Apple released a new app specifically target at classical music lovers and discoverers earlier on today, making available in excess of 115,000 unique works spanning multiple genres. Many of these recordings are available for the first time in higher quality audio meaning the listening experience is markedly different from other platforms.
Download the Apple Classical Music App from the Apple Store.
It’s a move which sees Apple Music fill a gaping hole in the classical music streaming and broadcast world. Apple Classical Music combines knowledge and expertise in the content with a user-experience that has been designed with classical music lovers needs in mind. The app offers 20,000+ composers, 115,000+ unique works, 350,000+ movements and a catalogue of over 5 million classical music tracks. Such a rich offer is one thing, but that the product is so satisfying to use isn’t an accident. Its evidence that people with knowledge and expertise have come together to design a user-focussed product that seeks to serve both experience listener and curious newcomer.
This isn’t radio using classical music to sell advertising or trying to serve up what it thinks the listener wants. Nor is it classical streaming having to fit into the limited constraints imposed by data architecture better suited to commercial music. Both approaches leave the audience either at best underserved or worst irritated.
Hi-Res Lossless, Lossless and Spatial Recordings
Apple Classical offers lossless and hi-res lossless recordings (essentially albums made available where the compression doesn’t deaden the low or top-end) in Dolby Atmos. If you’re listening to the track with Dolby Atmos compatible speakers, headphones or earbuds there will be a significantly higher quality listening experience. If you’re listening to one of the selection of ‘Spatial’ recordings then you’ll feel like you’re immersed in a live performance.
Even if you don’t have the necessary equipment (more on that in a bit), you’ll still notice a significant difference in detail. I listened to five different albums as a test to see if I could notice the difference compared with Spotify. In every case I’d heard a much clearer sound, a lot more ambient detail (fingers on instrument keys, bows on strings etc) and in the case of one spatial recording – the LSO’s recording of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro – a combination of focussed mixes that helped create a sense of me listening to the solo string quartet and the accompanying string ensemble. Older recordings have what feels like a recording studio quality to them. Dame Janet Baker’s recording of Sea Pictures has a brighter clarity to it compared to its Spotify equivalent.
A word of warning though. You won’t necessarily hear each track in the quality it’s streamed. Every track’s quality is subject to the equipment you’re listening to it through, meaning there will always be a slight reduction on that which is served up by the platform. That said, the differences are still marked. My day’s listening has been ‘conducted’ with multiple speakers, earbuds and headphones. But the most significant point where quality could be reduced will be the connection between the iPhone and the physical speaker you’re connecting to. Both these devices need to be running CODECs (software) for Bluetooth connections that support the transfer of hi-res lossless files. The reduction brought about by any software or hardware inconsistencies is still marginal, in my opinion, however.
50M Datapoints in the Apple Classical database
Apple’s triumph goes further than the quality of audio. The organisation of data is perhaps the greatest of achievements. At the point of launch there are in excess of 50M pieces of data in the database – 50M different elements to describe the music on the server. That makes it possible to both find individual works, tracks, composers, orchestras or artists a whole lot easier, moving the user from intentional search (knowing what it is you want to search for before you search) to moving towards a more serendipitous kind of discovery.
In the press briefing hosted by Apple today, composer Jonny Greenwood highlighted one of the opportunities this development presents – bringing multiple musical genres together, for example providing useful links between non-classical and classical genres in so doing, potentially expanding the potential reach of classical music to a wider audience.
I particularly like the Browse function on the app. Within the composer genre for example, of their works (that which is recorded and available on the platform) are listed, alongside the number of recordings available for a particular piece. For classical music lovers this provides a level of discovery not previously easily available.
Exploring this feature further, just being able to have a list of say all of Yehudi Menuhin’s recordings at my finger tips makes this a phenomenal research tool too. To populate a personal library by a range of different categories including artist, orchestra, work or composer also gives me the user a good deal more control to curate my own experience.
It’s rare that I am quite so wholeheartedly positive about a new development, but in this case I think its well-deserved. It is as though a group of people have wielded considerable resources, researched, listened to users – artists and listeners – and come up with a product that meets their needs and supports the genre.
It will need to keep a close eye on its in-app messaging perhaps. I notice in the Apple Music App that composer Alexis Ffrench presents a Classical Connections Radio Show, introducing the programme by encouraging people not to think of classical music as ‘stuffy’. I’m not entirely convinced reinforcing unhelpful stereotypes about a musical genre are helpful in ‘selling’ the genre to curious newcomers. It is a piece of messaging entirely at odds with what the Apple Classical app leads on. Similarly in Ffrench’s introductory clip to the Apple Classical App there are some odd positioning statements that seek to extoll the app search function, Ffrench’s often over-earnest delivery and misplaced intonation makes it sound as though being able to find “even” Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata illustrates the data architecture breakthrough of the app. I know of no one is has to date found it difficult to find the piece. This kind of unchecked messaging jars with the strong offer of the app.
The considerable resource deployed to bring this app to life must surely pay off in subscriptions from people tired of mediated listening experiences or poor user-experiences. The contextual information the app provides compliments the superior listening experience too. Sure, you may need to spend a bit more on your equipment to take advantage of the high-end detail on offer, but that arguably has always been the case.
Ultimately what Apple has achieved is creating a destination for classical music, tacked on to its existing Apple Music offer. In Q2 2021 Apple Music achieved a 15% share of 532.9m total audio streaming subscribers. Amazon was at 13% and Spotify at 31%. Anecdotally, I’m significantly more inclined to drop my Spotify subscription and fully sign up to Apple Music and Apple Classical. I’m wondering how much Apple is betting on other Spotify users doing the same.
Download the Apple Classical Music App from the Apple Store.
Apple Classical is available for all iPhone models running iOS 15.4 or later. A version for Android is coming soon. Existing Apple Music subscribers can immediately access Apple Music Classical at no additional cost.