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June 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Apple Music Streaming Service
Taking a bite (yet again) with Apple's iTunes music streaming service.
Article By Steven R. Rochlin

 

Apple Streaming Music Service On iPod, iPhone and iPad

  "Before we close this morning, we do have one more thing…." — Tim Cook, Apple CEO

Then came a video showing the history of music, which featured everything from early recording formats to 8-track tape, vinyl, and of course finally the iPod. Perhaps during Apple's Music streaming service presentation they should have ended the video by showing the Astell&Kern AK380 as reviewed here, as this is the most advanced portable music player to date. Please keep in mind Enjoy the Music.com is a high fidelity audio website, and so our standards are higher than the typical passive music listener or those products currently offered by Apple. We must also note that Steve Jobs preferred to enjoy music via his high-end audio system featuring a GyroDec MK1 turntable, Denon TU-750s tuner, Threshold FET 1 preamplifier, Threshold STASIS-1 power amplifier, and Acoustat Monitor 3 speakers. Steve Jobs didn't listen to an iPod or CD player as best we know, and thus avoided the likes of lossy compressed MP3 format licensed out today by online music stores and lower quality lossy compressed audio as streamed by virtually all services except TIDAL's far higher CD quality and, better still, true high resolution 24-bit/192kHz by Naxos.

As we all know, Beats was purchased outright by Apple and so of course they trot out Jimmy Iovine to talk about technology and art as it relates to music and Apple's forthcoming streaming music service. It was interesting that Jimmy looked a bit awkward on-stage, yet the message and his love of the music business shined through. He claimed there was confusion in the way people access their music today. "Can we build a bigger and better ecosystem that is elegant in simplicity as only Apple can do?" Just like AOL made the Internet more user-friendly in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Apple feels the need to do the same for music consumers with Apple streaming Music service. Perhaps for those over 55 this is a good topic, as most people under 45 already know how to easily access and consume whatever music they choose in a fair and competitive way. Virtually everyone who truly loves high quality music knows that TIDAL offers music and videos for the same $9.99 Apple is just now proposing. If you go with TIDAL's $19.99 price you get far higher CD quality music, whereas there was not a single mention of the music stream quality Apple plans to offer for $9.99. Maybe it is like Spotify, which is not as good as TIDAL's CD quality of course. In fact there was not a single mention by Apple of their music being any audio quality for that matter. it could be the worst audio quality or the best for all we know. Few realize this, yet Naxos currently offers 24-bit/192kHz streaming and Sony has successfully tested live streaming DSD recently.

 

Audio Quality Explained
For those unfamiliar, the decades old 1980's CD format is 16-bit/44.1kHz is around 1411kbs whilst MP3 is 320kbs (Spotify) at its best. Confused? Basically MP3 is only a fraction of the sound quality that CD is. This is why it is called lossy compressed as you lose music information with MP3 as it compresses the music in a variety of ways including throwing out some of the audio signal. If you have ever downloaded a lower quality video to make the file size smaller versus seeing the larger file size Blu-ray version, you can use this as an analogy (visually) to what compression does to the quality as compared to the original. Like compressed video, if you use a small screen (akin to a low-quality audio system) you might now notice the difference. Yet when you get home and try watching the same compressed video on your big livingroom TV (high quality home stereo) you will quickly visually / see the problems with that compressed video file. For those curious, for years recording studios and home audio technology is capable of playing 24-bit/192kHz music (or DSD, but let's not open that can of worms to keep this simple). Remember, the decades old CD is only 16-bit/44.1kHz and MP3 is lower quality than CD. MP3 became popular long ago because of Napster and at that time our dial up telephone modems were 24.4kbs or the <cough> higher <cough> 56kbs speed. Odds are today you have 100x or more than that in bandwidth / speed. Of course smaller file sizes such as MP3 load faster and it saves a music service money in bandwidth costs.

 

 Apple Streaming Music Service Presentation

Apple's Streaming Music Service In Detail
Apple does have well over 500,000,000 users worldwide, so without a doubt they have the biggest mousetrap. Apple wants to combine "a revolutionary music service" with "24/7 global radio" and "connecting fans with artists." Apple will give you a choice of what is played next within a stream, which is something quite impressive. We have all been subjected to that odd or inappropriate song that was thrust upon us when streaming music. But when Apple does hyperbole, they do it terrifically and outstandingly in a verbose manner that is gargantuan as only Apple can do. Jimmy said Apple will offer the "first ever live 24 hours radio station". Ummm, is this like when Tim Cook said he was happy he could "finally make a phone call on a watch". For those not keeping track of technology, many of us tech-savvy types were LOTFLOAO because we've been making phone calls on our watch for years. In fact the watch on my wrist right now has a built-in cell phone and GPS amongst other things, so I need not ever carry the brick phone with me, ever, to get text messages, make phone calls, for navigation, to monitor the typical 'heath' data, etc. Who needs a brick phone when your watch (Samsung Gear S if you must know) can easily do many things plus has a battery that lasts for days and not hours?

BTW, those many thousands of live 24/7 radio stations online for years, you've only imagined those as Apple is the first to offer it... in the coming weeks of course. Can you smell the sarcasm? Am i being too obtuse? Um, hello? Is this mic on?

Apple Streaming Music Service Crowd

But still, a live station based in Los Angeles, New York and London is nice. Three people in those locations with a NewTek TriCaster could do that and include 1080 broadcast quality resolution video too. Total cost, under $100,000 for all the hardware if you go the cheap way with bottom line TriCaster. Enjoy the Music.com's TriCaster setup we used for live streaming high-end audio events is one of their highest-end models, so ok let us say $300,000 max for three live streaming broadcast TV quality stations. Why did Apple cheap out and not offer live audio and video streaming, which is incredibly easy to do nowadays for less than $300k total for all three locations? Imagine they could have audio for those not needing video, plus broadcast quality video to feature live appearances from musical artists and of course Apple's music festival. Heck, there could be ATV (Apple TeleVision) to compete with MTV, and we know MTV doesn't really play music videos nowadays. Apple could have started multiple business angles for a single and easy cost plus compete with the big guys like MTV, VH1, etc. But I digress. Jimmy Iovine repeatedly stressed the ecosystem approach and of course this is what other online services do today. So the business model is already proven desirable, yet not quite profitable as a freemium service. At $9.99 a month Apple has the ecosystem and install base, yet if you build it will they come?

 

How To Customize Your Apple Music App
Like other online music services, Apple's "For You" has you choose the typical genres via the 'Tell us what you're into'. He chose pop, rock, hip-hop and alternative. Of course you can tap twice to make the balloon larger, and thus further accentuating your musical preferences. The discovery section of the Apple iTunes Music app links with a variety of social media services, which is an interesting development. The one thing discussed at T.H.E. Show Newport 2015 last weekend was in finding a way to standardize metadata so that it could be used to help music lovers find additional information they desire about a musical artist and/or music style. See our report about the recent online streaming seminar at T.H.E. Show Newport here.

Apple Streaming Music Service Tell Us What You're Into

Then you may choose a few artists so their computer algorithm (plus your current Apple music playlists and stored music choices) can better customize your stream. 

 

Note in the graphic above he chose Bruce Springsteen (twice), Lorde and the Alabama Shakes. Once this is processed you get a variety of choices plus a few wildcards to help you discover music you might not be familiar with. There is also a What's New tab so you can hear recent releases by musical artists. There are top charts and top videos as well. Speaking of videos, they are free of any ads like TIDAL, yet it was a bit confusing if this same part of Apple's free service or only be part of the $9.99 monthly fee. We're not too sure as he wasn't clear about this. With some of the free services you will need to have an Apple ID of course. See the little asterisk, that means Apple Music for Android features are limited to paying customers only.

 

 

Beats 1 radio will broadcast to over 100 countries, which is great as Apple has found a way to allow music to be legally licensed and reach globally whilst also paying music labels, music writers, and recording artists accordingly. This is no easy feat as there are a myriad of organizations a music service has to deal with to broadcast and reach this high a quantity of countries. We just hope Beats 1 has a good representation and variety of music so as not to become an extension of Clear Channel / iHeartRadio.

When it comes to choosing a specific song for your own personal playlists and stream, you can use Siri of course. You can ask Siri to play the top 10 songs within a specific genre. Once Siri loads those up, you can see the list of songs and rearrange them, delete songs from that list, etc. Of course you can also save this list as well.

Apple, with its music service that includes a live radio station, connect, discovery and the iTunes music store will be available June 30th with iOS 8.4 and Windows. iTunes for Android devices is coming this fall. The $9.99 per month fee is waived for the first three months so you can try it before you buy it. For those with families, for $14.99 you can have up to 6 family members within your Apple Music service. Each family member will have their own account, library, and recommendations.

 

The Unanswered Questions
Actually, there is only a single question (and a repeated comment), as there is very little new with the just-announced Apple iTunes Music and that would be what is the streaming audio resolution rate? Odds are for $9.99 we expect it to be like $9.99 TIDAL and Spotify, yet without the ability to improve it via a CD or better quality version like you have with TIDAL. TIDAL for the win here to those who care about sound quality. Of course depending on demand, as Apple has not been that successful in the past with their online music services (sans iTunes, and Samsung's Milk Music has been a dud too), Apple could ramp things up to TIDAL or better resolution / sound quality. We have to remember that Apple has many, many billions of dollars they could easily burn through. Yet simply burning though money is not a wise thing, as Apple has already invested in their upcoming Beats 1 online streaming music radio station yet seemed to not fully monopolize on all the possibilities.

So is there anything new under the sun here with Apple's upcoming Music service? Not really, yet if Apple finally becomes more than a footnote in the streaming music sector, as many have come and gone over the years, the possibilities are immense. Apple's clout and power, combined with a truly massive install base and billions of devices entrenched worldwide, they have the ability and opportunity. They also have the funding. But can Apple succeed where they have failed previously? Even the Apple watch's new iOS can't tell you that future event. Only time will tell.

Why didn't Apple invest a bit more and offer live online video streaming too? Their studio in Los Angeles, New York and London could easily have added 1080 broadcast quality video resolution and offer it to Apple TV users for free as a bonus. Live studio performances, exclusive live concerts and so much more. Just a thought.

This just in, TechCrunch reports that Apple Music streaming will only be 256kBs. So there we have it folks. Spotify and others for the win when it comes to MP3 streaming sound quality, with TIDAL being the King for those who truly desire the best... or Naxos 24-bit/192kHz for classical music. Also of note is that Apple is refusing to pay musicians for their music during the three month trial period. We have an article about that (please see the PS below).

As always, in the end what really matters is that you...

 

Enjoy the Music (I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round),

Steven R. Rochlin

PS: Please read our follow-up article:
Is Apple Rotten To The Core With Their Streaming Music Service
Would you work for three months without getting paid?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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