. This means that all of the 1’s and 0’s that exist as digital information on your CD can now be copied directly to your computer and available for playback there without any loss of information caused by compression.
In other words, if you copy a CD using “Apple Lossless” you have an exact duplicate of all information on the CD without chopping the highs and lows to create a small file size. Of course that also means that the average size of an album is now about eight times larger than it would be if you ripped it as AAC, AIFF or MP3. Therefore, eight times the memory is needed to store your music on your hard drive. But who cares? Memory is cheap and the sound quality on playback is noticeably better.
Just as everyone predicted correctly a decade ago that the future of the record industry was digital reproduction, the prediction today is for high definition quality digital reproduction. People are already beginning to care more about the quality of the playback of their favorite albums and this trend will continue and soon dominate.
High definition music downloads are available on websites like HDtracks, owned by musician and Chesky record producer David Chesky. These downloads are about the price of an SACD, but they have no restrictions on sharing except for the warning that they cannot be resold or used commercially.
As every sci-fi fan knows, knowledge of the future can change the future. Apple has its pulse on this multi-billion dollar market. It was not out of concern for music quality that Apple added its “lossless compressed” option a few years ago. The fact that the IPod has not had an update in hardware or software in three years may not be the sign of its death, but of its immanent rebirth to a device with more memory to store the larger lossless compressed files and 24 bit/192mhz playback for high definition music made available for purchase on iTunes.
In the next several weeks I will report some of my experiments with the quality of digital music and the level of audiophile playback that is achievable through your computer.