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iTunes Match review: Not made in heaven


Apple took its sweet time when it came to launching a cloud-based music service — and the longer we waited, the higher our hopes got. Unfortunately iTunes Match turned out to be anything but a trip to cloud nine.

Yes, that's an awful pun — but the point stands. While iTunes Match sounds solid on paper, it's not exactly ready for the real world just yet.

What exactly is iTunes Match anyway?
iTunes Match is a $25/year service designed for people who use multiple iTunes-enabled or iOS-powered devices. It allows you to access your music library from the cloud — without having to upload every single song or repurchase media. Songs you've bought on iTunes, imported from CDs and copied from friends can all become easily accessible from all your devices.

Songs which weren't purchased through Apple are compared against the iTunes Store's 20-million song catalog. If there's a match, then you don't have to worry about uploading anything and you'll automatically have access to a 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free copy — even if your original song was of lower quality.

If there's no match, you'll have to twiddle your thumbs for quite a while and wait for your song to upload to Apple's servers.

Once all that's done though, you'll be able to listen to your songs from your iTunes-enabled computer, iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch almost instantly. (There's a very brief delay — a second or two, depending on your data connection — as each song begins to download.)

What's great about iTunes Match?
When it comes to songs purchased through the iTunes Store, iTunes Match is absolutely fantastic. They all — yes, even the shameful purchases of the past — appear as soon as you enter your Apple ID and password. No fuss, no muss. (In theory, it's also great with all your other songs — especially if you're itching for copies encoded at a decent bit rate. Emphasis on that whole "in theory" part.)

One of the particularly great things about iTunes Match is that you can use it as a backup solution. Once your songs are matched or uploaded, you can comfortably delete the originals — copies will remain in the cloud.

iTunes Match makes your entire cloudified library appear as if it's on your computer. You can tell if a song is saved locally by checking to see if there is a cloud icon next to it or not.

What's really lousy when it comes to iTunes Match?
While iTunes Match sounds solid on paper, our experiences with it weren't all song and dance.

For starters, the service doesn't take on any users who have over 25,000 songs in their iTunes libraries. For me this meant that I had to create a separate mini-library just for the sake of testing things out. (It also means that I'll probably avoid using iTunes Match after completing this review.)

Users with huge libraries aren't the only one's suffering though.

Msnbc.com's Josh Belzman emailed me when he noticed that 12 hours had passed and the twelve thousand songs in his library still hadn't finished getting matched and uploaded. I managed to clear out my entire email inbox while waiting for my thousand-song mini-library to finish the process. (For what it's worth, we're still optimistic that the matching and upload process is so agonizingly slow simply because the service just launched and Apple's servers are struggling to keep up with all the new users.)

iTunes Match doesn't seem to be consistent when it comes to recognizing songs which aren't purchased through Apple. I noticed that a great number of meticulously and correctly tagged songs — which I confirmed are available in the iTunes Store — didn't get matched and instead were added to the upload queue.

Why will iTunes Match make some iOS users cry?
Some iOS users will be extremely annoyed when they discover that activating iTunes Match on their devices means that they have to give up the music already stored locally. You basically have to snatch all the songs you want to keep via iTunes again.

So should I get iTunes Match?
If you don't use multiple iTunes-enabled or iOS-powered devices, the answer is almost an instant "no." (Unless you're really desperate to match your songs up for 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free copies.)

If you do use multiple iTunes-enabled or iOS-powered devices, but have more than 25,000 songs in your library, the answer is a definite "no."

If you do use multiple iTunes-enabled or iOS-powered devices, have fewer than 25,000 songs in your library, and are looking for a way to easily back up and sync your music, then by all means: Go for it.

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