iTunes Match is a great addition to iTunes for the average music lover, but it does have some flaws. This article is mainly a guide explaining how I go about syncing my iPhone with my iTunes Library—and why.
When turning on iTunes Match, a lot of control over your music is handed to iTunes and simultaneously taken away from you. If you have a large music collection of imported CDs, when iTunes Match is first enabled it will attempt to find matches for these albums by comparing them to songs in the iTunes Store. Sometimes these matches are far from accurate, and this can lead to your iOS devices not having true representations of your iTunes Library.
Even if iTunes correctly matches a song, however, it will match it as a 256kbps AAC file—it'll be the exact version present in the iTunes Store. This can be seen as a great benefit if you imported your beloved albums at an extremely low quality years ago, however for audiophiles, this is a warning sign. Even Apple Lossless files will be transcoded down to 256kbps when iTunes Match uploads them.
Many of the albums I have imported into iTunes are remasters, live albums, and other rarities which aren't present in the iTunes Store. iTunes Match incorrectly matches these files regularly. Even if iTunes Match correctly matched them, I won't have access to my lossless files on my devices: all music in iTunes Match, when matched, is 256kbps. If the music in your iTunes Library isn't matched, it will be transcoded down to a maximum quality level of 320kbps and uploaded. For audiophiles dealing with lossless files, this isn't acceptable1.
For most people, not having to worry about backing up a large music library or knowing the quality of every album you own is a feature. However, I find the control I lose over these details is not worth the added convenience. I'm not most people.
People care differently for different things. I consider myself more of a music enthusiast than the average person—I frequent audiophile websites, I've invested money in quality headphones and I care about the quality and experience of my entire music setup. This is why I've gone to lengths to perfect it.
iTunes Match is Awesome, Really
Even though this post seems very anti-iTunes match, I'm not criticising it. Far from it: I recommend it to family and friends regularly: it's a great service which is convenient, clever and solves real problems. Before turning iTunes Match off, I matched a lot of my albums, improving the quality of music I'd imported from CD a long time ago. iTunes Match boosted the bit-rate of a large chunk of my music library and I still enjoy those 256kbps AAC files today. If anything, I'm the problem here: my own obsessions and compulsions implore me to find a different way to sync music. A way which doesn't involve a loss of quality at any stage, or rely on my iPhone's data connection when I'm out and about2. A way which I'm in control of.
What I Want
I have some quite tough requirements for the way I want to manage and listen to music. This list covers them:
I want to choose which songs are stored on my iOS device on the device itself, without having to connect it to my Mac—at least not regularly. I would like to be able to add or remove an album or song from my iPhone without sitting down at my Mac.
I do not want to be limited by audio quality. If I rip an album in Apple Lossless on my Mac, I want to have that exact ALAC file on my iOS device too.
I want full control over metadata, album art and audio files themselves. I want the true version of my iTunes Library to be the one present on my Mac: one I control. I'm aware this makes me more vulnerable to issues such as data corruption, data loss or even theft, however I have a sturdy backup plan which should3 prevent this from being a great concern.
I do not want to rely on streaming music, or even my iPhone's data connection. iTunes match heavily relies on a data connection and streaming in order to play music from a Library in the Cloud when away from Wi-Fi. I want to have my most important tracks on my iPhone, playable even when in Airplane Mode.
What follows is a step-by-step guide, detailing what I believe to be the most convenient way to manage music on an iPhone without iTunes Match enabled. I am using an iPhone 5, running iOS 6 and a Mac running the latest version of Mountain Lion and iTunes 10. As I write this, I am performing each step myself: everything should be correct at the time of publishing.
Disclaimer: This article was written before iTunes 11 was released. It still holds true, however. Some of the screenshots may have changed slightly in this major new version of the software, but I still manage my devices the same way, and it works fine.
- Grab your iPhone. Ensure iTunes Match is disabled. To do this, navigate to the Settings app, then Music > iTunes Match. The checkbox should be in the off position.