Review of the TuneUp plug in for iTunes.
Cost: Free to try, $19.95 to $49.95 to buy.
Minimum System Requirements: Windows XP or newer, Intel based Macs. iTunes 7.4 or newer, high speed internet connection (DSL or faster).
TuneUp is a plug in program for Apple’s iTunes music software that is designed to “clean and organize” your digital music collection. According to the TuneUp website the program uses the Gracenote music database to match up mislabeled audio files in your iTunes music folder.
The company claims that the software can match files to the correct artist information even if you have files labeled with no names, incorrect spellings, no cover art, and no track numbers or titles. For users of iTunes who might access their music on a computer, iPad, iPod, or iPhone using the iTunes cover feature is an aesthetically pleasing way to browse one’s music; a feature tainted by incorrectly labeled song files and missing artwork. With users getting audio files in a number of ways including importing CDs and downloads there can be a lot of incorrectly labeled tracks in one’s collection.
But does TuneUp work well enough to be worth the money?
TuneUp has 4 primary features which we’ll look at in depth individually followed by a look at the user interface and overall functionality. You can purchase yearly service subscriptions or purchase each of the below features individually. The best price and the option this review covers is the Lifetime TuneUp Bundle. Note that when using TuneUp you should use the features in the order listed below.
The Clean feature is the biggest part of TuneUp. You launch iTunes and the TuneUp software opens up next to iTunes. You select files in iTunes and drag and drop them into the main Clean window of Tuneup. The software scans its database and returns matches and likely matches for the files. You can then choose to save all the matches although it is recommended you save each album match individually to ensure accuracy.
While it might be tempting to select all and drop your entire iTunes collection into the Clean window at once., TuneUp will slow to a crawl and even crash at times if you try to do too many songs at once. Instead do them in batches, it’ll allow the software to run smoothly and give you a chance to double check matches that might be incorrect.
With a collection of over 10,000 songs it took many hours to go through the Clean process. While the software had to be restarted a few times the overall results were quite good. TuneUp claims an 85% successful match rate, in this test it was closer to 90%.
The clean feature really shined when looking at tracks that had no track name, misspelled artists, missing album names, with a very high success rate Instead of having to manually search online for track names, track numbers, and album names, TuneUp got it done. Another plus was the ability to remove track numbers from the track name and instead put the track number in the iTunes column for track number keeping the titles free of clutter. For those that like to listen to albums in order its a nice touch.
About 300 tracks the software could not find at all or mismatched to something completely different, although a lot of these were underground artists, overall TuneUp did decent in non-major label music as well as major label music.
The Clean feature can screw up compilations and soundtracks as it’ll often attempt to separate individual tracks into separate artists and albums. This may annoy some but give others a sense of extra organization. You can tell TuneUp to attempt to ignore compilations and you can also customize each match to include or exclude certain information to change (such as when you want a song to stay on a certain album heading instead of the recommended one). The clean feature also has trouble differentiating between “live tracks” and “studio tracks” resulting in some tracks appearing twice in an album with no differentiation in the titles.
Fortunately TuneUp has an undo feature built in. You can drag and drop cleaned up files into the undo tab of the Clean feature and revert the information back to pre-TuneUp mode. Useful if you later discover mistakes.
The Cover Art feature automatically scans the entire iTunes library on your computer looking for tracks and albums missing album art. This process is relatively quick. Again like the Clean feature you’ll want to manually check the TuneUp results to ensure more accuracy. A nice touch is that often times multiple resolutions and images for an album will come up allowing you to select the cover you want.
The downside is that some cover art displays but can’t be downloaded meaning you’ll have to try again or manually find the art elsewhere. Another downside that holds true both in the Clean feature and the Cover Art feature is that if you already manually added cover art to a file, imported it with a CD, or had iTunes check for artwork previously then TuneUp won’t replace the existing cover art file even if its low resolution or incorrect. You could manually clear all cover art before beginning the TuneUp process as a work around to this.
The DeDuper feature scans your iTunes collection for duplicate tracks. It then displays the duplicate tracks allowing you to keep the first option and deleting the second one automatically. You can see the bit-rate of the files (higher is better), title and track info, and even jump to the songs to play them for comparison. In theory this is a great feature, after you’ve cleaned and labeled your tracks correctly, being able to get rid of duplicates further organizes your collection.
However the DeDuper can be overzealous at times recommending duplicates to delete. In the Clean feature, live tracks, bonus tracks, and variations of another song (like a cover or demo) can get relabeled identically to the original studio recording. This means the DeDuper often sees these as duplicates and will if you allow it delete one of them, sometimes the original album version and sometimes the other version. If you have rare tracks especially this could mean trouble. There is a folder where TuneUp stores deleted files to restore but this can be time consuming. Carefully go through the duplicates before allowing any to be removed from iTunes.
This final main feature is an interesting touch to the software. If you allow TuneUp to launch automatically with iTunes the Tuniverse feature is activated whenever iTunes is running. Based on your music collection this feature allows you to update friends on your current music tastes, see artist info of the currently playing tracks, see merch from the artist, and see videos related to the artist. The best feature of Tuniverse is the concert and tour section which shows which artists in your iTunes collection are coming to your town and when.
The downside to Tuniverse is that it can be a resource hog on top of software that already runs slow at times. The artist information during the Now Playing feature is sometimes way off and this accessing of data for each time you change the track playing in iTunes means that iTunes can become slow.
The software pops up and docks alongside iTunes allowing you to drag and drop files without having to switch windows. At times during startup or during use the software window froze up or became stuck off screen corrected by manually shrinking the iTunes window.
The interface uses a simple tab based navigation system with small icons to click on to change settings or adjust individual match results. Mac users may find it lacks the overall cleanness of Mac OS X based applications but its still usable on both platforms. The interface can appear to freeze up from time to time on both Windows and Macs. If the internet connection is slow or too many tracks at once are being analyzed the process can take a lot longer than the “few seconds” per track TuneUp states.
TuneUp is a great service for organizing your ever growing music collection in iTunes. While there are free alternatives available such as MusicBrainz or simply doing it all manually yourself, TuneUp offers additional features like the Tuniverse and separate Cover Art finder utility. It is also a bit more user friendly than the free alternatives. You can reduce the cost of the software by searching online for discount codes to take a few dollars off the purchase price. The Clean feature is the best and most useful part of the software. The accuracy of the results is higher than expected for most tracks but you will find some tracks are mislabeled.
While it might be tempting to allow TuneUp to automatically match and change track information its best to go through the results before approving the changes. It basically merges the cover art searching, track title listing, and album/artist information search into one search database. You’re paying for this all in one concept versus doing it all yourself. That said TuneUp is faster than doing it all yourself but for those who are very meticulous about their digital music collection, its more of an assistant to be used in conjunction with your own tweaking of the results. It works best when you go back over the results to fine tune your collection after TuneUp does its work.