Apple Music was updated in June with Lossless and Spatial Audio support after some catches and controversies. Even still, thanks to these new features, Apple is differentiating itself from other competing music streaming services and becoming the best platform around. Here’s why.
Early this year, I wrote about my one-month experience with Spotify. At that time, I was amazed by the green side of the music streaming service battle.
Over these months, I still believe Spotify has a lot of perks: its shareable features are amazing and Apple still doesn’t have anything closer to Spotify Connect, but with iOS 14.6 and Lossless and Spatial Audio features being introduced, Apple has finally taken the lead.
In May, I wrote a piece about what I thought would be Apple’s great triumph if HiFi quality would really come to the platform. Back then, I said: Spatial Audio will be the key feature for Apple Music HiFi. And now I know I was right.
It’s not about Lossless audio quality on Apple Music
With music streaming services like Deezer, Tidal, and Amazon Music offering CD quality or even Hi-Res Lossless, Apple doing the same isn’t a groundbreaking feature. Also, over the past weeks, people are discovering that listening to Lossless songs is more difficult than it sounds – pun intended.
Since most people only wear AirPods or other Bluetooth headphones, there’s a technology limitation: Bluetooth can’t stream that much data over the air. Apple also didn’t implement a new wireless codec like Sony’s LDAC, which is able to stream up to 990kbps. So even if people want to use more data to stream in Lossless, they will not hear the difference.
There are other issues, for example, the iPhone doesn’t support a 3.5mm headphone jack anymore, and you need a wired connection to start listening to Lossless songs. With that, you need a dongle, and not many of them can passthrough Lossless at 24-bit/48kHz. See how not intuitive it’s becoming? And we aren’t talking about Hi-Res Lossless, which needs an external accessory to fully work.
This is why, in an interview, Apple executive Eddy Cue didn’t praise Lossless on Apple Music because it’s Spatial Audio that is changing everything:
“The reality of lossless is: if you take 100 people and you take a stereo song in lossless and you take a song that’s been in Apple Music that’s compressed, I don’t know if it’s 99 or 98 can’t tell the difference.
For the difference of lossless, our ears aren’t that good. Yeah, there are a set of people who have these incredible ears, and that’s one piece of it. There’s the other piece of it, which is do you have the level of equipment that can really tell the difference? It requires very, very high-quality stereo equipment.“
Spatial Audio will lead the way
Apple Music is not the first music streaming service to use Spatial Audio or Dolby Atmos. For example, if you are a Tidal or Deezer user and have one of the fancier Sony headphones, like the WH-1000XM4, it’s possible to enjoy 360 Reality Audio, which is basically the same as Dolby Atmos with Spatial Audio on Apple Music, except that Apple is bringing this technology for many other headphones.
The company says every person who owns an Apple or Beats headphone with the W1 or H1 chip is able to listen to Dolby Atmos songs. With iOS 15, for example, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max owners will be able to enjoy “Stereolized Audio,” which uses head-tracking for a better sound experience. In some way, it’s really close to what Apple does with Spatial Audio with Apple TV+ content. It’s truly mind-blowing the first time you hear it.
Wrap up: Listening to Spatial Audio songs on Apple Music right now
After saying all of this, there’s another catch. While Apple wants to make all of its catalog available in Lossless by the end of the year, the company didn’t promise how many songs will feature Dolby Atmos with Spatial Audio. This is because artists will have to master their songs differently and, personally, I think some of them are not doing a great job with this new function.
For example, Apple features a special page with albums and playlists in Dolby Atmos, but praised songs like Rain On Me, by Lady Gaga, or even some older Ariana Grande’s records that feature the “Dolby Atmos” label are not great. Their voices sound low and echoed and it’s really weird.
On the other hand, if you try to listen to Abbey Road by The Beatles, Folklore, Evermore, or Fearless (Taylor’s Version), by Taylor Swift, you’ll be amazed by how good Spatial Audio is.
At no extra cost, Apple Music is becoming even more attractive for users and people who are willing to switch to it. In my opinion, Apple Music is becoming the best music streaming service and if everything goes right, we’re going to be able to listen to even more songs with this immersive experience rather sooner than later.
We are entering a new era on the music streaming services battle and it’s going to be a great one.