Golden-Eared Critic Slams iTunes Plus

Are Apple's new higher-fidelity downloads worth their premium prices? No, says a recording engineer writing for the Sci Fi Tech blog. Critic Leslie Shapiro downloaded 20 songs from iTunes Plus at 256 kilobits per second and compared them to 128kbps versions (both using Apple's favored AAC codec). "I bought into the idea that the difference would be drastic, or at least noticeable," Shapiro writes. "I spent hours listening, switching from 128 to 256 and back, straining to hear something--anything--different about the tracks. My critical listening skills are pretty good, but this was pushing the limit. To be fair, there were differences, but they were subtle. For example, on David Bowie's 'Space Oddity,' the high-end clarity was a bit more pronounced on the 256-kbps version, and on KT Tunstell's 'Other Side of The World,' the guitars were slightly more detailed. It would've been extremely hard to distinguish had I not been switching instantly from one format to the other." True, Shapiro might have reached different conclusions if comparing MP3s at the same data rate--or compressed files to lossless ones. But considering what Apple's charging for these higher-bit-rate downloads, the winner (at least for people who care about sound quality) may be the dear old CD. After all, you can rip it to any codec you like, and even change your mind in the future. Mmmm, my bulging CD shelves are sure lookin' good!

Tom Thompson's picture

I am assuming that there is a power law working here not unlike you find in many science fields. The drop off in payoff is inversely proportional to the square of the bit rate. Makes sense to be that with each doubling of bit rate you see a decline in the measurable "improvement" of the sound quality.Duh. So the 128 rate is fine....keep it rather than pushing again to change standards.

ry's picture

I was really hoping for variable bit rate. Since 256 doesn't sound much better than 128 then forget itunes.Apple is just ripping people off with low quality sound at nearly the same price as a much higher quality cd. Nor can you resell it and they only let you lose a copy once only to have to buy it again. Lame.