Apple Music Classical After One Week

Kirk McElhearn, TidBits:

Apple Music Classical is a free app for Apple Music subscribers to access this new, enhanced collection of music. Inexplicably, it is only available for the iPhone. One would expect Apple Music Classical to be available for desktop computers, especially since many people listen to classical music from a Mac, or a PC running iTunes, connected to a stereo. Since Apple Music has added a lot of high-resolution music, which requires an external DAC (digital-analog converter) to play at its full quality, it is quite difficult to play that sort of music from an iPhone. You can stream music to an AirPlay 2-compatible receiver with a DAC attached, but most people don’t have that hardware. You can, of course, stream Apple Music Classical from an iPhone to a HomePod — the second generation of which also supports Dolby Atmos, or what Apple calls spatial audio — but overall, this focus on the iPhone limits playback options considerably.

As McElhearn points out, this is a catalogue of music already in Apple Music, though interpreted and structured differently for the unique needs of classical listening. Adding it to the already confused Music app for MacOS makes as much sense as using the Music app for iOS — that is, it is limited by design and necessitated the creation of an entirely separate app for a better experience.

It seems Apple Music Classical is merely a version of the Primephonic app Apple acquired, skinned to resemble the standard Music app. After a week, I find this similar-but-different quality creates a muddled experience as a user. The Classical app does not support context menus, transitions between some screens see the title animate from one direction while the rest of the screen animates from the other, and the Now Playing view does not respond to dragging up or down as it does in Music. The Library view is uniquely confusing and buggy. It feels more like a third-party app in the style of something Apple could make more than it does than Apple’s own app.

That is a shame because, as McElhearn writes, this is not just an app for people who already listen to classical music:

Two types of people will want to use Apple Music Classical. Those who don’t know much about classical music but want to explore it, and those who are already classical music fans and want to find their favorite artists and recordings and discover new ones.

Spotlighting classical music with an app which interprets its unique metadata structure will surely help more people see and discover it. The app gets a lot of stuff right, especially in terms of search. I just wish it matched the quality of the iOS Music app.

By the way, the more I think about this app, the more I came to realize Apple’s interpretation of ID3 audio metadata is limited — and not just for classical music. The most recent spec was published in 2000, and contains fields for entries like remix artists, source medium, and live recordings, by way of descriptive text, but Music does not support any of these fields. It never has, even when it was called “iTunes”. Instead of using this comprehensive structure, songs in a local music library, in the iTunes Store, and in Apple Music resort to a series of parentheses for featured artists, live recording venues, and the album version or master — “How the West Was Won (Live) [Remastered]”, for example, or “Momma Sed (Alive at Club Nokia) [Live]”. There may be good reasons for these limitations. But it would be better if all the songs and albums in Apple’s catalogue contained more fulsome and better-structured metadata. The spec is already there and it needs mass adoption.

Update: Alex Cranz, the Verge:

This is all to say, I’m in love with Apple Music Classical, and I just keep wondering why the regular app isn’t more like it. While classical music certainly has a need for a vast array of metadata, I like to think most other music does, too. People like to listen to the works of a single producer, and when they search for Stephen Sondheim, they should be able to just see all the musicals he composed as neatly as I can see all the works of Antonín Dvořák in Music Classical.

It is not even possible to search for music released in a specific year in Apple Music. Maybe I am missing something, but every piece of metadata should be searchable. Artificial limits like these are bothersome.