Apple’s iTunes Radio: A music lover’s and audiophile’s dream?

Apple’s new iTunes Radio service has finally been formally announced.  It’s a free, streaming service that closely resembles the veteran Pandora.  When it’s launched in the fall, users will have the ability to get personalized stations that will already have your prior iTunes purchases as a backdrop to customize your channels and preferences.  If you like a song that you’re listening to on iTunes Radio, you’ll have the ability to purchase that song.

Interestingly, iTunes Radio is free but ad supported.  I find this move extremely interesting because I’m not aware of any other service Apple has launched with advertising as a core revenue model to keep the service free.

If you’re an iTunes Match user, however, you get the iTunes Radio experience ad-free.  An added
benefit of the $24.99/year iTunes Match service is that iTunes Radio will be able to use information from your entire music collection—not just previous iTunes purchases—to make iTunes Radio stations even more personalized.

What hasn’t been mentioned or discussed in any detail is the bitrate and quality of the stream.  If I was to venture a guess, I would conjecture that the streamed version would be identical to the purchased version in terms of bitrate.  If it were to be a different bitrate, one would think that this would have been highlighted as an added feature of iTunes Match.

Comparatively speaking, music streamed from Pandora’s free version is lower quality than it’s premium, paid version.  As a free Pandora user, I can attest to the different sound that the free version of Pandora offers.

All this begs the question as to what niche iTunes Radio will serve for the audiophile and music lover:

 First of all, having an experience wrapped with Apple’s integrated experience and user interface is something that I expect will make the new service a joy to use.  I continually find myself shying away from using Pandora because of the horrible user interface of its Roku app and the general poor quality of the free stream.

Secondly, if the service is streamed at 192k AAC, then I expect that it will sound pretty good—though not nearly the quality that the audiophile elite are clamoring for.  If Apple were to stream at 256k AAC, then that would be a positive step forward in the user experience.

Thirdly, I absolutely love the option of instantly buying a song that’s being streamed.  After all, listening to the radio or a streaming service affords you the opportunity to listen to all sorts of music.  How many times have you spun up SoundHound to find out what the song playing on the radio is?

Fourth, Apple’s catalog is more extensive than Pandora’s.  With Pandora’s limited catalog, I find myself often listening to the same songs over and over on Pandora because the genre or artist I chose simply did not have enough calculations in the algorithm.

Fifth, the seamless integration of iTunes Radio and all your Apple devices is a fantastic feature.  Start playing a station from our iPhone and then finish it on your Apple TV as soon as you get home and then finish listening on your iPad.  The seamless integration of the service across devices will be one that users may initially gloss over, but I anticipate that it will be one of those technologies that forms an instant habit and expectation in people.

I’m very happy to see Apple moving in this direction with their streaming service.  The streaming discovery and radio station model sorely needs a fresh approach and there’s no company like Apple which can bring it to the mainstream.


  1. Apologies for a typo where I said that Pandora's catalog was not as extensive as Apple's! I've fixed that. 6/17/13

  2. I haven't yet heard anything about the bitrate and format for iTunes Radio as of yet. Subjectively, I'd agree with you and it's likely to fall somewhere between better than Pandora and not as good as the purchased music. This is all speculative at this point.

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