Q: I wondering about the difference between “Protected” and “Purchased” iTunes Store purchases in regards to burning them to a CD. I know I can’t burn “Protected” songs to a CD in MP3 format but what about “Purchased” or iTunes Plus songs? When I try to burn I get a message that only MP3 format can be burned to a MP3 CD. If I convert the song to MP3 format I get a second copy. Is this in fact a copy and what are the downsides or other ramifications in converting these AAC audio files to MP3?
A: The main difference between a “Protected” track as opposed to a “Purchased” track from the iTunes Store is the digital rights management (DRM) protection. “Protected” tracks, as the name implies, have DRM on them which limits what you can do with these tracks, including the ability to convert them to other formats or listen to them on devices that do not support Apple’s FairPlay DRM.
“Purchased” tracks, on the other hand, are “iTunes Plus” tracks which do not have any DRM protection, and are in fact normal AAC files, with the only minor difference being an embedded header which identifies the iTunes Store account that was used to purchase the item. As a result, “Purchased” tracks can be played on any device which supports the AAC format, or converted to any other format.
Standard Audio CDs can be burned from any track purchased from the iTunes Store, whether it is protected or not. “Protected” tracks have some fairly loose limitations on how many times they may be burned to an audio CD, but these limitations are based on playlists and not on individual tracks, and it is very rare for the average end-user to ever encounter this limit.
iTunes also provides the ability to burn MP3 CDs which can be played in certain CD players that can read MP3 files directly. Since “Protected” tracks cannot be converted to another format due to the DRM, these tracks cannot be burned to an MP3 CD at all. “Purchased” tracks can be converted to MP3 in the same way as any other AAC file, but unfortunately iTunes does not do this automatically when burning an MP3 CD—you have to do it yourself. In fact, even if you have AAC format tracks that you have ripped yourself or acquired from other sources, you would have to convert them manually before you could burn them to an MP3 CD.
You can convert the tracks using iTunes itself, or a third-party conversion tool. To convert a track in iTunes, you simply ensure that your default format is set to your preferred MP3 format under Preferences, Advanced, Importing and then select the track(s) you would like to convert and use the Advanced, Convert Selection to MP3 menu option.
Converting from one lossy format (ie, AAC) to another (ie, MP3) will generally result in a loss in audio quality in the converted file, which is probably why iTunes makes a copy when converting the file, rather than replacing the original. The higher the bit-rate of the original source file, the better the results will be, but there will still be a quality loss. Whether this is perceptible or not will depend on your equipment and your own ears. “Purchased” iTunes Plus tracks use a higher 256kbps bit-rate, so you may get reasonable results if all you’re looking for is a 128kbps MP3 file as the target.