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Apple Music Classical to Debut This Month

At TechCrunch, Sarah Perez writes:

Apple is launching a new music streaming service focused on classical music. Based on its 2021 acquisition of Amsterdam-based streamer Primephonic, the new Apple Music Classical app will offer Apple Music subscribers access to over 5 million classical music tracks, including new releases in high-quality audio, as well as hundreds of curated playlists, thousands of exclusive albums, and other features like composer bios and deep dives on key works, Apple says.

However, while the app is being announced today, it’s only available for pre-order on the App Store for now. The release date will be later this month, on March 28. In addition, the app will only support iOS devices running iOS 15.4 or newer at launch.

The Verge’s Chris Welch adds:

Apple Music Classical will stream at up to 192 kHz/24-bit hi-res lossless, and Apple says it will include “thousands” of spatial audio recordings. Like Primephonic, it will offer thorough and accurate metadata — a challenge for services that cram all music genres into one destination — and you’ll be able to search “by composer, work, conductor, or even catalog number, and find specific recordings instantly.”

It has been 19 months since Apple purchased Primephonic and promised a dedicated classical music app in 2022, but better late than never (see “Apple Buys Classical Music Service Primephonic,” 31 August 2021). We look forward to hearing how well Apple Music Classical manages the highly specific metadata preferred by classical music aficionados.

Apple Music Classical app

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Comments About Apple Music Classical to Debut This Month

Notable Replies

  1. Here’s hoping this scrappy, up-and-coming developer will find a way to marshall the resources necessary to bring this service to the Mac and the iPad some day.

  2. I’m hoping for substantial improvements in metadata handling and the CD database. Metadata for classical CDs has been a mess since Day 1 of iTunes.

    The other thing I wonder is how big the audience will be for this. I’m not a likely customer, given my own major investment in CDs I own (and have ripped.) I suspect a fair number of friends who are classical fans are similarly invested in CD libraries, rather than streaming services.

  3. It will also be interesting to see exactly how broadly they define “Classical”. Will it only include recordings of old music? Or will it include recordings of contemporary music by living composers? What about the music of someone like Philip Glass, who ostensibly comes out of the classical tradition, but has his own non-traditional ensemble and wouldn’t necc. be considered Classical? What the marketing world considers “Classical” can cover everything from Gregorian chants to music written last week. As soon as you start digging into the categorization of music, things get murky pretty quickly.

    For this reason, even though I consider myself a classical music fan, I’m not sure I’ll be interested in this service. I’ve found that I already have so many CDs and purchased audio files, many obscure or out of print, that it’s easier to maintain my own library. But who knows, I could change my mind. It’s happened to me before.

  4. Just to be clear, Apple Music Classical is a free app for Apple Music subscribers. It’s not a separate service.

  5. For Apple Music subscribers?

    So does that mean those of us with lots of classical music ripped from CDs but not subscribing to Apple “services” still have just Music for all our tunes?

  6. I’m a classical listener with a CD collection built up over several decades. I, too, used to be in the “who needs streaming” camp. But a few years ago, my mobile phone provider began including access to Tidal. I’ve grown to like streaming because streaming provides an easy and inexpensive way to explore and to hear music before buying discs.

    For example, if I enjoy a piece at a concert, I can now listen to several recorded performances to decide which I like best prior to placing an order. Or for ballet, streaming is a fine way to get familiar with the music before a show.

    So if Apple Classical does a good job of providing a UI and UX tailored to classical listeners and a broad and deep library, I will subscribe.

  7. I’m cautiously optimistic.

    I poured time and effort into ripping my very large collection of classical (and other) CDs into iTunes in 2005, ’06, ’07, and ’08, and spent the next decade or so listening from within iTunes. But I found the design problems of the app just got worse and worse, and by 2016 or so I found I was just listening to the radio most of the time because I couldn’t actually find anything anymore in iTunes.

    I never had the time of day for streaming (initially, quality was not good and most service’s classical holdings were pretty miserable; later, most service’s classical holdings continued to be pretty miserable).

    But then I became aware of Tidal (like @Halfsmoke) and Idagio. I found Idagio’s catalogue extensive and its interface intuitive, and have been a relatively happy subscriber now for several years.

    https://tidal.com

    In August of ’21, I discovered Primephonic and was overjoyed — it seemed almost perfect! And I subscribed! And before my first month was up, Apple bought them and shuttered the service. Grrr!

    https://www.primephonic.com

    And that’s the reason for my cautious optimism: Primephonic really seemed to be doing things right. They clearly had an exhaustive and well-designed back-end database and an extensive catalogue, and it was clear they were doing even better than Idagio at making it easy to search for and access entire pieces of music comprising multiple tracks, regardless of whether or not there were other pieces of music on the same albums.

    From what I’ve read, a majority of Primephonic’s staff was hired by Apple. If they’ve been left alone, I suspect they’ll try to one-up the service they were already providing, using Apple’s immense resources. That’s my hope, anyway.

  8. My guess is that it will be big. I’m assuming that Apple will pay classical artists a significantly better fee per stream for artists like they already do as compared with Spotify, etc. And I’m very glad to hear that Apple isn’t charging extra for this service.

  9. And the market may be bigger outside the US too. I know someone who runs a small niche classical record label, and a significant portion of their sales come from Asia and Europe. So Apple may be betting on a larger market in Japan and China and Europe out of this than here in the US.

  10. I suspect that they are already planning to open up more countries. Here’s a list of the companies that Apple Music is already available in:

  11. If you have a large collection of your own ripped or owned music, you could consider Roon www.roonlabs.com. It’s a replacement for iTunes/Music, but so much more. Designed for audiophiles, but works for anyone. And now they have their ARC app that allows you to stream your own library anywhere.

    Caveats - it’s a paid subscription service, you need a machine to act as the ‘core’ or server, and the ARC app/service is pretty solid but also relatively new, some bugs remain. CarPlay support is brand new and works but needs more development.

    I’m serious happy with it though.

  12. Like Erik, I was a Primephonic subscriber, and was upset when Apple pulled the plug on it. Then I discovered Idagio, and have been happy with that ever since (though I’d like more functionality in the app regarding playlist management).

    I’m not interested in subscribing to Apple Music at large, but I’ve heard from one source that Apple Classical will be available on its own for $4.99/month for non-Music subscribers. I haven’t been able to verify that though.

  13. Another IDAGIO fan. I too have a large library of ripped CDs, but this streaming service allows me to keep up with more current performances along with varieties of music I would not have called classical back in the day. I told the friend who recommended it that it was the most expensive streaming service around!! They charge 9,99/month. I usually find two or three or so new albums to buy, mostly thru Apple, so an added expense…

  14. We’ll find out when it ships, but that seems likely given that the Apple Music Classical app is iOS-only for now.

  15. I’m not sure I entirely understand many of the comments above. It’s not “either” ripping “or” streaming with Apple Music. I also have many ripped CDs, which were long ago loaded into iTunes using iTunes Match as it was then called. However, they live seamlessly with the huge catalog of other music now available through an Apple Music subscription, with more versions of the Eroica symphony than I could ever listen to. In fact, the sound quality of my ripped CDs was often improved if they matched tracks available in Apple Music. If I listen to BBC Radio 3’s Record Review, chances are that I can stream one of their recommendations immediately, something I could only dream of 20 or 30 years ago. There are a a few labels, like Hyperion, who refuse to make their music available for streaming for justifiable economic reasons, and I would be prepared to pay for a premium service if it was enough to satisfy them, but I think the days of ripping CDs are long past for most people.

  16. No, the question is if people need to buy a subscription service from Apple to be able to use the new specialized app to sort and search their classical music properly. And, unfortunately, it appears so. :frowning:

  17. Surely people didn’t expect Apple to generate huge metadata databases just to enable people to catalog their own ripped CDs for free. Of course, it was always going to be part of the Apple Music subscription. I presume that, as with the current Apple Music apps, it is up to us to add our own metadata to ripped CDs, although I would guess that there will be additional fields added to the “work/movement” fields now available.

  18. Yes, but the question will be whether ordinary users will have access to better metadata for matching their (previously ripped) CD collection. The other big IF is metadata for Opera DVDs and the like. When you rip the latter, you appear to be at the mercy of the (often cryptic) file names on the DVD and are left to rename and tag (without a decent source) the converted movies. Sigh.

  19. If this adds anything… My concerns are similar to most of those presented here. Not sure I would subscribe tho, especially if it meant merging my local collection/metadata with Apple Music’s and reviewing/reconciling all 500Gb. I have stuck with iTunes and Music all these years due to concerns about the alternative(s). And, as someone on fixed income, I’m loathe to become dependent upon any subscription service (which could rip the rug out from under me due to lack of finances). Note, if I listen outside of my collection, I prefer curated (not algorithm-generated) playlists. Over a decade ago I found Minneapolis-based classical station MPR’s streaming improved to such an extent that that station’s all I need. (Station membership is voluntary, as well, so I’m happy to contribute.)

  20. I’m sorry for being dense, but I’m not sure what this has to offer versus searching for classical music within the music app and listening to it there? since hearing this announcement, I have searched for classical and found some excellent suggestions that I did not know existed.

    What is the advantage of this new service versus using what already exists?

    Paul.

  21. I’m wondering if all of the ripped CDs, playlists, etc that are currently in Music will get imported into the new Classical Music app on the iPhone…and why the app is only available for iPhone and not iPadOS and macOS.

  22. My guess is that searching for classical often involves very different criteria than contemporary music. You’ve got conductors, composers, orchestras, soloists, vocalists, locations, live or prerecorded, dates, languages, etc.

    I’m also guessing that searching will be a lot faster, and speed is a big issue, by keeping classical separate. If you’re searching for Beethoven classical you probably don’t want to end up with Chuck Berry’s, The Beatles,’ etc. “Roll Over Beethoven” versions mixes into the list.

  23. The standard Apple Music look-up of classical music isn’t wonderful. Lots of mistakes, missing tags, unknown recordings, artwork, etc Clearly their strength wasn’t in classical music which is why they bought that company and now created Apple Classical.

  24. Your friendly ranter here. I loved the original iTunes and I also spent many hours importing my CDs and LPs into its database. But with every iteration of iTunes, it got worse. It not only was getting bigger and bloated, but all the little changes were also very annoying (lack of color in the sidebar icons, etc.). It was not fun for me to use any longer. I can’t tell you when I last opened it to use it. Divorcing the music from anything else did not improve it for me one bit (not that I think video should have been added to it to begin with). A real shame because it really felt like a personal jukebox to me. Now, not so much.

  25. You might want to have a look at Swinsian. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but it looks like it has the promise of the old iTunes – an app built to help you listen to and enjoy your music.

  26. Do tools like Swinsian just work on a Mac for listening/organizing or do they also allow syncing up the organizing you do in there to an iPhone and its Music app?

  27. How could that work? At best, iTunes Match-like capability could try to identify tracks, but unless all the necessary metadata is already associated with the file, it’s hard to see how Apple could attach new metadata to existing files in an accurate fashion.

  28. What is matched is a hash of the audio data, so it’s quite possible for them to upgrade the metadata. But as you say they’ve never done that. Even tracks on albums that launch with spelling errors aren’t corrected until you delete and add or download the track again.

    Also, we don’t know if Classical is coming to desktop at all, do we?

    I’m yet to “pre-order” this as I see a payment request when trying to do so and it always feels me out that there put that on free apps.

  29. Except for the fact that Apple never updates metadata for local files.

    If you have a CD inserted, Apple will use Gracenote to try and identify the disc, applying whatever metadata is in the Gracenote database, but that’s about it.

    Once you’ve ripped the track, the metadata can only be changed by the user (you). The only exception I know is for album artwork, which doesn’t really affect the issues we’re describing here.

    I 100% expect Apple Music Classical to only apply this big database to content you choose to stream. Or maybe purchase for download. I don’t think it’s going to do anything for content from other sources.

  30. Well, I would hope that at the least, one could re-rip a CD from one’s collection and this would use the improved metadata in the lookup with Apple Classical Music’s database. I also assume that if one could do this via a rip, there would be scripts that could be written to interrogate that Database and refill tags in one’s library … If, however, one would only get access to the database metadata via a subscription to Apple Classical then all bets are off … you do get access via Apple Music currently so here’s hoping that model extends to Classical …

  31. It’s anybody’s guess, but I wouldn’t count on it.

    The database used for CD ripping is run by Gracenote, not Apple. So I wouldn’t expect any changes there, unless Gracenote improves their handling of classical albums.

  32. I think that the last time I looked at Gracenote was more than 2 decades ago, and back then it suffered fatally from its crowdsourcing method of data collection. Of course, that was the era when many of us acquired our “Beatles” collections from Napster, so things were pretty primitive. But I remember ripping very expensive Sony CDs of MTT’s recordings of Mahler Symphonies with the SF Symphony orchestra that somehow acquired obviously VERY different metadata organizational schemes even within the same work, thanks to Gracenote!

    And, I just realized that I glossed over the very first clause of what I just quoted! I’ll wager that many of us no longer have ACCESS to a slot we can push a CD into, and since Apple Music Classical will start out iOS-only, I guess we won’t need to worry about contaminating our individual Apple Music Classical databases with that self-polluting database

    I remain VERY excited about March 28, even though, just 2 days shy of my 76th birthday, I now find myself content to nap in the afternoon listening to the same twin harps adding to the magic of the Adagietto in Mahler’s 5th via the tiny drivers in my BT hearing aids even though, were I a member of the “music sound quality police” 30 years ago, I would have arrested anyone attempting to “perform” that CD via anything smaller than room-filing Klipsch behemoths.

  33. Gracenote works well for the most part but there are other sources such as MusicBrainz for those who don’t like Gracenote. Granted, classical music has some different issues but in the end, it should be about the music and not seemingly endless arguments about metadata.

  34. I don’t think asking my iPhone to perform ONE symphony by ONE conductor working with ONE orchestra is an example of “endless arguments about metadata.”

  35. My comment on metadata is related to the many comments here as well as in other threads not your particular issue. One can argue all day and miss the point of listening to the music.

  36. I hesitated to reply, because I don’t want to seem to be “arguing all day and missing the point,” but the point OF this thread IS largely about how Apple’s already quite large reservoir of Classical Music is so polluted by flawed metadata that it makes just LISTENING to it needlessly difficult, and exactly why so many of us can’t wait for March 28 to see whether they’ve hit one out of the park or put one into the stands in foul territory (apologies for the fractured metaphors).

  37. As you point out, it is crowdsourced. So one album may produce several different possible sets of metadata, and some may be flat-out wrong.

    Another problem is inherent to the CD audio format. There is nothing resembling a global serial number or other way of identifying the disc. Systems like Gracenote use the disc’s table of contents (number of tracks, start/stop times for each, etc.) as they keep for looking up metadata. And so you sometimes run across multiple albums that identify the same, even if all the data is valid.

    There is a concept of CD Text, where album/artist/title information is recorded in the disc’s subcodes, but it is very rare to find a commercially-pressed disc that uses it, and I know that Apple’s software (iTunes and Music) do not use it when constructing metadata.

    Which is a shame, because CD Text has the capability of representing most of what would be useful for a classical disc, if only publishers would use it.

    Probably true for the general public, although I suspect enthusiasts such as us reading TidBITS probably have at lease one USB optical drive available, which can be connected to anything modern. (I have an Apple SuperDrive and it has no problem ripping and burning discs on my 2018 Mac mini running Big Sur).

  38. So Classical is out. This morning I noticed it on my iPhone, so I opened it just to look. I see a “Periods and Genres”, then click on “Baroque Essentials”. And I see what’s essentially a pop playlist. Movements of various things, nothing more than 7 minutes. No complete works at all. I think Apple still doesn’t get classical… Oh, and my “Theme Songs” playlist is front and center in “Recently Played”, with “The Mandalorian” cover art showing. Of the other 3 in “Recently Played”, at least 2 of them are actually classical. That’s something, I suppose.

  39. This is a frustratingly “beta” release. No Car Play. No iPad app. No downloads in the app itself. I hope Apple will quickly iterate on this release and finish what they started.

  40. I’ve been positively impressed so far. First, search is much improved, and discovery is better. It’s not perfect, but Medieval and Early meta data is much improved.

  41. Thanks Erik for sharing your thoughts. I was actually excited when I read this news and then your thoughts, as I think current streaming services (including Tidal) don’t particularly do a good job on classical music. I hope for improvements in collection size and cataloging. It might draw me away from Spotify into Apple Music as a subscriber.

  42. I confess I’m using Apple Music Classical as what a librarian would describe as a finding aid. I mostly listen in Apple Music, but I am using Classical to locate specific pieces, composers, performers, to discover music that I may add to a playlist I listen to in Apple Music.

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