Review: iTunes Match - all of your music in the cloud, accessible anywhere
One of the biggest problems music lovers have is the distribution of their media. I have two iPhones, an iPod classic, an iPad, a desktop PC and Macbook Pro. I invariably want all of my music with me at all times, but we know that's not possible.
I have something like 17,000 MP3 files and, for a while, Spotify helped me satisfy the urge to carry around music. But Spotify doesn't have everything, so I buy music from iTunes to plug the gaps. But now there's another option.
What is iTunes match?It's a cloud based, paid subscription service which allows access to all of your music remotely - whether purchased through iTunes or not. Therefore meaning on any device, anywhere in the world, you can download any of your music.
How does it work?You pay £21.99 (or $24.99 for my US readers) and unleash it upon your music library. It then crawls everything. Literally, crawls (more on this depressing lack of speed later). It matches your music to things in the iTunes store and marks them as purchased; anything it cannot match is uploaded for safe-keeping. This obviously saves you bandwidth and (theoretically) is quicker. It also means you have access to the high-quality versions in the iTunes store, rather than whatever questionable quality CD-rip you have on your machine. All good so far?
Once it has sync'd, you have access anywhereWhen it has finished crawling through your library and recording what you own and uploading any items the iTunes store doesn't have - you're done. Log into iTunes on any other machine/iOS device and you'll see your entire library accessible.
Streaming isn't good, download insteadIf Spotify's streaming ability is a 9, iTunes match is a 2. I think it does work but it's so clunky and lacking fluidity that you're better off just downloading the media to the device. Fortunately this is really seamless on all the devices/platforms I have done this on so it's hardly a chore. But the point is that you can't consider this an iTunes version of Spotify - it isn't. The streaming is woeful, consider it a content delivery network for when you need it.
The speed is absolutely direI don't mean the upload/download speed, that's dependant on your own network. The crawling of your media and matching that to the iTunes store takes a very, very long time. Hours. While writing this review I merely booted it up again to sync my latest iTunes purchases (incredible year for heavy metal so far...) and iTunes match felt inclined to re-sync everything. It's taken at least 40mins to go through 2,000 tracks. Bear in mind that it has done this before as my entire collection is in match now and you'll understand the frustration.
Is it worth it?I've been using it for about 2 months now and I must admit, I'm finding it worthwhile. Even the wireless syncing of iTunes was hassle because whenever I wanted to change what music was on my iDevices, I still needed to boot up iTunes and faff around. And I still maintain that iTunes is an inside joke because it's absolutely woeful. The fact that I can now avoid iTunes for months at a time because I can actively change what is on my iPhone is very helpful.
It's also great to have access to my full music collection anywhere is great. I know there are other ways round it, but knowing everything I own is backed up in one place is quite comforting. As someone who relies on music every single day, it's well worth the money.
Things that make it annoyingIt's slow. Mind bendingly, eye wateringly slow. It also has limits - 25,000 songs apparently which is going to upset ultra high users. I imagine they'll introduce some kind of tiered subscription model (where you pay based on the size of your collection, as per the other iCloud models).
For now, I think it's good. The peace of mind is easily worth the cost of two albums per year - the convenience it offers it just an added bonus. If you can avoid thinking of it as a Spotify alternative you'll be fine. Just remember, it allows you to have your music anywhere, it's not a streaming service though. Granted, it won't be for everyone.
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