apple music spatial audio

The code leaks this weekend may have spoiled the surprise, but Apple Music is bringing higher quality music to its streaming service. But rather than charge extra for an ‘HD’ or ‘HiFi’ tier as rivals have done, Apple Music’s lossless audio feature will be available to all of its subscribers from June – for no added cost.

Reaction from one of those rivals, Amazon Music, was instant. The company announced that from now on, its Amazon Music HD tier will be available to its standard Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers, also at no extra cost. Current HD subscribers will pay the price of a regular subscription too.

It’s simultaneously an exciting and potentially concerning moment for the concept of hi-res music streaming.

Exciting, because it will bring higher quality streams to well over 100 million music subscribers (Apple Music’s last public figure was 60 million in June 2019, while Amazon Music’s was 55 million in January 2020), bursting out of its previously-niche status.

Potentially concerning, because higher-quality music has widely been seen as one way to encourage people to pay more than the standard $9.99 a month for a subscription. Indeed, that was the strategy pursued by Amazon, Deezer, Tidal and other services, with warm encouragement from rightsholders.

Today’s news will give those other streaming services something to think about, including Spotify, which has announced plans to launch its own Spotify HiFi tier later this year. The assumption had been that it would cost more than a standard subscription.

As for the details of today’s announcements. Apple Music will have a catalogue of 75m songs in lossless audio, and is also teaming up with Dolby to use its Dolby Atmos technology for ‘Spatial Audio’ tracks, which will be marked on the service, and curated in specific playlists too.

Amazon Music says it now has a catalogue of more than 75m lossless songs, as well as 7m in higher ‘Ultra HD’ quality. It also supports Dolby Atmos, as well as Sony’s 360RA format, for 3D listening experiences.

All eyes will be on how their rivals react, and also on the impact of the ‘no extra cost’ decisions. Could it help these services to increase the prices of their basic subscriptions in the future, for example? That’s why we only said ‘potentially’ concerning earlier.

Perhaps hi-res music’s true value in streaming will be to enable the big DSPs to charge all their subscribers another dollar or two a month, rather than just to persuade a small fraction of them to pay five dollars more a month. If that strategy pays off, today’s news will have been a positive moment indeed.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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