Apple Music: Another Streaming Service For People Who Don't Care About Sound Quality

Of course we care about sound quality at AudioStream so it's kinda pointless for me to dig into the Apple Music service because you can get better sound quality from Tidal Hi-Fi, Qobuz, Deezer, and others including hi-res streaming from Naxos/OraStream. But seeing as I lasted the 3 hours+ of the Apple Show, I'll say some more.

The only reference to sound quality I noted in Apple's WWDC event was this shout out related to Facetime on the Apple Watch:

"Real high fidelity calls right from your wrist."
Real high fidelity. Cool! It would have been nice and relevant for Apple to refer to high fidelity when talking about music but that's not their bag. There was not one reference to the quality of Apple Music's streaming service during the presentation, a corporate decision aimed squarely at people who don't care.

"Global Radio"? I believe the term is Internet Radio

As far as Apple Music and innovation goes, Apple has been outdone by Tidal and Roon. Stay tuned for that review but suffice it to say that if you want a true seamless experience that combines your music library with Tidal's 30M tracks, get yee some Roon.

There are some cool aspects to Apple Music, namely Siri. "What were the top ten singles in August 1961?". That's when I was born so I'd be curious. For about 1 minute. Apple also promises real human intervention, not just algorithms. While Spotify moves to über genre defying algorithms meant to match your mood and activities throughout the day, Apple has decided to go back to the future with three human DJs. Three.

This revolution has already happened. I have to say, it's odd seeing Apple play catch up and miss.

From Apple's Press Release:

Pricing & Availability
Starting on June 30, music fans around the world are invited to a 3-month free membership, after which a $9.99/month subscription fee will apply. There will also be a family plan providing service for up to six family members available for just $14.99/month.
A family plan? Now that's a great idea.

COMMENTS
stevebythebay's picture

But the road to optimal sound playback wouldn't put any of the streaming services or their music play functions near the top, at least in the home. But we're talking mobile. Maybe that's why Apple made the point for offline access. Apart from audio dropouts, at least for many of us, streaming is simply not viable, as the players offered with these services are second rate. Local bitstreams consumed by the likes of Amarra on the Mac or JRiver on Windows among others win, with iTunes not even an also ran. That's par for the course with Apple -- they never, ever claimed sonic quality as a goal.

I suppose Apple could do a mashup of Siri, Roon-like visuals, a better than 256kbps compression (though well short of CD quality). Don't hold your breath.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I use Roon to play Tidal which is why I said "Tidal and Roon".
Frans's picture

Roon + Tidal is a major leap forward in terms of library management and meta-data integration. I've been using this from the get-go and it's only gotten better - JRiver is now used for the WDM driver, Tagging, and Ripping.

This is the big story for those of us who care about audio.

Venere 2's picture

The title of this post says it all. Apple music is a big fat nothing for anyone who values sound quality.

Another thing about Apple and music that irritates me, is that there were rumours in 2014 that iTunes would offer hi res downloads, maybe even lossless files. It looks like that boat has sailed…

I simply don't see Apple making their iTunes music files more appealing, to those who value sound quality. I believe there are 2 reasons for this:

-There is not "much" money in catering to audiophiles. They make more money with a volume business, selling tons of mediocre files to the vast majority of the public (who don't care enough about sound quality);

-They will not add any value to iTunes files, because they probably want to push people to their subscription service.

It seems with music today, the artists are getting screwed out of more money than ever before, and true music lovers are getting screwed with sub par quality.

Music is profiting the middle men and companies that have NOTHING to do with the creative side of music. Those bloodsuckers are getting rich off of other people's art, and they are diluting that art for the few that truly appreciate it.

Graham Luke's picture

If the stream is 256kbps AAC+ AND the original file was well recorded and mastered, most people will not be able to tell the difference between this and a 16/44.1-48 file.
I am sure there are many who will say otherwise; chiefly those shills who have to sell High Res Audio equipment and those who have already invested heavily in it....okay, maybe ten year olds and dogs might spot something.
As Johnny rotten once famously snarled; 'Ever feel you've been had?'

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Great argument!

As I've said many times before, I do not enjoy listening to lossy quality streaming for any amount of time and prefer lossless quality streaming via Tidal Hi-Fi.

As far as high res, shills, kids and dogs go...being clueless is nothing to brag about Graham Luke.

kirkmc's picture

It was 2+ hours, not 3+ hours, but it sure felt like it was longer.

Michael, to paraphrase you recently, why all the hate against Apple? Their AAC 256 kbps is excellent. As others have commented, you don't need anything better for mobile use. And most people can't tell the difference yadda yadda, so there! ;-)

I agree about Roon; it's quite impressive. However, the metadata is all over the place. I know they're working on it, but, for now, it's not very reliable.

Re this comment:

"Another thing about Apple and music that irritates me, is that there were rumours in 2014 that iTunes would offer hi res downloads, maybe even lossless files. It looks like that boat has sailed…"

So the fact that there were unfounded rumors irritates someone? Dude, get a grip...

Venere 2's picture

Work on your reading comprehension.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Mobile? This isn't an Apple fan boy site.
whell's picture

We're the niche, and marketing to a niche on a global platform is costly and inefficient. For the rest of the world outside our niche, sound quality that tops out a decent is just fine, particularly when streaming to over-priced Beats headphones.

philipjohnwright's picture

Michael

We will see if they do indeed miss. I'll have a tenner on them being market leaders (by paid subscribers) within 12 months. Probably 6.

Which you have said yourself in other posts; Apple Music will succeed. The real risk is that its success makes Tidal and Qobuz financially unviable. The latter is already in trouble and Tidal is tiny in comparison.

Maybe not Jay Z's best investment. Unless of course he sells Tidal to Apple so they get his artists and take a competitor out of the market (at relatively low cost). Have to say if I were Tim Cook I'd let Tidal whither on the vine though.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
And they have the resources and subscriber base to easily become the market leader. As far as playing catch up and missing goes, I was referring to what Apple Music offers which is mainly old news.
PDQ.Bach's picture

While I was hoping (against reasonable hope) for something better from Apple, I'm glad that they haven't decided to take Qobuz head-on.

Given the announced pricing structure, I'm not sure Qobuz will be the main victim. Qobuz was being eaten by free streaming.
Once you start paying for content, the current choice is between perceived convenience vs. actual quality.

The perceived convenience crowd wasn't with Qobuz to begin with.

I emphasize: perceived convenience. When I ask younger users, I'm astonished to find how many of them are terribly conservative, technologically. They use iTunes because they've managed to figure it out, kind of*, and are loath to use another app, or another service. They are likely to stick with Apple Music out of inertia.

*Kind of: when I show them what could be done with iTunes, using a modicum of SQLite on a Mac, there is a sense of wonder. Quickly followed by a return to the "Can't be bothered" mood.

jim tavegia's picture

please don't give audio advice to anyone. This would be the same as offering Math tutoring when you haven't memorized your "times tables".

jim tavegia's picture

And the beat goes on.

Just don't mention them anymore. Not even the fruit.

Now it they had just named the company "Prune" we would have to worry about it.

mcullinan's picture

Like they get richer and richer for no reason. Ive been using Macs since 1989 and am a web designer, art director and Apple has always been my fave for computers. Plus iPhone/iPad. idk if I will use Apples music service or not, but its for normal people. Audiophiles aren't even in the picture. Funny you guys were all out to defend Neil Youngs pono but take the opposite stance on Apple. Ands all these DAPs now coming to light which are basically ugly music players now that Apple has winded down that segment. Notice they are geared to audiophiles. And they are super expensive. Sure they may have better SQ but when your on the road your not going to notice a difference. I believe the 256K is mp4 vs mp3 so its pretty darn close to CD quality.

Yes. Mike notices but for the other 99% they don't care and thats fine. What about tapes. As a kid I loved cassettes. Was a music lover. And didn't feel robbed in any way. I believe Pandora has the biggest audience. Its a great name too Pandora. That could be the key to success. The name.
Oh and massive marketing bucks.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I also started working on a Mac (SE) in the late '80s and continue to use their products. Apple Music, on the other hand, holds no interest for me. Sound quality is not something I'm willing to give up especially when alternatives are readily available.

The Pono Player is all about sound quality which is why I bought one.

DeepGroove's picture

"Mercedes: another brand of cars for people who don't care about quality" -Bentley
Does this imaginary phrase sound right to you?
iPhone + AAC is far from sounding like crap. It is really good enough for people who care about sound quality. But for those obsessed with sound quality - like you, me and the other 0.0001% of the planet - I agree, it won't do.

At least until they plug their iPhone their Hugo and LCD3.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Does that sound right to you?

;-)

DeepGroove's picture

My good enough is AK240, SE5 and redbook files.
Your good enough is probably something else.
But if a guy who spends 10x more than both of us and only listens to vinyl and DSD, tells us "you guys don't care about sound quality", I hope I can count on you Michael to kick his ass! :)

I am excited about Apple Music and the new stuff I'll discover there. And guess what: I think I do care about sound quality! It is just not what I'll be looking in priority for with Apple Music.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Here at AudioStream, good enough is not good enough so lossy streaming is of zero interest since I can stream in lossless quality and have a rich experience using Roon/Tidal.
pierre_b's picture

with Apple not getting into lossless is that Tidal has no lossless competitors for the time being (other than Qobuz in Europe). This gives Tidal time to further entrench itself in lossless and eventually hi-res. At least, here's hoping...

MusicGuy's picture

"Honda Civic: Another Car For People Who Don't Care About Going Fast"

I'm amazed at how many audiophile sites get mad or show great disappointment that Apple doesn't sell/stream higher res audio. If Apple thought they could make money from doing it, they would. Obviously it is not important to their business. They are a hardware company that sells mostly mobile devices. Selling/streaming higher resolution files that will cost you more (mobile data plan), take more time to stream or download, take up huge amounts of space on your mobile device makes absolutely no sense (even though I would love for them to do this). Not only that, the people who really want these higher quality files (me included) have very little intention of playing them on any Apple product. I fail to see Apple's motivation in doing something like this. Does the higher resolution sound better? Sure. Does it sound better on any device Apple sells? Why is this community looking to Apple. Tidal and other niche companies can do this for the small amount of people who really care about it. I don't expect Honda to sell me a car that runs like a Ferrari. So why do we expect Apple to offer a service that sounds as good as Tidal?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
But a technology company that cannot deliver 30 year old CD-quality is not doing its job.

Would you buy a Honda that gets 10mpg?

MusicGuy's picture

I know you weren't asking for hi-res. I tried to use the word "higher" resolution throughout to convey higher resolution than what Apple is currently offering. My apologies for not being more clear on that point.

I do think your comment about Apple "not doing its job" is revealing about the audiophile community and their expectation on Apple for better quality sound. I think this is exactly where the disconnect lies. Apple doesn't think this is their job and it doesn't believe this is what their consumers want from them. I don't imagine it would be a challenge for Apple to offer hi-res audio. I would venture to say this would be a trivial technical task for Apple at this point. If Tidal can (no offence Tidal) then Apple surely can. They already deliver tons of content including hi-def video. I just don't see how doing this increases Apple's bottom line. It is really hard to argue that they are not doing their job given they are the most valuable company in the world based on market cap. I think a stronger argument can be made that no company in the world does its job better. That is just my opinion.

And no I would't buy a Honda that only got 10 mpg. I also don't expect Honda to offer me a 400 hp option on their Civic. If I wanted that kind of power, I would look elsewhere.

I enjoy the site. Thanks.

ktracho's picture

A company that refuses to put more than 1 GB of RAM in their phones or more than 16 GB of storage in their entry-level phones (which sell for the same price as other companies' high end phones) isn't going to sell music that gobbles up that meager storage. Of course, Apple's ability to make people part with their money despite their self-serving strategy is what continually attracts investors. There would be a huge uproar if Apple did otherwise.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Apple is a success, no doubt.
I do think your comment about Apple "not doing its job" is revealing about the audiophile community and their expectation on Apple for better quality sound. Apple doesn't think this is their job and it doesn't believe this is what their consumers want from them.
There's no disconnect. I am an Apple customer.
tonymelone's picture

Thanks for making this point--I wish there were more options for CD-quality streaming. I've subscribed to Tidal for months. It's a great service but they have a huge flaw in their jazz and classical back catalog. Almost all the albums they get from UMG (including Verve, Deutsche Grammophon, and many others) have an "audible watermark" embedded in them that sounds horrible, especially when piano or guitar is featured prominently. Much worse, to my ears, than mp3 compression. I've emailed Tidal about this for months and they admit the problem but claim the label won't give them permission to use undamaged tracks. Perhaps if a journalist like yourself pushed Tidal or wrote about this problem they'd work harder to fix it. If you want to hear how bad it sounds, check out this classic Oscar Peterson record: http://listen.tidalhifi.com/album/3701015 For more info on UMG's watermarking scheme, check this out: http://www.mattmontag.com/music/universals-audible-watermark

olc's picture

If so, it's even bad compared to the other 320kps streamers.

drblank's picture

to the masses, not the niche. They serve hundreds of millions of users with iTunes as they have nearly 1 billion iTunes account holders, not hundreds of thousands of users which Tidal has. The level of scale that they are at just doesn't make business sense to offer Lossless and to expect to attract hundreds of millions of users. The bottom line is that even Spotify, with 20Million users of their Premium services simply doesn't even break even. Yeah, Tidal got bought out, but if they don't start attracting tens of millions of users pretty quick, they'll just be a money losing venture. Pono? They will probably go out of business as Tidal will take over their business from the looks of it.

I tried Tidal for a couple of days and with the ISP I had, it just took too long to listen to songs due to constant buffering, so I closed the account. I don't really do much streaming anyway as I have my own catalog of music that's carefully increasing in size.

Yes, it would be great if Apple offered both Lossy (lower monthly rate) and Lossless for a higher monthly rate, but there honestly isn't enough people willing to pay enough money to make Lossless profitable. They would have to use Lossy as their bread and butter and Lossless just for bragging rights, which is essentially all it is for these companies. But the bragging rights at the end of the day is Net Profits. Apple doesn't NEED profitability from their streaming services as quickly as Tidal since Apple makes most of their profits from mobile devices and computers and not streaming services. So I see Apple as the big player just plodding along trying to figure out what works and what doesn't and they can afford to make mistakes hear and there because they can. Tidal will go out of business if they can't attract the masses, it's as simple as that. Enjoy Tidal while you can, I just don't have much confidence that they will make profitability anytime in the near future and that's what they NEED.

monetschemist's picture

As far as I can tell, Google Play Music offers a pretty similar set of features as this new Apple service does, for a similar price.

So is this Apple's response to Spotify and Tidal, or Apple's response to Google?

Audiointerest's picture

When TIDAL was originally offered, it offered a comparison track; one mp3 320 and CD redbook quality. It was used so one could appreciate the difference between the different resolutions. I did this thru a high quality system --Bryston DAC and Sennheiser HD 800 earphones. I honestly could not differentiate them despite multiple tries. Because of this I stopped subscribing to TIDAL. Could you offer an explantation??

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Sure. I find that listening over time is the only way to meaningfully determine preference and multiple A/B "tests" with one track can easily mask perceived difference. But if you find yourself enjoying lossy quality over time without losing interest or having the music move into the background, then you've saved yourself $10/month.
Audiointerest's picture

I have heard from fellow audiophiles that the 320 resolution is "pretty good". Have you found this so?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...that I lose interest with lossy quality and even irritating to listen to for anything longer than a few songs especially when my focus is on listening to music. So I aim for much better than "pretty good" ;-)
streamerbill's picture

To further emphasize Apple's disregard for higher quality listening on their devices, they have now disabled Home Sharing in the recently released iOS 8.4 which installs the new Music app. Do not upgrade if you use Home Sharing to stream lossless audio files on your home network to your iOS devices. Apple does allow sharing your files by purchasing a family plan at $15 per month, but this requires uploading your files to iCloud which, of course, has limited free capacity.

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