How to Set Up iTunes Match for the First Time: The Definitive Guide

James Bruce 28-12-2011

itunes matchWith iTunes Match finally released to us here in the UK, I signed up and have been using it for about a week now. Here’s my definitive guide to exactly what iTunes Match is, and what it isn’t; as well as a quick guide on how to upgrade all your matched songs to high quality 256kbs versions. Hopefully along the way I’ll answer any questions you have about the service too.


What Is iTunes Match, Really?

iTunes Match is cloud storage for up to 25,000 songs. Wherever possible, your music files are matched to a DRM-free, 256kbs high quality version on Apple’s server, if available. If not, your songs are uploaded as is.

You can overwrite your local, lower quality media, with higher quality 256kbs version from iTunes Match. And yes, this includes songs you have pirated, downloaded, borrowed off a mate, or ripped at a low quality from your own CDs. Bear in mind that a 256kbs file is going to be twice as large as one encoded at 128kbs though.

Once in the cloud, your entire music library is available to download or stream on up to 5 devices registered to your iTunes account.


  • Songs less than 96kbs cannot be matched.
  • Only music and music videos are valid for matching – not audiobooks (there is a workaround with that if you classify audiobooks as media type: music and if they are ripped at 96kbs or better, they will be uploaded and stored in the cloud with every other track).
  • Your ID3 tags will not be overwritten – if you have a track 01, iTunes will NOT automatically fix that for you. It will replace the audio with a higher quality version, but it will not give you missing tags, artwork, or lyrics. The meta-data associated with each song remains the same, even if it it’s broken. On the upside, this means your handcrafted ID3 tags won’t be replaced either.
  • As mentioned, there is a 25,000 song limit, on up to 5 devices.

Getting Started

Once subscribed, you’ll see one of the following icons next to every track.

itunes match


iTunes is then in the process of scanning your tracks to see which it has a match for.

how to turn on itunes match

Out of 7,400 songs in my library, it matched roughly 2,800 songs. The additional items took a total of about 4 days to fully upload, but you can start using everything else that has already uploaded in the meantime, and begin upgrading tracks that are eligible.

how to turn on itunes match


To Upgrade Songs to 256kbs Versions

This isn’t as easy as it should be, but basically you need to delete matched songs from iTunes, then download them from the cloud. The problem is figuring out which songs are eligible for an upgrade. To do this easily, create a new smart playlist with the following options:

  • Media type – music
  • Quality – less than 256kbs
  • AND ANY OF THE FOLLOWING (option click on the + symbol to create this ANY rule)
  • iCloud Status is Purchased
  • – iCloud Status is Matched

how to turn on itunes match

Any songs on this playlist are matched in the cloud and therefore a higher quality version is available to replace any you have locally. To trigger that upgrade, you need to delete those tracks from your library – by either right clicking and selecting delete or pressing option-delete.

starting match on itunes


When asked if you’d like to delete the tracks from iCloud too, make sure you DON’T. However, do move them to the trash / delete from your local computer. The tracks won’t disappear from the list though, instead they’ll be there still but with an iCloud download icon next to them. Highlight them again, right click, download.

starting match on itunes

Once downloaded, they’ll disappear from this smart playlist – that’s because they’ve been replaced with 256kbs versions, and therefore don’t match the list criteria anymore. Congrats, you’ve upgraded them. Continue for every other song on the list.

Note that this isn’t necessary for your iOS devices – they will automatically use the higher quality matched version when you attempt to stream or download to the device. This playlist is only to facilitate replacing the existing, lower quality songs on your computer.


Setting Up iTunes Match On iOS Devices

From the Settings -> Music menu, enable iTunes Match from the top of the list. You’ll be given a warning about the music on your device being replaced with iTunes Match. Continue.

starting match on itunes

Give it about 10 minutes to sync up with the cloud. Now when you launch the iPod / Music app, everything in your iCloud library will be there. If you still have some songs in the process of uploading, they’ll be greyed out.

You can either stream songs just by clicking to play them as usual (I experience about a 5 second lag before it starts sometimes), or you can download them to your device by clicking on the iCloud icon.

itunes match

If you want to download a full playlist or genre, artist etc, just scroll down to the bottom of the list where you’ll see a button to download all.


I just upgraded about 2,800 songs to high quality 256kbs, legal DRM-free versions, which I can keep forever, legally. I can now stream my entire music collection to any of my iOS devices (including family if you share an iTunes store account). Of course, any music you add in the future to your library will also be automatically matched, if available, or uploaded if not. The library remains in sync across all devices. This is personal music streaming done right, and it’s even legal, which always gives me a nice fuzzy feeling inside.

What do you think of iTunes Match (assuming you’ve actually signed up)? For you, how does it compare to similar services like Google Music? Got any problems or questions about the service? Ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!

Related topics: Cloud Computing, Cloud Storage, iTunes.

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  1. Spickington
    February 22, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Well I dunno after going through the process of loading 19000 tracks which was far quicker then I was expecting at a little over 5 hours or so to complete only 10000 tracks matched.

    Now I was expecting this what I wa not expecting and think makes the whole thing fairly rubbish is that out of the 1567 albums iTunes matched FAR to many of those albums now have tracks missing and all sorts of irregularities.

    It wouldn't of been hard for apple to AT LEAST UNIFY albums that it can match so you don't get a tracks missing from your albums.

    So even though it was quick to upload it's not at all as I now have to go through every album I own and update each missing song painstakingly.

    Not to mention the albums that I know will match once I have gone through and edited the ID3 Tag's

    It will be worth it when it's done but TWO things to note.

    1. It is not easy to get a large music collection in order and a lot of work is ahead of you this is not apple in it's user friendly family mode

    2. Apple should of done more to unify albums that are blatantly on iTunes

    I am still of the opinion the service has value but for the amount of work involved I am not sure it's worth the asking price, don't know many casual computer users that are going to get on well with it unless they don't care about an incomplete and terribly messy music collection!

  2. Juan
    February 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    If I have tracks named "Track01" and so on, iTunes Match will not retag them. But what if I delete them from my computer and download them again? Will they be retagged?

    • James Bruce
      February 12, 2012 at 6:05 pm

      Sorry, doesn't change the track name or any id3 tag info. It's a bit silly really.

  3. Jay Seldon
    December 30, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    Just signed up to Match & have so far upgraded about 4000 tracks to 256k (another 7000 to go).
    Brilliant. Well worth £21.99 just for that.
    But being able to stream songs to my iphone is an added extra!

  4. Dave LeClair
    December 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Did you mention legally? :)

  5. Kramer
    December 29, 2011 at 5:12 am

    You might have mentioned the yearly fee of 24.99

    • James Bruce
      December 29, 2011 at 9:01 am

      Sorry Kramer, I assumed anyone reading this setup guide would already be aware of the costs - we've already published a few articles about the service that mentioned the price. You're right though, one extra line wouldnt have hurt!


      In the Uk, it's £21.99 btw, for any uk readers

  6. phoenixstormcrow
    December 29, 2011 at 1:10 am

    I didn't know about this until I read this article, and I think I will definitely try this service out.  I have only recently purchased an iPod, more for development and tomfoolery than for music listening, but I think that this service sounds like the answer to the many complaints I've heard from Itunes users over the years.  Seems overly complicated to set up, but worth it in the long run.