iTunes Radio Bitrate?


iTunes Radio is now live with the launch of iOS7 and iTunes 11.1 the question is, what is the bitrate?  The iTunes Radio bitrate is an important question since it is correlated to the audio quality of the service.   I’ve posted my impressions on the audio quality of the new service.  Back in July, I mentioned that I’d been anxiously been awaiting definitive word about the bitrate on the forthcoming iTunes Radio service. In my previous blog post, I gave my thoughts about the service and the pros and cons and potential it offers.

Now that the streaming service is live, it would appear that I was correct.  At that time, I had unofficially heard that iTunes Radio would require a minimum bitrate of 128kbps and give a max of 256kbps.  I want to make something explicit about the service, however.  Unlike iTunes Match, where Apple explicitly publishes that the songs are 256kbps AAC, Apple still has not published, in any document that I can find, the streaming specs for iTunes Radio.  To me, that says that Apple isn’t bound  to a specific bitrate for the service.  In theory, they could throttle the bitrate of the songs depending on load and usage or peaks, etc.

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While we anxiously await the launch of Apple’s iTunes Radio service,
we still don’t know the bitrate that songs will be broadcast at.

Even now that the product has been launched, the official iTunes Radio page still doesn’t list any requirements but if I’m a betting person, it looks as though Apple is requiring a baseline minimum bitrate by partner stations but does not appear to list what the bitrate will be of its “Pandora style” stations.

Nevertheless, my hunch looks to be right that the bitrate does not exceed the 256kbps AAC that you can purchase, which makes sense.

So unless Apple has done something to tweak and improve the AAC codec to make it better at lower bitrates, listeners are likely listening at a bitrate between 128k and 256k.   The bottom line is that it appears listeners are listening to the song at the same quality as the one they would purchase.  Again, we still cannot definitively confirm this, but at the outset, that’s what we’re concluding.

There was a possibility that the streaming version may have been a lower quality that tended towards the lower bitrate for streaming and if you purchase the song, you’d then get the higher bitrate.  This would have given incentive for purchasing the songs.  At this point, however, we don’t have any concrete data to conclude that this is the case.  It appears as though Apple is streaming what you’d buy in a “try before you buy” model with the real thing.






  1. AAC is a much more efficient codec than MP3, so a floor of 128kbps AAC wouldn't be bad at all. Hopefully in 3-5 years we'll be living in a lossless world, and audio compression will seem quaint.

    • John, I agree with your point 100%. When I've done recordings, I've always preferred the quality of the AAC codec vs. MP3 at the same nitrate—AAC sounds better to me even if the MP3 file is encoded at a higher nitrate. But like you said, I'd like to see the day when we're simply dealing with lossless quality. Here's to that day!

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