Everything You Need to Know About iTunes Match

Play All of Your Music on Many Devices with iTunes Match

MacPro, iPod, iPad, and iPhone
Enable iTunes Match and play your music on any device at any time. Pexels, Pixabay/FirmBee

Because it's overshadowed by the more widely used Apple Music, iTunes Match doesn't get much attention. In fact, you may think that Apple Music is all you need. While the two services are related, they do pretty different things. Read on to learn all about iTunes Match.

What Is iTunes Match?

iTunes Match is part of Apple's iCloud suite of web-based services. It allows you to upload your entire music collection to your iCloud Music Library and then share it with other devices using the same Apple ID and that can access your iCloud account. This makes it easy to access all of your music on any compatible device.

Subscribing to iTunes Match costs US$25/year. Once you have subscribed, the service automatically renews every year unless you cancel it.

What Are the Requirements?

In order to use iTunes Match, you must have:

  • iTunes and iCloud accounts
  • iTunes 10.5.2 or higher on macOS or Windows
  • iOS 5.0.1 or higher
  • iPhone 3GS or higher, 3rd generation iPod touch or higher, all iPad models, or a 2nd generation Apple TV or newer
  • Annual subscription fee

How Does iTunes Match Work?

There are three ways to add music to iTunes Match. First, any music you've purchased from the iTunes Store is automatically part of your iCloud Music Library; you don't have to do anything.

Second, iTunes Match scans your iTunes library to catalog all the songs in it. With that information, Apple's software automatically adds any music you have in your library that's also available on iTunes to your account. It doesn't matter where that music came from—if you bought it from Amazon, ripped it from CD, etc. As long as it's in your library and is available in the iTunes Store, it's added to your iCloud Music Library. This is super helpful because it saves you from having to upload thousands of songs, which otherwise could take a long time and use a lot of bandwidth.

Lastly, if there's music in your iTunes library that isn't available at the iTunes Store, it's uploaded from your computer to your iCloud Music Library. This applies to AAC and MP3 files, only. What happens to other filetypes is covered in the next two sections.

What Song Format Does iTunes Match Use?

iTunes Match supports all the file formats that iTunes does: AAC, MP3, WAV, AIFF, and Apple Lossless. The songs that are matched from the iTunes Store won't necessarily be in those formats, though.

Music that you bought through the iTunes Store or that is matched by the iTunes Store is automatically upgraded to DRM-free 256 Kbps AAC files. Songs encoded using AIFF, Apple Lossless, or WAV are converted to 256 Kbps AAC files and then uploaded to your iCloud Music Library.

Does That Mean iTunes Match Deletes My Higher-Quality Songs?

No. When iTunes Match creates a 256 Kbps AAC version of a song, it only uploads that version to your iCloud Music Library. It doesn't delete the original song. Those songs stay in their original format on your hard drive.

However, if you download the song from iTunes Match onto another device, that will be the 256 Kbps AAC version. That also means that if you delete the original, higher-quality version of the song from your computer you need to have a high-quality backup that you can access. Otherwise, you'll only be able to download the 256 Kbps version from iTunes Match.

Can I Stream Music from iTunes Match?

It depends on what device you're using:

  • On a computer, you can stream or download songs. Clicking the iCloud button next to a matched song downloads the song to that computer. However, if you just double click the song to play it as you would any normal song, the song will stream without downloading.
  • On an iOS device, playing a song will cause it to both play and download. 
  • On an Apple TV, you can only stream music. There's no way to download a song to the Apple TV.

Does iTunes Match Support Playlists or Voice Memos?

It does support playlists, but not voice memos. All playlists can be synced to multiple devices via iTunes Match, except those that include unsupported files, like voice memos, videos, or PDFs.

How Do I Update My iTunes Match Library?

If you've added new music to your iTunes library and want to update the music in your iTunes Match account, you don't actually have to do anything. As long as iTunes Match is turned on, it will automatically try to add new songs. If you want to force the update, click on File -> Library -> Update iCloud Music Library.

What Apps Are Compatible with iTunes Match?

As of this writing, only iTunes (on macOS and Windows) and the iOS Music app are compatible with iTunes Match. No other music manager program allows you to add music to iCloud or download it to your devices.

Is There a Limit on the Number of Songs In Your Account?

You can add up to 100,000 songs to your iCloud Music Library via iTunes Match.

Is There a Limit on the Number of Devices Connected to iTunes Match?

Yes. Up to 10 total devices can share music via iTunes Match.

Are There Other Limits?

Yes. Songs that are larger than 200MB, or longer than 2 hours, cannot be uploaded to your iCloud Music Library. Songs with DRM aren't uploaded unless your computer is already authorized to play them.

If I've Pirated Music, Can Apple Tell?

Technically it may be possible for Apple to tell that some of the music in your iTunes library is pirated, but the company has said it won't share any information about users' libraries with third parties—like the record companies or RIAA who might be inclined to sue pirates. The DRM restriction mentioned above is also designed to reduce piracy.

If I Have Apple Music, Do I Need iTunes Match?

Good question! To learn the answer, read I Have Apple Music. Do I Need iTunes Match?

How Do I Sign Up for iTunes Match?

Get step-by-step instructions on how to sign up for iTunes Match.

What Happens If I Cancel My Subscription?

If you cancel your iTunes Match subscription, all the music in your iCloud Music Library—via iTunes Store purchase, matching, or upload—is saved. However, you can't add any new music, or download or stream songs, without subscribing again.

What Do the iCloud Icons Next to Songs Mean?

Once you've signed up for and enabled iTunes Match, you can view a column in iTunes that shows a song's iTunes Match status (these icons appear by default in the Music app). To enable it, select Music from the drop-down in the top left, then Songs in the iTunes sidebar. Right-click on the top row and check the options for iCloud Download.

When that's done, an icon appears next to each song in your library. Here's what they mean:

  • Cloud with a downward arrow it: This song is in your iCloud Music Library but isn't on this device. Click the icon to download it.
  • Two Clouds with a line through one: The song is duplicated in your iTunes library and was not uploaded to your iCloud Music Library.
  • Cloud with a dotted outline: The song either hasn't been uploaded or is waiting to be uploaded. Check out "How Do I Update My iTunes Match Library? " earlier in this article for instructions on dealing with that.
  • Cloud with an X in it - The song has been removed from your iCloud Music Library via another computer or iOS device that has access to it.
  • Cloud with a line through it - The song is not eligible for iTunes Match for any number of reasons, such as those discussed earlier.
  • Cloud with an exclamation point - The song was not added to your iCloud Music Library due to an error. Update your library to try adding it again.