Posts tagged with "music"

Apple Announces AirPods Max: Wireless Over-Ear Headphones Available Just in Time for the Holidays

Today, Apple revealed the AirPods Max, wireless, over-ear headphones that take advantage of the company’s H1 SoC.

It’s no secret that AirPods have been a big hit. The original model, announced in 2016, has been revised once and in October 2019, Apple released the AirPods Pro adding noise cancellation and transparency mode to the connectivity magic enabled by the company’s H1 SoC. Ever since, rumors have circulated that Apple was developing an over-ear model. With today’s announcements the rumors and speculation have become a reality. Let’s look at what Apple has in store for music fans.

The AirPods Max, which are more expensive than rumored at $549, are initially launching in the US and 25 other countries. Many of the features and specs of the AirPods Max line up with previous rumors and share similarities with Apple’s AirPods Pro. The over-ear headphones feature:

  • Apple’s proprietary H1 SoC (one in each ear cup), which provides a stack of features on top of Bluetooth 5.0 that enables wireless connectivity features like fast device switching across multiple devices
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Transparency mode
  • Nine microphones for noise cancellation and other features
  • Adaptive EQ
  • A Digital Crown that controls volume, play/pause, skipping tracks, and Siri functionality
  • Optical and position sensors in the ear cups
  • A case detection sensor
  • An accelerometer
  • A gyroscope in the left ear cup
  • Ear cushions attach magnetically and can be replaced for $69
  • Lightning connectivity for charging and wired listening with Apple’s optional 3.5mm to Lightning cable
  • 20 hours of battery life and 1.5 hours of charge in just 5 minutes of charging
  • A Smart Case that puts the AirPods Max into an ultra-low power state

Apple also offers a $35 3.5mm to Lightning cable so the AirPods Max can be used wired.

The AirPods Max Smart Case.

The AirPods Max Smart Case.

Regarding the ear cups and Digital Crown, Apple’s press release says:

Each ear cup attaches to the headband through a revolutionary mechanism that balances and distributes ear cup pressure, and allows it to independently pivot and rotate to fit the unique contours of a user’s head. Each ear cushion uses acoustically engineered memory foam to create an effective seal — a critical factor in delivering immersive sound. The Digital Crown, inspired by Apple Watch, offers precise volume control and the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri.

Like Apple’s other AirPods models, AirPods Max will also take advantage of automatic device switching. The new over-ear headphones will also feature spatial audio, previously available with the AirPods Pro only.

The AirPods Max, which are available in space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink, are over-ear headphones that completely surround users’ ears. The design is striking. According to Apple:

From the canopy to the ear cushions, every part of AirPods Max is carefully crafted to provide exceptional acoustic performance for each user. The breathable knit mesh canopy, spanning the headband, is made to distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure. The stainless steel headband frame provides strength, flexibility, and comfort for a wide variety of head shapes and sizes. Telescoping headband arms smoothly extend and stay in place to maintain the desired fit.

Until AirPods Max are in the hands of users, it’s impossible to know how well they work or how good they sound. Still, I’m glad to see Apple expanding the AirPods lineup. I’ve been spoiled by the unique conveniences of AirPods and AirPods Pro, and with the AirPods Max, I’m eager to see how those features and the new ones announced today translate to an over-ear experience.

AirPods Max are available for pre-order now and will be available beginning Tuesday, December 15th for $549.

Apple has posted two videos on its YouTube channel: one narrated by Evans Hankey, VP of Industrial Design, and Gary Geaves, VP, Acoustics that introduces the AirPods Max and the other an ad titled Journey Into Sound, both of which you can find after the break.

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Year-End Music Insights From Apple’s Replay 2020 and Top 100 Playlists, Plus MacStories’ Apple Music Wrapped Shortcut

Apple’s annual Replay playlists are available and updated throughout most of the year by visiting replay.music.apple.com. However, as of this week, if you visit the site, you will see your year-end statistics too, which provide insights about your listening habits in 2020.

When you click or tap the ‘Get Your Replay Mix’ button, a webpage is generated with:

  • The total number of hours you’ve listened to Apple Music in the past year
  • Your 2020 Replay playlist of top-played tracks, including the number of times you played each song
  • The number of artists you’ve listened to this year and a list of the ones you’ve listened to the most, including the hours you spent listening to each
  • The number of albums you listened to along with a personal top 10 that shows how many times you listened to each album
  • Links to past annual Replay playlists

I find these statistics fascinating and wish that they didn’t require you to visit a special website. I understand there is a privacy angle here, which undoubtedly is why Apple doesn’t generate these statistics for you automatically. However, the Replay playlists are still a feature that should be built into the company’s apps.

Spotify does a much better job with the year-end Wrapped playlist and related statistics it creates for users. In addition to the playlist, Spotify breaks down the year in music, reporting on trends on its ‘For the Record’ podcast and the company’s blog. For anyone interested in where the global music scene is heading, these Spotify features and articles are a terrific resource.

The report created by the Apple Music Wrapped shortcut. It's true, I really like [Kyoto](https://music.apple.com/us/album/kyoto/1504699857?i=1504699860).

The report created by the Apple Music Wrapped shortcut. It’s true, I really like Kyoto.

If you’re looking for a way to approximate Spotify’s Wrapped playlist for Apple Music and extend Apple’s Replay report, check out the Apple Music Wrapped shortcut that Federico created a couple of years ago and has updated for 2020. The shortcut, which is part of the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, generates a report on your music listening for the past year that can be viewed in Safari, creates a PDF you can save to Files or Dropbox, and can build a Top 25 playlist that it saves to the Music app. You can read more about Apple Music Wrapped’s features here.

Apple Music Wrapped

Create a detailed report for the music you’ve listened to in the past year. The shortcut can optionally create a Top 25 playlist for your most played songs and generate a PDF report. The shortcut is primarily designed for Apple Music subscribers.
To calculate number of plays, the shortcut looks at songs that have been played in full without skipping and added to your library in any given year.

Get the shortcut here.

Apple's many Top 100 playlists.

Apple’s many Top 100 playlists.

Apple has also debuted a series of Top 100 year-end playlists. There are global, Shazam, most-read lyrics, and country-specific Top 100 lists for a total of 51 playlists available to US Apple Music subscribers. The Top 100 I find most interesting is the Shazam list, which is generated from 9.2 billion songs identified by the app. The top song, Dance Monkey by Tones And I was identified by Shazam a whopping 24.6 million times in 2020.

I’ve enjoyed looking through my Replay statistics for 2020 and checking out a few of the Top 100 lists, but there’s so much more Apple can do to extend its year-end lists for individual users and in aggregate. The issue is part of a broader Apple Music discovery problem that extends from the inability to track Apple Music 1 radio shows to the almost non-existent promotion of Apple Music TV. Although the situation has improved, Apple Music still needs better discovery and personalization tools to compete effectively with Spotify.


Winners of the Second Annual Apple Music Awards Announced

Last year, Apple announced the winners of its first-ever Apple Music Awards, honoring artists in five categories who received a unique award featuring a 12-inch silicon wafer suspended between a sheet of glass and anodized aluminum. The announcement of last year’s awards was followed by a performance by Billie Eilish at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California.

The Apple Music Awards are back for 2020 with the same award categories as 2019. According to Apple’s press release:

The Apple Music Awards honor achievements in music across five distinct categories, and winners are chosen through a process that reflects both Apple Music’s editorial perspective and what customers around the world are loving most. The winners for global Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Breakthrough Artist of the Year were hand-selected by Apple Music’s global editorial team of world-class experts and tastemakers, and the awards for Top Song of the Year and Top Album of the Year are based on streaming data that is reflective of what Apple Music subscribers have been listening to this year.

The 2020 Apple Music Awards winners are:

Apple has more in store for music fans in December. To celebrate the Apple Music Awards, the company has it will kick off “a week of special performances, fan events, interviews, and more, streaming worldwide on Apple Music, Apple Music TV, and the Apple TV app” beginning December 14, 2020.

The Apple Music Awards strike a nice balance between editorial picks and awards based on streaming statistics. I’m eager to see what Apple has planned for December because last year’s performance by Billie Eilish was excellent. Although Apple’s press release is short on specifics, it suggests music fans are in for a treat with an expansion of last year’s festivities.


AirBuddy 2 Review: Fine-Grained, Customizable Control of the Wireless Headphones and Devices Connected to Your Mac

AirBuddy is one of those handy Mac utilities that you don’t know how you’ve lived without until after you’ve tried it. The initial release that I reviewed in early 2019 was primarily designed to manage Bluetooth headphones connected to your Mac and report the status of your headphones’ batteries; something iOS and iPadOS does better than macOS. With AirBuddy 2, developer Guilherme Rambo has added a bunch of new features, including new ways to customize the app and interact with Bluetooth devices other than headphones.

AirBuddy 2 can manage a variety of wireless headphones.

AirBuddy 2 can manage a variety of wireless headphones.

As with the original version of AirBuddy, when you open your AirPods or Beats headphone case near your Mac, a window opens, showing you the status of their batteries and connection. The app also works with Bluetooth headphones that rely on an on/off switch like the Beats Solo line. From AirBuddy’s status window, you can click to connect the headphones to your Mac or swipe to connect and set their listening mode in one gesture.

AirBuddy 2’s listening modes allow you to adjust multiple headphone settings all at once when the app connects your headphones to your Mac. For example, you can turn your headphones’ microphone on for meetings or off for listening to music and set the volume and whether AirPods Pro play audio in Normal, Transparency, or Noise Cancelling modes. The combinations you pick for your listening modes are saved as profiles in the app’s settings.

AirBuddy 2's menu bar app.

AirBuddy 2’s menu bar app.

AirBuddy 2 is also a menu bar app. Clicking its menu bar icon opens a window that shows all your connected devices and their battery status, including Macs, iPhones, and iPads. The devices are grouped, so, for example, your Apple Watch shows up as connected to your iPhone as would any AirPods you’re currently using with your iPhone. If you run AirBuddy 2 on a second Mac, that Mac will show up here, too, along with any Bluetooth peripherals connected to it.

Transferring a connected Magic Trackpad from my Mac mini to my MacBook Pro.

Transferring a connected Magic Trackpad from my Mac mini to my MacBook Pro.

My favorite part of having AirBuddy 2 running on multiple Macs is the ability to transfer Bluetooth connections from one Mac to the other using the app’s Magic Handoff feature. I spent a lot of the summer with separate trackpads connected to two Macs as I switched back and forth, testing Big Sur. AirBuddy 2 provides an alternate desk-clearing option by letting you right-click the AirBuddy entry for a trackpad, mouse, or keyboard connected to the Mac you’re currently using and switch it to the other Mac. For anyone who runs multiple Macs, especially connected to the same display, this is a terrific feature.

AirBuddy 2 includes extensive settings to customize its behavior to suit your tastes.

AirBuddy 2 includes extensive settings to customize its behavior to suit your tastes.

AirBuddy 2 is highly customizable too. In addition to setting up custom listening modes, which I covered above, you can open the app’s settings from the menu bar and assign keyboard shortcuts to display the headphone status window and to quickly connect to a favorite device, switch listening modes, toggle your microphone on or off, and take other actions. Settings also lets you specify the devices that are shown in the menu bar app, your favorite headphones for quick connection purposes, the status window’s size, and where it appears onscreen, among other things. You can even view historical battery and usage data from the Devices section of the app’s settings.

AirBuddy 2's Catalina widget (left) and Big Sur three sizes of widgets (right).

AirBuddy 2’s Catalina widget (left) and Big Sur three sizes of widgets (right).

It’s also worth noting that AirBuddy 2 also includes a widget that works with both Catalina and Big Sur to display the battery status of each of the devices it tracks.

AirBuddy started as an app that brought an iOS feature for headphones to the Mac. With AirBuddy 2, the app’s functionality has been greatly expanded beyond anything Apple offers, making it indispensable for anyone who connects multiple wireless devices to their Macs. Not only can you quickly connect headphones, so they’re immediately ready for a meeting or for listening to music, but the app helps keep you on top of the battery status of every connected device.

AirBuddy has been available for pre-order since last month, but today is its official release date. You can purchase the app directly from the AirBuddy website for $9.99 for new users, $4.99 as an upgrade from the first version of AirBuddy if you bought it in 2019, and for free if you purchased the app in 2020.


MusicBot 1.1 Brings Shazam Integration, Music News and Reviews, Release Dates, Compact UI, and More

In December 2019, I published MusicBot, my all-in-one Apple Music shortcut to play music, get quick access to favorite albums and new releases, rediscover old gems in your music library, and lots more. MusicBot is one of the most complex shortcuts I’ve ever created and, along with Apple Frames, it’s among the shortcuts I use the most on a daily basis.

Over the past 11 months, MusicBot has been downloaded thousands of times from the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, and I’ve been saving a variety of ideas and user requests for features that would extend MusicBot’s capabilities and make it easier to use on iOS and iPadOS 14.

The result is MusicBot 1.1, the first substantial update to the original shortcut that introduces full support for iOS 14’s compact UI and Home Screen widgets, Shazam integration, the ability to read music news and check release dates inside MusicBot, plus other fixes and enhancements.

Let’s dive in.

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Switching Your Default HomePod Music Service to Pandora

Yesterday, Pandora updated its iOS app, allowing it to serve as your default music streaming service on the HomePod. The setup isn’t entirely obvious, but it’s not difficult either, and it’s available in iOS and iPadOS 14.1 and 14.2. Here’s how it works.

Apple first revealed that the HomePod would support third-party music streaming services at WWDC without any explanation of how that would work. However, with the release of Pandora’s update, we now know that the process involves a combination of the third-party app’s settings and Apple’s Home app.

Other third-party music services are sure to follow Pandora’s lead, so even if you’re not a Pandora user, it’s instructive to see how it has implemented HomePod integration. In the Pandora app, tap on the Profile tab, select the gear icon in the top, righthand corner of the screen, and then tap ‘Connect to HomePod’ and then ‘Use in Home’ when prompted. Once you complete these steps, you can ask Siri to play music ‘on Pandora’ from your HomePod.

Tap 'Use in Home' to add Pandora as a HomePod playback option.

Tap ‘Use in Home’ to add Pandora as a HomePod playback option.

If you want to take things a step further, you can make Pandora your default music service in the Home app. Open Home, and go to Home Settings, which you can reach by tapping the house button at the top of your iPhone or iPad’s screen. Next, tap your profile picture. Here, you’ll see your personal Home settings. If you set things up correctly in Pandora, it will be listed under the Media section of your Home Settings. Tapping on the Pandora entry allows you to toggle Update Listening History on or off and remove Pandora from the Home app. If you have multiple people assigned to your home, only the primary user can manage music streaming services.

Setting up Pandora as my default music streaming service. Note that a bug in iOS 14.2 fails to display app icons properly at times.

Setting up Pandora as my default music streaming service. Note that a bug in iOS 14.2 fails to display app icons properly at times.

To set Pandora as your HomePod’s default music streaming service, tap ‘Preferred Service,’ which is directly below the Media section.1 Here, you’ll find a list of each service available to be set as your default. Pick Pandora, close Home Settings, and you’re finished. Instead of having to request that Siri play music ‘on Pandora,’ all requests to play music will play using Pandora’s service unless you specify a different service. Once Pandora has been added to Home, it remains available on your HomPod, even after its app is deleted from all your devices.

Apple Music and other services will still be available from your HomePod after you switch default services. However, you’ll have to specify the playback service you want to use, even if you’re asking Siri to play a playlist specific to Apple Music or one you created in your Apple Music library. For example, with Pandora set as your default service, to switch to Apple Music, you need to use a command like “Hey Siri, play Taylor Swift on Apple Music.’

Using Pandora as my default music streaming service for my HomePods.

Using Pandora as my default music streaming service for my HomePods.

Switching to a different music streaming provider worked seamlessly in my testing. Unfortunately, it’s not immediately obvious where to go to find the settings to switch services in the Home app. I suspect a lot of users will look in their HomePod’s settings or the top level of Home Settings, where you go to manage hubs and other categories of HomeKit devices. Still, once you know where to look, the process is simple and a welcome alternative for users who prefer different music streaming services.


  1. In iOS and iPadOS 14.2, the Home app uses the terminology ‘Default Service’ instead of ‘Preferred Service.’ ↩︎

Using Soor’s Widgets and Magic Mixes

Soor's iOS 14 widgets.

Soor’s iOS 14 widgets.

As I detailed in a recent episode of AppStories, I’ve spent several weeks tweaking my iPhone’s Home Screen and playing around with different approaches to widgets and app icons. The layout I eventually settled on (which you can find in the AppStories show notes) takes advantage of dark mode to create the illusion of widgets “blending” into the wallpaper – specifically, the Soor widgets at the top of the page. Given how I believe Soor’s developer Tanmay Sonawane has taught Apple a lesson when it comes to building Apple Music widgets for iOS 14, and considering the app’s most recent update, I thought I’d write about these widgets in more detail.

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Apple Debuts New Music Video Streaming Service Called Apple Music TV

This morning Apple debuted a new video streaming service dedicated to music called Apple Music TV. According to an announcement sent by Apple to Variety, the free service will stream:

exclusive new music videos and premiers, special curated music video blocks, and live shows and events as well as chart countdowns and guests.

The service, which is available through Apple’s Music and TV apps, is currently US-only.

To kick things off, Apple Music TV is streaming the top 100 videos streamed on Apple Music. According to Variety, the service plans to debut new videos every Friday:

It will also have two exclusive video premieres on Friday at 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT, Joji’s “777” and Saint Jhn’s “Gorgeous”; the channel will premiere new videos every Friday at that time.

Apple also told Variety that there will be an all-day Bruce Springsteen takeover of the service on October 22nd to celebrate the release of Springsteen’s latest album, which will includes videos and an interview with Apple Music 1 DJ Zane Lowe.

Variety says there is no word from Apple about whether the service will include documentaries like the recently-announced film by Billie Eilish, which is coming early next year.

Music videos have long felt like an afterthought to Apple. As Federico asked in his iOS and iPadOS 14 review:

The question remains though: is there more Apple could do to surface Apple Music’s catalog of non-music material, such as radio stations, interviews, and music videos?

With so much music video content available, it’s terrific to see Apple giving it a dedicated place inside both the Music and TV apps.


Soor Offers Beautiful, Customizable Widgets for Apple Music

The formula is tried and true: Apple makes quality software that nonetheless leaves a lot of room for third-party developers to build something more powerful and better tailored for specific needs. In iOS 14, the built-in Music widget is a great example of this. I really like Music’s widget, which shows your recently played albums and playlists so you can quickly get some music going; it offers valuable utility. But if I’m frank, there’s a whole lot more that could have been done with widgets for Music.

That’s where Soor comes in. The third-party client for Apple Music that I recently covered offers not one, not two, but three different widgets to satisfy your music needs. And within those three widgets there’s a lot of customization to help account for a wide assortment of user preferences and desires. Every widget is powerful and also just as beautiful as what Apple’s team built, matching the full Soor app’s identity as a whole.

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