Apple iTunes is dead: Should Audiophiles Care?

With Monday’s formal announcement from Tim Cook at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote speech in San Jose that the company was knifing iTunes and slicing it into three separate applications, many users of the dated service breathed a sigh of relief.

Perhaps some of them were even binary-centric audiophiles; although I don’t know any who use the app for playback anymore – at least not in the past three or four years – as streaming services with names like Spotify, TIDAL and Qobuz became part of the hi-fi lexicon for digital-music playback.

With the rise of the streaming services and the subsequent revenue model it engendered, download numbers and physical album sales were dropping like a stone. It was the new paradigm and the industry rushed in to fill the vacuum left by the previous-iteration download model. Along with the new way came the realization that files with little to no compression sounded noticeably better. The rest is history.

You see, as much as I am fan of the many file formats available to music lovers for computer-audio playback, many in this tribe prefer ever-higher bit and sample rates, eschewing the compressed formats of the ’90s – necessitated by the choked infrastructure of aging TelCos and dial-up access – that launched iTunes to begin with. (The thousands of mp3s you ripped from all the CDs you donated to thrift stores in the early 2000s? RIP on some old FireWire hard drive in storage. You didn’t think to to copy them uncompressed did you? I thought not.) As Internet dominance rose, so too did bandwidth and the need for compressed files to be squeezed became a non-starter in first-world countries; the drink straw of dial-up was becoming the fire hose of optical connections.

To me, over its 18-year lifespan, iTunes had become bloated and unruly – trying to do too much. I had basically stopped using it for anything other than the occasional movie download or purchase. Forget backing up my iPhone – the drive on it became bigger than in my laptop and it took forever to try and move music around.

Then there were the questions from my father as he started to use iTunes a couple years ago via USB to listen to music. Was my music hosted in a Cloud-based library or locally? Both? Where were my downloaded movies stored? Was it a streaming service? My response? Try Roon.

For me, logging in with Apple ID was a constant for any access to the music or films I had bought or were paying to stream and the whole affair was a painfully slow process to navigate.

By divying-up the workload of what iTunes used to deal with into application-specific tasks Apple will have streamlined the way users access the media they want exposure to. Which I think, for those still using it, will be a good thing.

Whether this matters much to audiophiles of a digital ilk (as opposed to their analog brethren who are just as concerned about organizing their music) will be measured once the transition has taken place. I for one don’t really care because I was using iTunes so infrequently – and I certainly didn’t let it anywhere near my digital-music libraries that were on local network drives – but for those who still rely on iTunes for their meticulously curated and tagged AAC or mp3 collections of yore this could be the refresh they’ve been so desperately hoping for – free at last of the many-headed Hydra the app has become.

Apple Inc.

jeffhenning's picture

I have several thoughts:

• iTunes, as it is, has become a drastically bloated, one size-fits-all app for any media. From this aspect, it's overdue for this to happen.

• Having used iTunes forever, the rap about it sounding bad is nonsense. Given that the Mac OS has supported 32 bit audio for a decade or more, all of the crapola that using the app's volume control and Sound Check will alter the playback fidelity was addressed long ago (mid-2000's, I think).

• Apple has the people to make a next generation iTunes that can sound as good as anything on the market or better since they bought Emagic for Logic Pro an eon ago. They haven't taken their foot off the gas with Logic and have made it way cheaper while adding good stuff like an internal mixing path that runs at 64bit and more soft synths than you can throw a house at.

• To no avail, I've contacted the company multiple times over the years about an iTunes Pro version that you pay for just to play music and have really great parametric EQ. Just maybe, the time for that and HD music downloads is now (I hope).

Since Apple has just come out with class leading Pro equipment that's focused on regaining a big foot-hold in the professional arena, may be some of that zeal will leak into the iTunes replacement music app development?

I'm not banking on it, but it would be sweet if it did.

Everclear's picture

The funeral is premature :-) ...........

Rumors of iTunes death are greatly exaggerated :-) ...........

ednaz's picture

RE your comment on CDs ripped to MP3 - I did. The good news was, with a lot of my gear I could hear the difference between playing the CD and listening to the MP3, so I didn't get rid of the CDs. Eventually I did have to re-rip them. Pain the posterior.

I do believe a lot of audio gear was designed around dealing with lossy rips and lossy compressed files. I keep my Logitech Transporters around, despite their age, because compressed stream services (mostly internet radio in my case) sound noticeably better through the Transporters than they do through my high end DACs.

While the Transporter can handle 24/96, back then there wasn't any, and I think the design spec was to make compressed MP3 sound as good as possible, whatever tricks that may have required. I'ms sure there were tricks of some sort. I worked with a few high end digital photography printers back when professional cameras produced 6 megapixel images at most, and many pros still shot jpg, which could have compression artifacts. There were tricks for preparing files to print, particularly at really large (24 inches longest edge and larger) sizes, that are seldom used anymore since images are 16 megapixels and up.

volvic's picture

I do not stream because I have thousands of titles on CD that were imported into a HD in uncompressed format (YES! I knew what I was doing when importing my CD's). I still buy CD's from the second hand market, it is cheap and I love the physical format. I use iTunes with a Stello U3 and Moon DAC, as I have said on these pages countless of times. The sound is very impressive and I see no need to upgrade. I have had to download the latest version so that it could work with my new iPhone (it didn't), and the latest one is poorly designed as they have been for many years. The older ones were better, luckily you can still download them. Years ago I tried all the hi-fi rivals to iTunes and tested them as free downloads. To my ears I couldn't hear much difference so stuck with the free iTunes. It will be missed.

pbarach's picture

If the iTunes replacement program will handle FLAC files (including hi-resolution files), life will be easier for many iPhone/iPad users.