Apple issues new Versions of U2 Albums “Mastered for iTunes”

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2017-05-28)

IMAGE: Ad in iTunes for New Offerings

On Friday, May 26, 2017, iTunes refreshed the U2 offerings in their online store in advance of next weeks releases of The Joshua Tree. Removed from the store are the copies of U2’s albums which had been present for many years, first appearing back in 2004, and containing no digital booklets. Over the years, as the remastering process took place, these older albums were replaced with remastered copies, but again, unless buying the deluxe version, there was no digital booklet.

But that changed this week. On Friday, brand new digital versions of all of U2’s albums appeared in iTunes. All of these are “Mastered for iTunes”. The full set of releases includes:

  • Boy (1980)
  • October (1981)
  • War (1983)
  • Under a Blood Red Sky (1983)
  • The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
  • The Joshua Tree (1987)
  • Rattle and Hum (1988)
  • Achtung Baby (1991)
  • Zooropa (1993)
  • Pop (1997)
  • All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
  • How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)
  • No Line on the Horizon (2009)
  • Songs of Innocence (2014)

Other items included in this new program:

  • Wide Awake in America (1985)
  • U218 Singles (2006)

Wide Awake in America, U218 Singles and Under A Blood Red Sky are not listed in the album listings, so you will have to look around a bit more to find those.

Even though some of these items had previously appeared before with the “Mastered for iTunes” header, these have all been replaced, and are all containing new content. The digital booklet with each release has been updated in each case, and each contains a copyright date of 2017 in the digital booklets. Achtung Baby had been released prior as a “Mastered for iTunes” release when reissued in 2011, as had Songs of Innocence in 2014. But both of these are newly updated again, for this new refresh of the iTunes store.

IMAGE: Albums Mastered for iTunes Listing

What does “Mastered for iTunes” mean?

The brief for producers on “Mastered for iTunes” points out that for years digital audio has been produced for the compact disc, and that now AAC is the new standard for digital music, and is capable of higher quality files than just encoding from the CD. They urge users of the program to master the recordings with the environment they will be used in in mind, in this case, a digital file will be listened to on the go, as well as in home settings. They ask that producers pay attention to clipping, and other issues which may have been an issue over the years in other digital masters. The tracks are quality checked for publication by iTunes. They also urge use of higher bit recordings in the creation of these files, however the end format is still considered a lossy format, and whether all of this makes any difference is up to you the end user.

The process itself takes a high sample rate format, and uses a high grade sample rate conversion step to bring the master to a standard 44.1kHz but outputs it as a 32-bit floating file. Often with downsampling audio, its common for peaks to increase and cause distortion. The way Apple does this conversion prevents this from happening. They then take the file and encode to AAC without any additional dithering. The file may not sound different to many ears, but the goal is to sound as close as possible to the original 24-bit master.

IMAGE: Liner notes for Wide Awake in America

The liner notes distributed with the file call each of these the “2017 MFIT Edition” and list the following information for the most of the releases:

Mastering: Scott Sedillo, Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood
Audio Master Transfer Director: Declan Gaffney
Project Production Managers: Candida Bottaci and Nadine King
Project Production Manager for Island Records / UMC: Lisa Power
Archive Manager: Rebecca Coffey
Digital Booklet Art Direction: Shaughn McGrath and Gary Kelly, AMP Visiual
U2 Manager: Guy Oseary
VP Artist Management U2: Jesse Peters and Seth Friedman
U2 Maverick Management: Greg Thompson, Nadine King, Jennifer Pitcher, Abe Burns, Niamh McCarthy and Kelly McNamara
Consultant to U2: Paul Kremen

There are three releases which have slightly different information. All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Pop, and Rattle and Hum all list that the 2017 MFIT Edition was:

Directed by The Edge
Remastering Engineering by Scott Sedillo at Bernie Grundman Mastering

IMAGE: Liner notes for All That You Can’t Leave Behind

It does appear that The Edge was involved in the creation of these MFIT releases, at least in the case of these three albums which are the three albums in recent years which have not had a refresh of some sort, and are prior to U2 working more with digital mastering that they would have done with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Thus these three recordings may have required additional work.

The Joshua Tree includes notes on the 2017 release, including listing Executive Producer and Creative Director Gavin Friday. This reflects the new version being released next week. The recording credits however, match that of the bulk with Mastering listed as having been completed by Scott Sedillo.

The albums are being offered at a lower price currently in the store, in Canada and the US most of the albums are offered at $5.99 currently. In Australia they are listed at $8.49. In the UK they are listed at 4.99GBP and throughout Europe at 5.99 Euro. The older “Deluxe Editions” of albums have not been reissued in this new “Mastered for iTunes” format and are still available using the old encoding in the iTunes store. As well The Best of 1990 – 2000 does not appear to be part of this new program, but remains in the store. A tweet sent out by Apple Music suggested that this item too would be a new version, but this does not seem to be the case.

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