iTunes Match Frequently Asked Questions

A brief look at Apple's music locker service

iCloud Service
iCloud Service. Image Courtesy of Apple,Inc.

What is iTunes Match?

iTunes Match is a feature of Apple's iCloud service that enables you to store your iTunes song library online. Apple currently offers this service at a subscription rate of $24.99 per year. Rather than providing simple Internet storage space, Apple have made their iCloud platform intelligent by developing the iTunes Match feature (built into iTunes 10.5.1 and higher). This makes it easy to synchronize your iTunes library with your iPhone and computer (PC or Mac) for example so that all your devices are up-to-date.

You can then conveniently access your entire music library wherever you are. Unlike many other cloud storage services that require you to upload everything, iTunes Match uses an intelligent system that only uploads songs that aren't available in Apple's vast online iTunes Store. At the time of writing, their catalog is over 20 million songs and so there's a very good chance that most of your library won't have to be uploaded!

Using this technique can therefore potentially save you a lot of time, bandwidth, and ISP data transfer usage (if capped) that would normally be taken up by uploading everything. The iTunes Match service is accessible using the iTunes software on a Mac or PC. It is also integrated into the music application on iOS devices like the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

For more information on how to sign up, read our step-by-step guide on subscribing to iTunes Match.

How iTunes Match Does it Work?

Even though Apple hasn't directly revealed the technical aspects of how iTunes Match works, it is thought that the procedure involves analyzing a song's metadata information along with its audio waveform profile (fingerprinting similar to GraceNote).

As stated above, each song in your iTunes library is scanned to see if there is an exact match in Apple's iTunes Store catalog. Each matched song in your local library is then automatically 'side loaded' in the cloud to your personal music locker without the need to manually upload. The tracks that it sets up in iCloud will automatically be available in the AAC format at a bitrate of 256 kbps even if the original file is at a lower resolution than this.

If iTunes Match finds songs in your library that can't be matched, then these will be uploaded and are generally kept in their existing audio format (up to 320 kbps). If you have songs that have been encoded in a lossless audio format, then these will be converted to AAC (at 256 kbps) before being uploaded to iCloud. iTunes Match will also scan music that you have collected via other sources such as other digital music services, tracks that you have ripped from your original CDs, etc.

If you purchase songs from the iTunes Store, then these are automatically stored in your iCloud space. The good news is that they don't count towards the 25,000 song limit which is the case with the scan and match service previously talked about.

Are There Any Limitations?

There are limitations with using iTunes Match and iCloud. For instance, any files in your iTunes library that have a bitrate of 96 kbps or lower are ignored. If you have very large audio files that are over 200Mb, then these don't qualify for use with iTunes Match and will therefore fail to be uploaded -- in this case you may need to re-encode them if possible at a lower bitrate in order for them to be accepted. The amount of songs that you can store using iTunes Match is currently limited to 25,000.

Another interesting point worth covering is that if you still have DRM protected songs in your iTunes library, then these will be automatically upgraded in the cloud to DRM-free 256Kbps versions.