Rick Rubin Explains What Mastering for iTunes Means

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Last week, news emerged that producer Rick Rubin had mastered the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album I'm With You specifically with iTunes in mind. While it's great to see producers of Rubin's caliber taking digital files and the digital marketplace into consideration, audiophiles must cry "Judas!" as anyone who has problems with lower-quality, compressed music would. So we were left with a few questions: Is this a step forward? Or sacrilege? And how do you master an album for iTunes anyway?

"In the past, CD masters would be converted to iTunes masters without any checks and balances, and while both formats are digital, each has its own sonic signature," Rubin tells Hive. "We tried many different conversions before we came across the optimal combination of starting with a bit rate higher than what is currently available in a mainstream way, and used those files to create the iTunes files doing several more rounds of mastering, listening to the iTunes files and correcting accordingly."

Rubin says that the difference between these two versions is "night and day."

"It seems to contain more sonic information than the typical iTunes file," he says of the Peppers' new set. "It's much closer to the sound of the CD and it took several weeks of additional experimentation and mastering to reach the final iTunes master."

So there you have it: the standard CD format is still going to be the best option for the hardcore fans who want higher-quality, uncompressed sound. But for those continuing down the digital file route, Rubin's time (and blessing) should turn a few skeptics into believers.