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In this free bonus course, author and recording engineer Bobby Owsinski explains best practices for mastering music and audio destined for sale on Apple iTunes with their new Mastered for iTunes high-resolution audio program. Bobby demonstrates how to use all of the Mastered for iTunes and iTunes Plus tools used in this process, such as AURoundTripAAC, which allows you to instantly compare the quality of the iTunes Plus AAC file format to your source file. He wraps up with an explanation of the Test Pressing feature, which allows you to preview and approve the encoded file before it's published on the iTunes Store.
So what are the tricks to get the best sound quality from an iTunes encode? It turns out that the considerations are about the same as with MP3 encoding. First of all, turn it down a bit, a song that's flat lined at -.1 dB full-scale isn't going to encode as well as a song with some headroom. This is because the iTunes AAC encoder tends to output a tad hotter than the source, so there may be inter-sample overloads that happen at that level that aren't detected on a typical peak meter. All digital audio converters on consumer and professional audio gear have different sensitivities and some may overload while others sound clean.
As a result, a level that doesn't trigger an over on your DOS converter may actually be an over on another playback unit. If you back it down to -0.5 or even -1 dB, the encode will sound a lot better and your listener probably won't be able to tell much with difference in level anyway. Don't squash the master too hard, masters with some dynamic range encode better. Masters that are squeezed within an inch of their life don't encode as well, it's as simple as that. Listeners like it better when there's more dynamics too.
Although the new AAC encoder has a fantastic frequency response, sometimes rolling off a little of the extreme top end around 16 kHz and above can help the encode as well. A typical roll off might look something like this. Any type of data compression requires the same commonsense considerations. If you back off on the level, the mix plus compression and the high frequencies of mix will be surprised just how good your AAC encode can sound.
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