iPods and The Mystery of the Missing Songs

It was a calm, cold night—much as any other this wet December on the brink of a new year. I settled carefully down in my Queen Anne near the warmth of the radiator, hissing its gentle song, and propped my MacBook Pro on my lap to peruse the day’s email. For the most part there was little of note: The usual uncaptured spam, offers from Shutterfly and CVS, a note from my massage therapist, and several droll requests for assistance that required little thought and for which I had no interest. But just as I was to resign myself to another night struggling with the need to sleep in the absence of a full mind, the Subject: “Too few songs!!” caught my attention, and I seized upon this interesting message from an old acquaintance.

The fellow, whose anonymity I shall protect here, had over the years acquired quite a collection of iPods which he had managed to connect to assorted computer and audiophile equipment. He was no dunce certainly, and in fact had once worked for the diplomatic corps in a foreign post where he had kept a low profile until acquiring the wealth to enjoy his life with a gusto I envied, dabbling now and then in the legal profession, and as far as I could tell from my distance, primarily acquiring and enjoying a phenomenal collection of music in many styles and formats. With interest, I perused his query, which I edit for brevity as follows:

“Here’s something I do not understand.  My 2nd generation iPod, which has 20GB  of storage capacity, can hold around 2,000 songs.  My newer (like five years old) 60GB iPod can’t hold anywhere near as many.  Why?”

Clearly there was an explanation that went beyond the obvious assumption that he was mistaken either about the number of songs or the capacity of the devices—he assured me the numbers were accurate as provided. And so began another late night adventure, as I committed to resolving this mystery, when for the sake of my health, I might have been better sleeping.

Although I might have formed my own questions and submitted these to a higher internet authority, I started first by closing the lid of my laptop and leaning back in my chair, taking a deep breath, and entering my “memory palace”, where I was quite convinced I could locate a solution. A few moments later, and confident in what I had found, I started my iMac, plugged my iPhone into it, and launched iTunes to validate my deductions.

I include here an excerpt from the response to my client:

“Theoretically, we can assume that your music is recorded in its ‘largest’ format on iTunes on your computer. For example, you could use Apple Lossless format for the music on your computer and have GREAT quality (which would require a gigantic hard drive because of the large file format). You could listen to your music on your mobile iOS devices in the large format, but because they have less storage, you would be better off using much smaller files. You would sacrifice some of the music in terms of quality, but be able to put many more songs on the device than otherwise. And I postulate that you may have already configured your two iPods in this fashion, although you did not configure them both in the same way, causing an odd discrepancy in the number of songs that each device holds.

“I believe that the settings in iTunes are unique for each device. In the attached screenshot are the settings for my iPhone 6. Under Options, there is an option for ‘Convert higher bit rate songs to [128 kbps] AAC.’ If you had selected that for your OLD iPOD and your songs were all 256kbps or higher, and you used the DEFAULT (unchecked) setting for your newer iPod, then, since the lower 128kbps files are SMALLER, you could probably get a lot more songs on the old iPOD.

iTunes_convert_higher_bit_rate“This only uses greater compression when it syncs, leaving your songs on your iTunes on your computer, at whatever compression/quality level they were ripped.”

And here, with my apologies for a tale that has grown far too long, I conclude with a satisfactory answer, for it was only the very next afternoon that I received another electronic epistle confirming my solution to the mystery:

“TW:  When I plugged in the 60GB iPod and ‘downsampled’ higher bit rate songs to 256 kbps, I ended up with approx. 7,000 songs.  So that accounts for the older iPod seeming to hold more songs.”

B.

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