I decided to subscribe to iTunes Match to legitimize some of the ripped CDs songs ripped from CDs in high school, and also because I was really curious as to whether it would allow me to finally keep both music and movies on my 16GB iPad 2. The sign-up process has been an interesting one. iTunes Match […]
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My First Impressions of iTunes Match

I decided to subscribe to iTunes Match to legitimize some of the ripped CDs songs ripped from CDs in high school, and also because I was really curious as to whether it would allow me to finally keep both music and movies on my 16GB iPad 2. The sign-up process has been an interesting one.

iTunes Match is actually $28 in the Great White North – probably because the music has to be defrosted after import. Otherwise it’s about as easy to buy here as anywhere else. You head to the iTunes Match section in the iTunes side bar, enter a password, and wait x number of hours until your music is matched or uploaded. I’ve got a relatively tiny library of 1500 songs and left the process to finish overnight. By morning, iTunes Match was ready to go.

The first thing I did was head to my iPad’s Music settings to flick the iTunes Match switch to ON. A grin spread across my face as the empty Music app auto-populated with the 4.1 days worth of music.

But let’s travel back in time for just a second to show why I’m so happy about this. When I first purchased the iPad, I tried to compress all of my music to 128kbps through iTunes syncing, but that turned out to be a massive hassle. Syncing and converting 1500 songs took hours and I hated having to remember to sync every couple of days. I have since used the iPad’s 16GB for apps and movies, and have been forced to relegate music-listening to my iPhone or Mac. But iTunes Match may change all of that, since it allows me to download tracks on demand, giving me à la carte access to my tunes as long as I’ve got an Internet connection. I can’t even begin to say how cool this is for making my iPad more of a stand-alone computing machine. I can write from it, read on it, and now bang my head to it (not against it).

Overall, songs take about four seconds to start after being prompted, and they’re very smart about streaming most of the song first, and then downloading the endings as needed. This helps a lot when you have multiple downloads going, or if you’re playing straight through an album or a giant playlist. I played music for over an hour and didn’t notice any skipping or audio gaps between tracks. To be clear: iTunes Match will always end up downloading the songs you try to play, but it will start off as streaming audio playback so that you don’t wait too long to hear music.

I have wondered a bit about the available free space as I download all of these songs, and I know that iOS 5 has an algorithm for automatically deleting least-played tracks when space runs low, but it’s far too early for me to tell exactly how this works.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how third-party apps treat iTunes Match, considering how the majority of my iPad’s music library is stored in the cloud. Basically, it boils down to this: any app that can access your music library behaves as if your music is stored locally. SoundHound and Tunes Remote saw all of the music in iCloud and tapping on a tune took the standard four seconds to start if it hadn’t already been downloaded. Playback is instantaneous otherwise.

One of the coolest things about iTunes Match is the automatic syncing between all of your devices. Star ratings now wirelessly sync across iOS devices and iTunes (though this can sometimes take a few minutes). Any lyrics you’ve attached to songs in iTunes will also be transferred to iOS 5 devices, although the ridiculous removal of lyrics from the iPad Music app has forced me to use SoundHound to view them.

So far, I’m really happy with iTunes Match, especially as a cloud tool for empowering my iPad. Storage space is currently at a premium on my tablet, and I’m loving how seamless Apple has made accessing my cloud music (bonus points for letting third-party apps see my tunes, as well). I was also happy to read in Macworld’s comprehensive look at iTunes Match that the DRM-free tracks that I’m getting through iTunes Match will not disappear when my subscription expires. I’ll only lose the ability to host my files in the cloud. Not that that’s really an issue for me at this point – if iTunes Match continues its streak of awesome, I’ll almost certainly re-up in 12 months’ time.

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