Mastering for iTunes

Digital Music News interviewed Vlado Meller, the mastering engineer on the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album, which has three masters: one for CD, one for vinyl, and one for iTunes.

Digital Music News: What specific considerations play into the AAC mastering process? Can you really make a version that brings white earbuds to life, or is that not the point?

Meller: Yes, with an iTunes optimized master, the listener will be able to enjoy more clarity and an overall better sound quality than is otherwise currently available.

I hope this doesn’t become a standard practice, because it seems like a load of bull. Meller even states that he’d pick the CD version as the “highest quality” for commercial release.

Back in 2009 I wrote:

…mixing for a certain encoder means giving those encoders a pass. Better to let the flaws of the encoder shine through so that the market can choose to not use that encoder and move on to something better.

Since the launch of iTunes Plus we’ve learned that most people still can’t hear the difference between 256kbps AAC and 128kbps AAC. And people already had a hard time hearing the difference between a 128kbps file and the original CD.

If the CD is the true master then why create an iTunes specific master? Hype is my guess. Maybe it will persuade people to buy two copies of the album—a CD for the car and the download for the office.

When you hear people talking about mastering for iTunes are they really talking about mastering for AAC or are they’re talking about mastering for white earbuds?