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iTunes Match in Canada: 6 Months Later [Review]

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Apple announced the iTunes Match service at WWDC 2011, and it launched in Canada eight days before Christmas on December 15, 2011. I immediately paid the $27.99 fee and subscribed. I was excited at the thought of being able to match the 5500+ songs in my library to the iTunes Match service, allowing access to my music collection from the cloud on any iOS device. This feature was especially valuable since I only have a portion of my library on my iPhone at any given time. I also appreciated the feature that allowed lower bit-rate song files to be upgraded to 256Kbps, especially those purchased or ripped a few years ago when iTunes still defaulted to 128Kbps.

So, now that I’ve used the service for the past 6 months, let’s see how it has worked out.

It Works!

The core service generally works well. Music in your iTunes library is matched or uploaded, and is then available from any iOS device or computer where you have iTunes installed and iTunes Match enabled, up to a maximum of 10 devices.

On your Mac or PC, songs that have been matched or uploaded can be deleted from your computer and streamed on demand without having to re-download them first. You could effectively delete your entire music collection from your hard drive and still have access to all your music as long as you continue to subscribe to iTunes Match and your Internet connection is active.

Upgrading lower bit-rate songs works well. After the matching process is complete you simply delete the original copy of the song and then download the matched 256Kbps version to replace it. This feature also works with digital song files that have been obtained from other sources, such as Amazon, 7digital, etc.

Mostly…

On the other hand, sometimes things don’t work so well. I’ve experienced situations where matched songs fail to download or fail to stream from iTunes Match, often with no error messages. Usually it will work later, so this might just be related to server issues at Apple’s end, but it’s annoying when you’re trying to listen to your music but can’t.

On a couple of occasions I’ve added songs where none of the tracks were matched so they got uploaded instead. I deleted the local copies of the files, leaving myself the option to stream the tracks on demand. Later, when I went to play the album, iTunes Match refused to either stream or download any of the tracks. There was again no error, and I ended up having to repeat the matching process again before it would work. This obviously concerns me since you need to trust that when items are flagged as uploaded, they actually are. I’d recommend keeping a local backup of anything you upload and delete just in case.

Sometimes the matching process doesn’t work well. Usually it’s individual songs, but occasionally it’s the whole album. For whatever reason, some tracks refuse to match and are uploaded instead. It’s not just tracks from some obscure album either, we’re talking about David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” or Beastie Boys “Hot Sauce Comittee Part 2”. On these albums and many more there are multiple songs that refuse to match no matter what. I sometimes find that converting the file to AAC will cause it to match though I have no idea why.


Sometimes songs will fail to match, resulting a a mixture of Matched and Uploaded tracks.

Except When It Doesn’t

Then we come to the downright annoying little glitches that can really test your patience.

Songs downloaded to iOS devices over 3G can stall or fail to complete even though the 3G signal is good, and sometimes songs don’t download fully on iOS devices despite showing as completed. If you select “Download All” while on 3G, it’s pretty rare if all the songs actually complete in my experience.

Songs downloaded on iOS devices sometimes fail to play until deleted and re-downloaded. I ran into this recently where every song on my iPhone failed to play. I had to delete each and every album on the device individually (there is no delete all) and download them again. As usual, there were no error messages. Update: It’s been pointed out in the comments and also via Twitter that you can delete all songs from your device via Settings -> General -> Usage -> Music -> Edit -> All Music -> Delete. Thanks to everyone who pointed this out.

Some songs in the cloud may fail to start or skip to the next track on iOS devices, even when you have a stable Internet connection. You’ll press play but nothing happens. Eventually it might skip to the next song, or it may sit there doing nothing. It’s quite annoying, but often if you return to the original song you can get it to play the second time around. You may also see album artwork randomly failing to load, or reloading every time you play an album.

And finally, the kicker for people like me. Songs that have explicit lyrics occasionally get matched and downloaded as clean. This is the one that gets on my nerves the most. I’ve had this happen with the song “Make Some Noise” from “Hot Sauce Comittee Part 2” by Beastie Boys and tracks from a few other albums I own. I opened a bug report with Apple last December and they’re still working on it (I think).

Is It A Good Match?

At the moment, I’d consider iTunes Match as useful, but not 100% reliable. It works for the most part although there are some annoying issues that need to be resolved as soon as possible. The convenience of being able to stream music to your computer combined with the ability to download songs to iOS devices on-demand is great, when it works. However, the quirkiness and buggy behavior on iOS devices can leave a lot to be desired considering that this is a paid service.

At a minimum I would recommend that users back up their iTunes music library before enabling iTunes Match just to be safe, and that they perform regular backups of their local iTunes library, especially if they plan to delete the local files and stream online.

How has iTunes Match worked for you? Let us know in the comments.

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  • >I had to
    delete each and every album on the device individually (there is no delete all)
    and download them again.

    I just deleted all my music 2 days ago:

    Settings
    > General > Usage > Show all Apps > Music >Edit > “-“ >
    Delete All
    I’ve had iTunes Match since day one. Works great, but don’t use it too much. Prefer 40 channels of CBC streaming music.

  • I agree with pretty much everything in this review! Overall I’m very satisfied. I love using it with my Apple TV most! And love that I can delete all music on my MacBook Air to save space and stream as desired…it’s nice having all of my songs available in every Mac/iOS device whenever I want without taking up space.

  • Mike

    I have also run into the explicit/clean lyric bug – very annoying. Hopefully they come up with a solution.

  • swotam

    Fred, thanks for pointing this out, very good to know. I’ll keep this in mind in case there’s a next time.

  • I’ve been happy with it. The vast majority of my music isn’t available on iTunes (lots of Japanese stuff), so while it took me a solid 4 days to upload all my music to the service (stupid slow upload), I’ve access to all my music anywhere I go… home, on my work Mac, on my iPhone, etc.

    Also means I’ve got a third backup of all my music in case disaster strikes.

  • Hey Anthony – I agree with your review 100%. My biggest gripe is also the censored music bug. Like really how irritating is that? Singing along to a tune (which I tend to do,) only to have it *bleep* at a dramatic or key point to the song?

    Overall I wouldn’t recommend Match until they fix these bugs. The ability to have your entire music library anywhere is awesome but, I think it’s more for the hardcore music fans only. I think most people are happy with just a smaller subset of music.

  • ocular revolt

    I was using ITunes match since its release in Australia until 2 weeks ago when I had to restore my phone and that was when the bugs came crawling out.
    Attempting to cache my iTunes data back to my phone was a long and arduous process and I eventually gave up when I noticed that although previously all metadata had easily downloaded to the device it was now not displaying album artwork and was even missing tracks from albums that displayed on my iPad and MacBook Pro.
    Not good enough for a paid service.
    I’m now using spotify.

  • Agreed… simply not good enough or a paid service. The main pro is having my entire music library at my disposal. As a music nut I like to have all my albums in their entirety, available at all times. BUT unfortunately the cons of this service outweigh the pros.

  • Kirk

    I like my iTunes match. I just recently got an appleTV and I find that’s where it mostly shines. The review is spot on!

  • Mark Roberts

    Not sure why you would pay for this rather than get it for free with Google Music.

  • Mark Roberts

    Google Music = free. Not sure why anyone would choose to pay for such a service.

  • swotam

    In part because Google Music isn’t available outside the US, and the review is regarding iTunes Match in Canada….

  • That is definitely one reason, and an important one. See my response to Mark Roberts below, for another.

  • The two are not the same:

    1. There is no “Match” in Google Music. You must upload your entire music library to their servers. Hence the “Match” in iTunes Match.

    2.Quote from Macworld: “Both Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player give what they get. If you upload a 128-kbps copy of The Beatles “Love Me Do,” that’s exactly what you’ll get back. With iTunes Match, if a track from your library has been matched with a track available from the iTunes Store, it will come back to you as a 256-kbps AAC file. In cases where your copy is of lesser quality, you win. However, if your copy is uncompressed or in the Apple Lossless format, the version you receive from iTunes Match will be that same 256-kbps AAC format.”

    So, Google Music may be free but, there may be those that are willing to pay a bit more for the above two points, and also simply because they may prefer the iTunes interface. (Or other reasons, which I may not even be thinking of at the moment.)

  • swotam

    A very good point Mike, thanks for sharing.

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