iTunes Match is now available and ready for you to signup and in theory it sounds great.  Basically, it’s a way to access all your iTunes music via the cloud, for $25 a year.

For that $25, users can upload up to 25,000 tracks to the iTunes Cloud (past iTunes purchases do not count against that total) and access their tunes on up to 10 devices.

I’ve been playing with the service since it first hit beta and unfortunately it’s yet to woo me.

Setup

After downloading iTunes 10.5.1, you can opt to enable iTunes Match. After paying the annual fee, iTunes will scan a your iTunes library and upload or match the songs that it finds to its servers.

Apple has a catalog of more than 20 million songs, which means a lot of your music will most likely already be in Apple’s database, drastically reducing the amount of time it takes to upload a library to the cloud.

In Theory it’s Great

In theory iTunes Match is perfect.  It matches your tracks, uploads those they don’t already have on their servers and seamlessly syncs your playlists with all your devices.  Sounds great right?

Well, it isn’t.

The upload and matching process actually works quite well, 99% of the time that is.  It matched most of my music and uploaded the rest, but a few mystery tracks seemingly disappeared in the mix.  Weird.  Overall though, not a huge issue.

Where iTunes Match falls apart is when you go to listen to your music on your iPad or iPhone.  Listening to your tracks from the cloud requires downloading them, you cannot stream from Match.  Again not a huge issue if it actually worked.  I can only get my tracks to download at a reasonable rate when I’m connected to WiFi.  When I’m out and about on 3G the service is basically useless and instead of having a few select playlists like I had in the past, I’m left with a device with absolutely no music on it.

To double the frustration, when I do download music from the cloud to listen to it only stays on the phone until my next sync – which now that the phone can sync wirelessly is every time I have it at home.  This really stinks, because I have to re-download music all the time wasting precious data.

When iTunes Match fails to “match” a song it’ll throw more than that one song out of sync.  On more than one occasion I’ve had a song iTunes refuses to match that I wish to add to a playlist, unfortunately iTunes doesn’t like this.  If you add an unmatched song to a playlist iTunes Match will also refuse to continue syncing the entirety of that playlist – horribly frustrating.

Conclusion

It’s just not worth it.  Which is better: having 8 gigs or so of your music on your phone that you can listen to at your pleasure?  Or all of you music in the cloud somewhere but seldom the opportunity to actually listen to it?  For now I’m sticking with option one.

It’s a great idea in theory but it doesn’t work in practice.  Data plans are too slow and limiting for you to download and re-download your music all the time and the match system is likely to leave you out in the cold.