Reader K.M. has a question about the extensibility of iTunes Plus tracks. K writes:
I heard that certain songs will be available on iTunes that are compatible with other MP3 players (such as Creative Zen). I have vainly searched the web and the iTunes website for this info, and this is my last resort. I hope that you can help!
What you heard was true but Apple, believing that it offers the finest portable media player around, doesn’t talk a whole lot about converting its unprotected tracks to a form that can be played on other music players that don’t support the AAC audio format (such as a Creative Zen).
So, from the beginning: Apple offers unprotected audio tracks on the iTunes Store. These are termed “iTunes Plus” tracks. You can find them by going to the Store’s main page and clicking the iTunes Plus link on the right side of the page. When you reach the iTunes Plus page you’ll see you have the option to upgrade certain songs in your library to the unprotected form (for 30 cents a song and, in the case of albums, one third the price of the album’s current price).
You may also stumble across iTunes Plus tracks when viewing a list of songs or an album page. Album pages include iTunes Plus in the album information area and iTunes Plus tracks are denoted in lists by a light blue plus sign.
Once you’ve downloaded an iTunes Plus track you can convert it to a form playable on other music players. To do so, open iTunes’ preferences (found under the iTunes menu), click the Advanced tab, and click Importing in the window below. Choose MP3 Encoder from the Import Using pop-up menu and Higher Quality (192 kbps) from the Setting pop-up menu and then click OK to dismiss the preferences window.*
Now just select your iTunes Plus tracks and choose Convert Selections to MP3 from the Advanced menu. Your iTunes Plus tracks will be converted to MP3 files that you can then transfer to your portable music player.
* Some folks will tell you that converting one compressed file (as in that iTunes Plus track) to another compressed format will adversely affect audio quality. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if your ears are finely tuned enough to detect a difference. If so, choose an uncompressed format such as Wave in that Import Using pop-up menu.