A recent upgrade to the iTunes Producer software used by studios to encode tracks for iTMS distribution may be a good sign for the discriminating audiophile community, as Apple has included the necessary tools to create lossless AAC content that could presumably be uploaded to the online store. While the simple availability of this option certainly doesn't mean that higher-quality downloads are on the way -- for one thing, the so-called Apple Lossless Encoder still lacks the required FairPlay support -- Ars Technica points out that Cupertino and Hollywood could both potentially benefit from a less lossy option. Since tracks encoded in this format can be almost ten times as big as equivalent MP3s, widespread availability of lossless music may convince consumers to step up to higher capacity iPods, which would seem to be in Apple's best interest. As for the music studios, these high-fidelity tracks could presumably fetch more than the 99 cents that 128Kbps files go for, opening a door for the tiered pricing structures that content providers so desire. For now, though, these crystal-clear downloads are still merely speculation, so hardcore audio snobs enthusiasts will have to continue buying and ripping their own CDs for the foreseeable future.

[Via Ars Technica]

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Lossless downloads coming to iTunes?