Apple Rebrands Its Best-Sounding Music
Since 2012, Apple has been running a program it calls Mastered for iTunes. The initiative allows engineers to preserve the highest-possible quality when encoding master recordings for digital distribution through iTunes (and now Apple Music). Apple’s tools and guidelines prevent clipping and other unwanted remnants of the loudness wars — when producers and mastering engineers keep turning up the volume knob on recorded music at the expense of dynamic range.
Mastered for iTunes was never about bit rate or high-resolution audio; Apple has continued to stick with the lossy AAC format as streaming competitors like Tidal have put an emphasis on lossless audio. But listeners have still been able to make out differences between Mastered for iTunes content when compared to other digital music releases and even older CDs, finding Apple’s releases to be more dynamic and detailed. That’s especially true for older catalogs like those belonging to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, John Coltrane, and countless others. You generally don’t have to worry about getting stuck with some harsh-sounding old digital transfer or an overly-loud remaster if it’s got the Mastered for iTunes badge.
There’s an enormous thread at the Steve Hoffman forums dating back to 2014 discussing “MFiT” albums. This place is home to some of the most obsessive music listeners on the planet, so their thumbs-up on many Mastered for iTunes releases is worth something. These are great masterings that are more convenient than ever before to access — you don’t have to hunt down a vinyl release or some obscure CD pressing for the best presentation of an album you love.
Now, according to Billboard, Apple is gathering all of that MFiT content together under a rebranded banner: they’ll now be called Apple Digital Masters. The name change is easier to grok for listeners, but it’s also a necessity since iTunes is riding off into the sunset this fall as of iOS 13 and macOS Catalina. Users on Reddit actually noticed the new name nearly a month ago, since the change has already been made in betas of Catalina.
Apple told Billboard that “the majority of top releases on Apple Music currently are Apple Digital Masters, with about 75 percent of the top 100 in the US and 71 percent of the top 100 globally created under the program.”
It’s easy enough to see if a song in your music library is an Apple Digital Master in iTunes (soon the Music app) on a Mac desktop or laptop; just right click and examine the file info. However, Apple Music on an iPhone or iPad has never really made it clear when you’re listening to a Mastered for iTunes / Apple Digital Master song or album. So I’m hopeful that this revised branding might also lead to the whole effort becoming more visible from the consumer perspective.
But if you’re someone with a FLAC or Apple Lossless music library (I’m in the latter camp), don’t get too excited just yet. Do I wish Apple would offer an Apple Lossless tier of Apple Music? Absolutely. Could this be a stepping stone to getting there? Possibly. But do I expect it to happen? That’s still very much in “maybe” territory, and there’s been no evidence that Tidal HiFi has made enough waves for Apple to bother. But here’s to hoping, especially when even Amazon is now thinking about going down this road.
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