Apple just turned the music streaming world on its head. In its most significant move since announcing Apple Music in 2015, the company is democratising access to high quality digital music without attaching an extra fee.
The big takeaway from the announcement of Apple Music with Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos with Lossless Audio is the news subscribers will not see an addition to their monthly bill. It’ll still be £9.99 a month, regardless of how you choose to listen. That’s a staggering addition to the value proposition.
Just as it did with upgrading everyone’s movies from HD-to-4K a couple of years ago, Apple isn’t asking anyone to pay more for the best available quality. Your Apple Music experience will be the best your audio equipment and data connection can muster. You’ll still need some excellent audio equipment to notice the boost to audiophile-grade, studio quality music, but the opportunity is there from next month.
Tidal wave goodbye
Just like that Apple has waylaid the business model of some existing players. A penny for Tidal’s thoughts right now? Can it continue to charge £20 a month, when Apple is charging a tenner? In doing so, Apple has basically harpooned its entire strategy. Would Spotify HiFi dare not to follow suit and offer Premium subscribers the same privileges without bumping up the price? Amazon already saw the writing was on the wall and dropped the price of its HiFi offering. Your move, Spotify!
Part of Apple’s great power is the ability to shape entire industries in its own image and it has done it again. Existing players adapt or die and it’s going to happen here again. I don’t fancy Tidal’s chances if it doesn’t follow suit.
Isn’t it ironic?
Two decades ago, Apple began a musical revolution that prioritised convenience over audio fidelity in a hugely unbalanced way. For at least a 10 years, the move to digital music meant sacrifice for mainstream consumers. Those highly compressed MP3 files were a rare step backwards in the relentless forward motion of modern technology.
When we all bought iPods our music suddenly sounded much worse than the compact discs we’d amassed. But the pay off was probably worth it. We shoved enough music to fill a living room shelf onto a tiny hard drive into their pockets and absolutely loved it.
Now Apple is promising it all. The convenience of 75 million songs in the palm of your hand at 16-bit/44.1kHz, all the way to Hi-Res lossless files at 24-bit/192kHz. The new Lossless offering starts at CD-quality playable natively on all Apple devices, and gets better from there. The circle is complete, it just took 20 years to do it.
The benefits don’t end there. We’ve seen how effective Apple’s AirPods range can be when providing Spatial Audio for movies and TV shows and now the company is bringing that to music, promising support for the immersive Dolby Atmos technology. We’re excited to give this a try and imagine the experience to be much like the concerts we’ve all missed so much over the last year or so.
Of course, Apple isn’t doing this out of the kindness of its heart. It knows this could be a major battle in the music streaming war. It knows it’s likely to see an influx of subscribers thanks to the friendliness of the price point. It knows the Apple One subscription bundles now look even more attractive.
Yet we might not see an instant impact. Lossless audio is still a niche proposition at this stage. The vast majority of music streaming customers will be more than happy with the current quality on offer, others may not be able to tell the difference between the two standards.
However, the fact is, Apple is pushing the envelope from a technical perspective once again without the premium we’ve come to expect.
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