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Posts tagged with "Apple Music"

Apple’s Revised AirPods Pro 2 and Lossless Audio Support on Vision Pro

Soon after Apple’s Wonderlust event, it became clear that the company’s revised AirPods Pro with a USB-C case offered more than an updated connector. As detailed in a press release, the upgraded version of the second-generation AirPods Pro “unlocks powerful 20-bit, 48 kHz Lossless Audio with a massive reduction in audio latency”. But how?

Here’s Joe Rossignol, reporting at MacRumors:

In a video interview with Brian Tong, Apple’s VP of Sensing and Connectivity Ron Huang explained why only the updated second-generation AirPods Pro with a USB-C charging case support lossless audio with Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro headset.

Huang revealed that the H2 chip in the USB-C AirPods Pro supports the 5GHz band of wireless frequencies for ultra-low latency and less interference, while the H2 chip in the original second-generation AirPods Pro with a Lightning case is limited to the 2.4GHz band. Apple says it is this 5GHz support that enables the updated AirPods Pro to support lossless audio with the Vision Pro, which is slated for release in the U.S. in early 2024.

You can watch the video below:

The addition of 5GHz wireless makes complete sense in hindsight, and it doesn’t surprise me that Apple prioritized sound quality and latency reduction for a platform where full immersion is key to the experience.

Beyond Vision Pro, however, I wonder whether we’ll ever have any updates on the lossless audio front regarding Apple Music and AirPods Pro.

We know that Apple Music’s lossless catalog supports resolutions “ranging from 16-bit/44.1 kHz (CD Quality) up to 24-bit/192 kHz”. The new AirPods Pro fall short of supporting hi-res lossless playback at 24-bit/192 kHz, but so-called CD Quality lossless playback should now be within the capabilities of the device. Last time Apple gave a statement on the lack of lossless playback in AirPods Pro, they mentioned there are “other elements” to improve sound quality that aren’t necessarily about Bluetooth codecs. Is Apple waiting until they can support full 24-bit/192 kHz playback in future AirPods Pro hardware, or are there more audio-related changes coming with the launch of Vision Pro?

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Longplay 2.0: An Album-Oriented Apple Music Player with Loads of New Features

Longplay 2.0 by Adrian Schoenig is out, and it’s a massive update of the iOS and iPadOS album-oriented music app.

If you’ve tried Longplay before, the update will be familiar. The first time it launches, it quickly checks your Apple Music library (about six seconds for over 1200 albums in my case), finds all the nearly complete and complete albums, and displays them in a grid of album art. I’ve always loved this interface because it does such a great job of emphasizing album art. However, what’s different is a long list of new features, but since we’ve only covered the app for Club MacStories members and AppStories listeners, I’m going to cover everything and call out the updated features as I go.

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Apple Music Gains New Algorithmic ‘Discovery Station’

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors on a new addition to Apple Music:

Apple Music today gained a new “Discovery Station,” which is located under the “Listen Now” section under Top Picks in the ‌Apple Music‌ app. The customized radio station is paired with the personalized radio station featuring your name, and it has the “Made for You” label. It can also be accessed through this link for those who do not yet see it.

As noted by AppleInsider, the radio station appears to play songs of a similar style to songs that are in your personal library and that you have listened to and liked in the past, but it chooses songs you don’t have in playlists or your library.

I’ve been writing about the topic of algorithmic discovery in music streaming services for years now, so as soon as I read about this new station, I immediately went to check it out.

It’s only been a few hours, but my impression is that Apple sees the “discovery” part of this ‘Discovery Station’ as something fundamentally different from Spotify’s Discover Weekly. Spotify’s popular algorithmic playlist (which refreshes once a week) is generally skewed toward lesser-known acts and recent releases; in the hours I’ve been testing Apple’s new radio station, it seems it’s not afraid to recommend older music from bands I am familiar with and that I wouldn’t consider “niche”, but which I don’t have in my music library either. For instance, I’ve been listening again for the last 30 minutes, and my recommendations were largely mid-2000s emo/pop-punk songs. Not that I’m complaining.

Apple hasn’t officially announced the Discovery Station yet, and I assume they’re still adjusting the balance of the algorithm powering it. I did get a few recommendations from new and unknown (at least to me) artists, which is a good sign that the ultimate goal of the radio station might be a healthy mix of songs you’ve never heard of and songs you sort of knew but never saved in your library.

I’m going to keep an eye on the Discovery Station; I have a feeling I’ll end up listening to this radio station a lot over the coming weeks.

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Apple Services Preview: Better Integration, Increased Customization, and Sharing Options

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Apple’s services have become an increasingly important part of the company’s product lineup, but they didn’t get a lot of time at WWDC this year. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting new features coming with OS releases and beyond. There are a wide variety of updates coming that promise to better integrate services, allow for greater user customization and sharing, plus provide other day-to-day enhancements.

Apple Podcasts

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Perhaps the best example of Apple’s approach to services this year is Apple Podcasts, which will add new software features and act as the glue that integrates other services. My favorite upcoming feature is Podcasts’ new queueing system. Episodes of shows can be added to a listening queue from any list of episodes by long-pressing on an episode or using the More menu and choosing ‘Add to Queue,’ which appends the episode to the bottom of your queue.

Tapping the queue button from the Now Playing screen reveals the Playing Next screen, which includes the current episode at the top, along with any upcoming episodes that you’ve queued for playback with drag handles for reordering the list. If you finish everything in your queue, Podcasts reverts to Up Next, the app’s automatically-generated list of suggested next episodes. The Playing Next screen also includes a triangular disclosure button for revealing chapter titles in podcast episodes that include them. Tapping a chapter title skips to that chapter.

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Apple Adds Live Music Features to Maps and Music

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Today, Apple has launched new Apple Maps and Music features for live music fans. Apple Maps has added more than 40 Guides highlighting over 10 venues worldwide. In addition to editorial content about the music scenes in the featured cities, users can learn more about each venue and its upcoming shows using features that the Shazam app incorporated last spring, using information from Bandsintown.

Apple Music Guides.

Apple Music Guides.

In the Music app, Apple has created a new category called Set Lists that offers information about major artists’ concerts, along with a playlist of songs they’re playing on tour. Apple’s press release says users can browse upcoming shows of the artists spotlighted in Set Lists using the same Shazam tools that power the similar Apple Maps feature too.

Set Lists. Source: Apple.

Set Lists. Source: Apple.

The new Apple Music Guides announced today include Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York City, San Francisco, Berlin, London, Paris, Vienna, Tokyo, Melbourne, Sydney, and Mexico City. To view the guides, you can visit apple.co/MusicVenues. Set Lists are beginning to appear in Apple Music, too, although as of publication, I’ve only been able to locate them via search. Later, you should be able to browse all Set Lists at apple.co/setlists too.

It’s fantastic to see Apple Music and Maps expanding into live music. These sorts of features are something that Federico and I have been hoping Apple would implement for years, and I hope with time, we’ll see more guides for more cities around the world as well as a growing collection of Set Lists.


MusicSmart 2.0: Dig Into Music Discovery

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Marcos Tanaka’s music apps at MacStories. MusicHarbor makes keeping up with new and upcoming releases a breeze, and MusicBox ensures you won’t lose track of music that you don’t have time to enjoy until later. The apps are indispensable for music fans who follow a long list of artists.

MusicSmart, which is available for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV, is a little different than Tanaka’s other apps. Instead of casting a broad net to track the entire range of your musical tastes, the app is about digging deeper into individual songs, albums, or artists’ catalogs. But follow the threads offered by MusicSmart, and the narrow focus that sets it apart from Tanaka’s other apps will paradoxically lead to new musical discoveries and, ultimately, broaden your tastes.

As Federico explained in his review of MusicSmart’s debut:

Whether by design or as a byproduct of our new habits, metadata and credits don’t play a big role in modern music streaming services. We’re frustrated when a service gets the title of a song wrong or reports the incorrect track sequence in an album, but we don’t consider the fact that there’s a world of context and additional information hidden behind the songs and albums we listen to every day. That context is entirely invisible to us because it’s not mass-market enough for a music streaming service. There have been small updates on this front lately, but by and large, credits and additional track information are still very much ignored by the streaming industry. And if you ask me, that’s a shame.

Despite stiff competition among music streaming services, the state of liner notes hasn’t improved since Federico wrote that. Fortunately, though, MusicSmart has only gotten better, adding new data sources, better organization, and more polish with each release. However, version 2.0 of the app combines its existing strengths with new features and an improved design in a way that transcends earlier versions, making this version 2.0 of MusicSmart feel more fully realized than ever before.

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Kirk McElhearn’s Review of Apple Music Classical

Kirk McElhearn has been writing about classical music on Apple platforms for nearly 20 years, which makes his Apple Music Classical review on TidBITS a must read for classical listeners.

As McElhearn explains, searching for classical works is more complex than pop music:

You may want to listen to a specific work by a given composer, but also by one of your favorite performers. And, as you can see with the example of the Schubert sonata, work names are not always as simple as Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Metadata is the key to managing classical music.

Although McElhearn discovered some metadata oddities when browsing the Apple Music tracks from his library that showed up in Apple Music Classical, the company seems to have done a good job overall with curating the metadata for its new app.

Also, although the UI and experience of using Apple Music Classical is similar to Apple Music, there are important differences, including:

One useful feature is the ability to search within search results. After you’ve searched for something, pull down on the screen to reveal a search field. You can enter keywords in this field to further narrow your search. You can also access this search field in other lists. For example, go to Browse, tap Instruments, then tap Violin. Tap one of the options—Latest Releases, Popular Artists, or Popular Works—and you’ll see a list of results. Pull down, and you can search within that list.

If you’re just starting out with Apple Music Classical, I recommend reading McElhearn’s entire story, which does a fantastic job covering what works well and what doesn’t. Like a lot of people, though, McElhearn is left wondering why the app is iPhone-only:

The most perplexing thing about the Apple Music Classical app is how completely it is siloed. It’s only available for the iPhone, though you can install it on an iPad and zoom it to 2x. Not only is it not available on the Mac—the iPhone app isn’t even available for M-series Macs—but the enhanced metadata, using work and movement tags, is not visible in Apple Music on the Mac nor in the Apple Music app on the iPhone and iPad. It seems Apple is using two separate databases, which makes no sense. If the metadata is available—and work and movement tags are available on many albums in Apple Music already—why not let the other apps access them?

All this makes the Apple Music Classical app seem like an experiment. It’s quite polished for a 1.0 release, and, despite the issues that I’ve mentioned above that will irritate classical music fans, it’s a generally successful attempt to provide a better way to access classical music. Apple should be praised for paying so much attention to a genre that represents only 2–3% of the overall music market.

The unique needs of classical music listeners have never been well-served by the biggest streaming services. I’m with McElhearn in wondering about the limited roll-out of Apple Music Classical, and there are rough edges that are noticeable even for people who aren’t classical music fans. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Apple Music Classical is a step in the right direction. I hope Apple listens to the feedback from McElhearn and other classical music lovers and continues to improve the app.

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Apple Music Classical to Launch on March 28th

Source: App Store.

Source: App Store.

On March 28th, Apple will launch Apple Music Classical, a free app that’s already available for pre-order that will offer a catalog of over 5 million classical recordings to Apple Music subscribers at no additional cost.

The app, which will be iPhone-only at launch, has been anticipated for months. Apple acquired Primephonic, a classical music streaming service in August 2021, and said at the time that it would release an Apple-branded classical music streaming service the following year. 2022 came and went without a new app, but references to the new service began appearing in iOS beta releases, leading observers to believe that a release was imminent.

Apple says that Classical’s 5 million tracks, which include thousands of exclusives, is the largest in the world and has “complete and accurate” metadata. The company also says in the app’s release notes:

Apple Music Classical also makes it easy for beginners to get acquainted with the genre thanks to hundreds of Essentials playlists, insightful composer biographies, deep-dive guides for many key works, and intuitive browsing features.

Classical’s search will also be optimized for the genre, include editorial content, and be streamed at up to 192 kHz/24-bit Hi-Res Lossless, with thousands of tracks supporting spatial audio with Dolby Atmos.

Users can pre-order the free app today from the App Store, which will be downloaded to their iPhones on March 28th when the app goes live.


Hands-On with Apple Music for Windows

Apple Music for Windows.

Apple Music for Windows.

Last week, Apple released native versions of Apple Music, Apple TV, and Apple Devices for Windows. The apps, which are available on the Microsoft Store, are labeled as “previews”, and they’re meant to eventually serve as replacements for iTunes for Windows, which is the only flavor of iTunes Apple still distributes after they transitioned to standalone media apps a few years ago. I suppose the apps are also part of a broader strategy from Apple to establish a stronger presence of their services on Windows, as we saw last year with the launch of Apple Music on Xbox and iCloud Photos on Windows (which joined the existing iCloud configuration panel for Windows devices).

As an Apple Music subscriber and owner of a Windows gaming laptop, I thought it’d be fun to take Apple Music for a spin and see how it compares to Spotify on Windows as well as the existing Apple Music experience for Apple’s platforms, which I know very well and enjoy on a daily basis.

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