But the encoding on itunes files is quite good. They are typically VBR at around 300kbps average, with very high encoding quality. The sound quality is actually a slight, audible improvement over some 320Kbps LAME MP3 rips that I did.
We did some blind tests with Sennheiser HD598 headphones and an Audigy 2zs using a lossless FLAC from a CD, an mp3 from itunes and some lower quality conversions. The FLAC and itunes file sounded identical, with some slight degradation at 256kbps, becoming more noticable at 192kbps (at which point the song actually starts sounding crud without needing a comparison).
It really depends on what sort of equipment you're sporting I suppose, but unless you've got laboratory conditions in your man-cave I doubt it will really matter...
Anyway, don't be fooled by the low bitrates, the quality is fine as far as I can tell (although I don't purchase much off itunes, so maybe it varies)...
Oh that's embarassing, sorry I just realised everything I said was for amazon purchases... Yeah so ignore all that... The file we blind-tested was from amazon, not itunes.
Typical iTunes consumer. 😝
I'm glad your extremely rigorous study of "listening to one song a couple times" paid off for you.
The fact is that if Apple wanted to go lossless, they could - they're (unfortunately) the market leader by a longshot, and Wal-Mart had no problem using its weight to force music publishers to confirm to its particular standards (no cusswords, no nipples on the cover art, Please No Satan For Us, Thanks).
It basically boils down to 1) bandwidth (on Apple's end, not the consumer's - remember that lossless would be about an 800% increase on bandwidth. Doesn't matter for Johnny iPod on his cable connection, but the iTunes server farm is another story) and 2) the fact that the vast majority of iTunes users barely know the difference between mp3 and aac.
Which is why some of us still pirate - just a little bit frustrating in the rare, rare few times when something can only be found on iTunes or on a $40 used CD from some sketchy-as-heck Amazon affiliate.