Well, I can do my best in reply, but there are still some misunderstandings here.
This is important, and would be addressed with the current proposal of ‘variant releases’. Releases with the same track listing but have other elements that make it different but not warranting a separate release. Things like a remaster, color of something, etc. That is all covered there.
Yea and no in my opinion. The focus can go both ways, but in modern digital releases, it is also what cannot be heard. For example, if I buy a 24 bit 96kHz FLAC, the likelyhood I or anyone will ever hear a difference when compared to a 16 bit FLAC of the same is slim to none, more on the none. What it does provide is an inaudible headroom in the case that, for example, I might use that audio to create a mix of my own or modify it in some other way. It gives me a file that is closer to that first generation. Each time it is moved to a lesser format, what is removed cannot be put back, so there are some cases where one may want such a file. It is also worth noting that such files are in excess of CD quality.
I agree on CDs, store does not matter. For digital releases, the store is a bit more important. It has a direct tie in to the release itself. The meta is different from retailer to retailer. If I were to try and identify a release to the fullest possibility, knowing the retailer is a must. This does not apply to resellers, but original retailers only.
First, Apple is not modifying anything. MFiT onus is on the mastering engineer. What Apple does in this process is take what is provided to them and create their files for release (the M4A files). Depending on the master they are provided and some other factors, you will either be or not be given a MFiT badge. For the end user (the buyer), they are buying a v256, 44.1kHz M4A file. So in the end, you have “the” iTunes release, marketed appropriately as per its originating master.
There is not really a comparison between the CD and any Apple release, aside from the release as a track listing. The CD is just a different medium, so you can have a CD, cassette, M4A, FLAC, vinyl, etc. Each medium has its own capabilities and release qualities. Given that, what MFiT is, is an attempt to remove some of the issues that modern day mastering creates, one of the top ones being a release that is too hot. It is not as easy as it sounds, when there is conversion between a master of 24 bit and 96kHz to a M4A lossy file for example, it takes some detailed attention to avoid clipping in the final product. So again, all of this is an effort of the mastering engineer to pay closer attention to the qualities and capabilities of the final product, which is an iTunes M4A file. Thus MFiT, a master that is specifically formatted to provide the best iTunes M4A file it can.
That was likely me. I feel the same, Spotify plays releases. Is that release compressed? Not sure. Places like Bandcamp will have a offering in many digital formats, but all you are getting is a online conversion of the FLAC. The best take from there is the FLAC and then making the compressed files yourself, as there is no care or attention put into the “mastering” of those compressed files there.
I hope I gave useful information here. The issue is that when you move from physical (ie CD) to digital, things get more complex for me the average user. I can look at my CD and see that barcode, the color of the case, the printing on the paper inserts and CD, etc. Pn my digital release, I see a name of a recording, a track number and artist name, maybe the duration and the file type. I do not see things like catalog numbers, barcodes, stickers, country of manufacture, label, etc. A barcode is not used in the same way on digital as well. Some releases share the same barcode on all retailers and formats, some use a different one for each. A barcode is required, but there is nothing stating the barcode needs to be unique to a specific digital release. On a CD, I should not see two versions of the release with the same barcode. With digital, that can easily be the case. Barcodes are often not even in the metadata of the files. What is seen in place of the barcode is a store ID, collection ID, etc. For those adding vendor info, you will see the vendor+ISRC for the recordings. The vendor is not necessarily the same as the release label MB wants either.