Last updated: July 3, 2015
Cupertino has introduced Apple Music. The new music streaming service has been designed to take on Spotify and similar services. Missing from the excitement surrounding the new service’s introduction was a discussion on whether it means the end of iTunes Match, an Apple service that launched four years ago. For most users, subscribing to Apple Music will justify ending your iTunes Match membership. For others, it will not.
Apple Music packs a lot of features, including many found on iTunes Match, but there are some differences you need to consider. To better understand these differences, we’ve created this document.
What is iTunes Match?
Initially only available in the United States, iTunes Match debuted in November 2011 with the iTunes 10.5.1 update. Called “a match made in iCloud,” the service determines which songs in your music collection (including those ripped from CD) are available in the iTunes Store.
Those tracks are automatically added to iCloud, or matched, for you to listen to them anytime, across all devices. Those songs not found on iTunes are uploaded from your device to iCloud for use on any of your other devices.
Currently, iTunes Match supports up to 10 devices using the same Apple ID — including your Mac or PC, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Apple TV. At last count, there are 43 million songs available on the iTunes Store.
Apple will match your older files that are 96 kbps or higher, and make them available in 256 kbit/s DRM-free AAC format. When downloaded, these high-quality files are yours to keep, even if you let your iTunes Match subscription expire (more about this later).
Files in the higher quality lossless audio ALAC, or original uncompressed PCM formats, WAV and AIFF, are transcoded to 256 kbit/s DRM-free AAC format before uploading to your iCloud storage account. In this case, the higher quality local files remain in their original format.
Since iTunes Radio launched in Sept. 2013, iTunes Match subscribers have been able to listen to the streaming music service ad-free. However, you still can only skip up to six tracks per hour per station. After you reach your skip limit, the Skip Forward control will be dimmed for 60 minutes.
Many have criticized iTunes Match because Apple limits the number of matches to 25,000 tracks, which is bad news for those with an enormous music library. If your collection is higher than that number, iTunes won’t match any of your songs.
Additionally, if your library grows beyond 25,000 tracks at a later date, iTunes Match will turn off automatically. Luckily, songs purchased on iTunes aren’t counted against this 25,000 track limit.
Song files longer than two hours in length will not be uploaded, nor will files 200MB or higher. Also, remember: iTunes Match supports up to 10 devices, including your computer, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Apple TV.
Songs containing DRM (Digital Rights Management) are not matched or uploaded to iCloud unless you authorize playback of that content on your computer,
For a current list of countries where iTunes Match is available, click here.
You can purchase a one-year subscription to iTunes Match from your computer or iOS device.
On your Computer
On your Mac or PC, open iTunes and go Store > Turn on iTunes Match, and login using your Apple ID. Click “Subscribe.”
Once you have confirmed your payment information and have agreed to the iTunes Match Terms and Conditions, iTunes will begin the process of matching your songs. Depending on the size of your collection and Internet speed, this could take awhile.
When scanning is complete, a cloud icon appears next to songs available for download. If this icon is not listed, the song is already in your library.
On your iOS device
To subscribe to iTunes from your iOS device, tap Settings > iTunes & App Store. Be sure to log into your Apple ID.
Once you’ve signed in, tap “Subscribe to iTunes Match,” and verify your payment information. Next, accept the iTunes Match Terms and Conditions.
Songs available for playback or download from iCloud will be accessible on the Music app. Again, songs that are available for download from iCloud are denoted by an icon.
By default, your iTunes Match subscription will renew each year unless you indicate otherwise. You will also receive a reminder email from Apple approximately one month before your subscription ends, regardless of your auto-renew status.
To turn auto-renew off through iTunes, go into your account under iTunes in the Cloud and select the “Turn Off Auto-Renew” button.
To turn off auto-renew on an iOS device, go into the Settings app under iTunes & App Store and select your Apple ID, and then “View Apple ID.” From the Account Settings page, scroll down to the iTunes in the Cloud section. Tap the iTunes Match Renewal toggle so that it slides to the left.
When your subscription ends
When you no longer subscribe to iTunes Match, you’ll lose the ability to stream or download matched or uploaded songs to your devices. Those songs already downloaded will remain in 256 kbit/s DRM-free AAC format.
Is iTunes Match activated?
Logging out of iTunes deactivates iTunes Match. The service is not turned back on automatically when you log in again.
To turn on iTunes Match on a Mac or PC, go Store > Turn on iTunes Match to begin the scanning process once again. This process is a lot quicker after the first time.
On an iPhone or iPad, go into the Settings app under iTunes & App Store and reactivate iTunes Match.
Playlists are supposed to copy over across multiple devices. In reality, duplicate playlists happen. When you see a duplicate playlist, delete it from iTunes by right-clicking or Control-clicking on the playlist title. Choose “Delete.”
Once you have removed the playlist from iTunes, launch the Music app on your iOS device to refresh your library. Depending on the speed of your connection, this correction could take a few minutes.
Occasionally, songs in your library won’t be available through iCloud. This usually occurs with songs containing DRM (Digital Rights Management). In iTunes, these tracks might appear grayed out. This can occur if your computer is not authorized to play that content.
You can attempt to resolve this by authorizing your computer, and then manually updating iTunes Match. To authorize in iTunes, go Store > Authorize Computer.
If you are unsure what Apple ID your computer needs to be authorized for to play a specific song, first, highlight the song in your iTunes library. Next, choose File > Get Info. In the Summary tab, locate the Account Name field in the right column, and then click Okay.
You now must select Choose Store > Authorize this Computer. Type in the account name from the Summary field and enter its password. Click Authorize. Choose Store > Update iTunes Match.
When in doubt
Still having problems? Updating iTunes Match usually is a good place to start. As mentioned above, select Store > Update iTunes Match to complete this process.
Also, make sure you are always using the latest version of iOS and OS X.
Now about Apple Music
The Apple Music service represents a change in thinking for the company behind the iPod and later the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Until now, Apple focused on iTunes song and album sales. In recent years, those sales have dropped significantly as consumers have shifted their buying preferences to music streaming.
With an Apple Music membership, you’ll receive unlimited access to 30 million songs. These titles can be streamed from your devices and downloaded for offline listening. You’ll also receive access to Apple’s new 24/7, global station, Beats 1. Apple has also “brought a fresh eye (and ear)” to the company’s current radio stations. According to Apple, “Our music experts have totally revamped each station to bring you a fresh take on the genres you love.”
Apple Music will first be accessible from iOS, watchOS, Mac, and PC. It arrives on Apple TV and Android-based devices later.
What about your existing iTunes music library? Apple says this:
With an Apple Music membership, your entire library lives in iCloud. We compare every track in your collection to the Apple Music library to see if we have a copy. If we do, you can automatically listen to it straight from the cloud. If you have music that’s not in our catalog, we upload those songs from iTunes on your Mac or PC. It’s all in iCloud, so it won’t take up any space on your devices.
This sounds a lot like iTunes Match, of course. However, this is where things getting a little fuzzy.
The differences between the two
There are 43 million songs available for purchase on the iTunes Store, but just 30 million songs available for streaming on Apple Music.
With iTunes Match, every song in your library is matched with iTunes and updated to 256 kbit/s DRM-free AAC format. Only songs available on Apple Music are updated to the 256 kbit/s DRM-free AAC format. In other words, because the Apple Music library is smaller than the entire iTunes Music library, some of your files might not be updated to the better format if you only have Apple Music.
As it stands, Apple Music is significantly more expensive, $120/year versus $24.99/year for iTunes Match. Naturally, the biggest difference is that with Apple Music you can stream any of those 30 million songs for the price of admission, and even save them to your Apple devices for offline listening. With iTunes Match, you can only access music you own. Apple Music is replacing iTunes Radio, so this iTunes Match feature is going away.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)
With Apple Music, music downloaded arrives as a DRM-locked version. Even for your own tracks. In other words, your own music will prove unplayable were you to cancel Apple Music and no longer have an iTunes Match subscription.
As Macworld senior contributor Kirk McElhearn notes:
This means that if you’ve matched your library with Apple Music and iCloud Music Library, you need to keep backups of your original files. If not, you’ll end up with files that you can’t play without an Apple Music subscription.
So far, Apple isn’t commenting on this bait and switch. Some have suggested this change was a necessary compromise made between Cupertino and the record companies. A business decision, no more.
My beef with this change has less to do with the specifics. Apple isn’t planning on discontinuing iTunes Match. In fact, new subscribers are welcomed. The issue is that Apple makes it sound like Apple Music comes with iTunes Match, which we now know isn’t the case.
Online Cupertino says the following:
Does Apple Music work with iTunes Match?
Yes. Apple Music and iTunes Match are independent but complementary.
One final note: Both Apple Music and iTunes Match stream at 256 kbps. In comparison, Beats Music uses a 320 kbps bitrate, as does Spotify, while Tidal offers a high-bitrate option.
Moving forward, Apple needs to clarify its position. The company could do so simply by better explaining the differences between the two services. Specifically, they should explain why it’s prudent for those folks with large music libraries to continue to keep their iTunes Match subscription. Better still, offer an iTunes Match add-on for Apple Music subscribers. For example, iTunes Match is priced at $24.99 per year. Make this add-on $2 per month.
Unless Apple better clarifies its position, there could be a lot of unhappy users who may elect to cancel their iTunes Match subscription, thinking that it ships with Apple Music. You heard it here: Don’t cancel that subscription.