Will Apple Classical change your life?

Will Apple Classical change your life?


norman lebrecht

April 30, 2023

I have been living with the new app for the past month, and I am aware of subtle changes in my choices and habits. The outcome is not always upbeat, but I have heard the future … and it works.

Here’s part of my assessment in the new issue of The Critic.

In a Shostakovich tenth symphony from Berlin, the internal definition seemed to me clearer than the orchestra’s own-label recording and, weirdly, than my aural memory of hearing it in the hall. If this is to be the future quality of sound, bring it on.

And that’s where Apple is aiming. In addition to suctioning up a hundred years of past recordings, Apple has got the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin, Vienna and New York, the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and a couple of other big noises to release each season’s best concerts on the app, events that were accessible until now only to the orchestras’ direct subscribers. The deal allows Apple to foster an illusion of renewal, of listener participation in a living, evolving art.

At a time when broadcasters like the BBC and ORF and funders like Arts Council England are in full retreat from orchestras and opera, one of the world’s biggest tech corporations has made classical music its flagship project of 2023.

Read on here.


  • Simon A Bird says:

    How does Apple music compare with Idagio?

    • DNA - Chicago says:

      Please see what I just posted about sound quality. Idagio is the clear winner, where Apple is simply inadequate.

      But otherwise,
      – Apple wins on selection of classical tracks (can’t find Simone Dinnerstein albums on Idagio that Apple carries).
      – Apple also includes nonclassical selections at a monthly cost of only 1$ more.
      – I noticed one recording (Solti’s Chicago Otello) where idagio’s audible track breaks interrupt the music, while Apple is fine.
      – as a more widely used service, Apple seems to work with Alexa, while idagio does not.

      Hope that is helpful.

    • DNA - Chicago says:

      One other possible issue is that Apple apparently compensates musicians by track, rather than per second, a model that favors the short tracks in popular music. Idagio pays by length of track. More on this issue here: https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/apple-solve-classical-musics-streaming-problem/

  • Goldberg Variations says:

    Nice article – accepting the future but tinged with nostalgia. Pretty much how I feel, and I suspect many others. As you say, a first world problem!

  • Zooperdooper says:

    This is the way to do classical music. Desirability, higher quality audio than CD, offering a different experience and actually accessible by similar means to other recorded music. These haven’t come together at once for a while- this is the best chance for winning new listeners in a long time. Hopefully the generation z will develop enthusiasm for classical music which makes the wrecker boomers cringe.

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    This is an exciting development. I have been an Apple Music subscriber for years and welcome their commitment to developing their classical offering.

    The other trend that is noticeable is the presentation of deluxe box sets such as by the Berlin Philharmonic or vinyl box sets put out by DG.

  • PS says:

    Charles Leclerc, the Formula 1 driver, has a classical track out called AUS23 (1:1), and it’s charting, but Apple thinks it’s Pop.

  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

    Qobuz has a much more extensive classical catalog, a better search engine, and far more hi-res recordings.

  • Augustine says:

    Without a “Connect” feature, such as Spotify Connect, Apple Classical is still lacking an essential part of the proper streaming experience. Apple Airplay or Bluetooth is a poor substitute.

    The “Connect” feature would allow streaming to multiple devices (Apple or otherwise) from within the Apple music app, whether that device is a high priced audio system or a boom box. If it is connected to your LAN, Apple Music would be able to see it.

    Spotify has had this feature for years.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    Though the advent of Apple Classical is a positive milestone on the road to music streaming, I’m a still little worried about the other edge of the sword. I signed up for Idagio streaming when it became available in the U.S., and it was like the whole world of classical music recording opened up with an explosive bang.

    On the road from LP collection to CD collection to MP3 collection, my own personal library may have grown large, but it always remained limited because there was so much more to hear, and every hearing required a purchase. Moreover, every experiment or venture into unknown repertoire — say, contemporary composers whose music never aired on radio — came with a cost. Possibly a waste of money.

    Streaming has changed that model by opening up a vast library — it really is like a library — of recordings. Essential repertoire by the hundreds of recordings; historic performances, new releases and everything in between; lesser known composers; contemporary music; opportunity to survey the full output of important composers of our own time. I worry that such bounty isn’t properly captured in the price model.

    But more than that, I also worry about the potential for Apple to monopolize this market. I use Idagio, and I’m ecstatic about the variety and fairly satisfied with the quality. I haven’t tried Apple Classical, so I can’t speak to its quality. But for a long while, I was an iTunes customer — and over time, I became a very unhappy one. More often than not, their digital transfers were riddled with gaps, skips, audible crud, and there was no fix for it. In the LP days, if I bought a pockmarked vinyl disk, I could return it to the store and exchange for a cleaner one. With iTunes, the digital transfer was the digital transfer; there was no cleaner version. I had to request so many refunds, I reverted to buying CDs and making my own digital transfers. iTunes was the Apple horror experience that leaves me wary of Apple Classical.

    And if Apple, through its behemoth size, ends up pushing Idagio out of the marketplace — either through exclusive contracts with recording companies or the force of market share that reduces Idagio’s budget for adding new recordings — I’m afraid we’ll be poorer for it.

  • Harold Wilkin says:

    One serious shortcoming of Apple Classical is that it seems to be restricted to listening on headphones via an iPhone or iPad. To do so in true hi-res is difficult at best. I suspect that most serious listeners to classical music do so mainly via loudspeakers and a hi-fi system, something that is not possible with the Apple offering.

    I would second the previous comments about Qobuz. It is a comprehensive catalogue, probably the largest one in hi-res. It offers a superb presentation of classical and jazz titles, it integrates with the excellent Roon system for rich metadata and it even includes PDF booklets for many titles – very useful for texts and translations.

    • Heini says:

      I don’t have Apple Music but with Idagio and BBC Sounds on my Ipad I can put the sound through my hifi via an external Dac, in my case the Chord Mojo, I see no reason why any sound output couldn’t be put through my hifi in this way. This functions as an headphone amp giving an improved sound over the headphone output from the Ipad and also has a line out function meaning you can use a cable to connect it to your aux input on your hifi amp. The sound from my Ipad through the Mojo and Sennheiser HD650s is definitely hi-res.

  • DNA - Chicago says:

    I so want to like this, but Apple sound quality is *distinctly inferior* to CD.

    I can’t really quibble with much of Mr. Norman’s assessment, except for one aspect that is a deal-breaker for me, and perhaps for others. I’m no hi-fi purist, but my listening standard is simply that technology should reproduce, as much as practical, the natural sound of a live performance. For me, this generally means listening to speakers, which can often replicate this illusion, while even very high-end headphones do not.

    The problem is that Apple Music’s streaming format only delivers high-def audio experience on limited equipment. If you are happy plugging headphones into your iPhone, you are fine. If you prefer using something like Sonos, either with Sonos speakers or using Sonos equipment to connect to your own stereo, you will find that not everyone has implemented Apple’s high-def format, and the resulting sound quality is clearly less than what you would get listening to a CD.

    Again, I’m no hi-fi extremist that spends many thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars in pursuit of some theoretical ideal sound. I simply notice that Apple doesn’t sound as good as a CD played over my 20 year old speakers. (And I’m not against streaming – the same tracks on idagio sound at least as good as CD, when played over that same equipment).

    I’m not sure who will fix this technological train-wreck, but for now it is a fatal flaw with Apple Classical.

  • Tom says:

    I hope it’s a success. It’s impossible not to feel a little despondent about the demographic that you see in any concert hall. Yes, there are young people there, but not too many. Apple needs to come up with a strategy for marketing the app to the young; even it it’s just “essential Bach” or something like that, just as they do with popular artists on Apple music. Load the playlist with all the favourites, the tuneful, catchy pieces, “air on a G string”, the prelude from BWV 846, that sort of thing. And market it well!
    And do it before they come for classical music. And they will.

    • Herr Forkenspoon says:

      In the 1960’s, in Sydney, Au., the orchestra hired Dean Dixon as conductor. He instigated Tues. eve. concerts, with pillows on the floor seating and played a variety of 20th C. music. Every Tues. the hall was filled with young people. Young people want music that stimulates them, not music that sedates them. You can argue about what is stimulating and what is sedating but music of their time is what young people want to hear.

    • Wannaplayguitar says:

      Yes….I agree with this……it is a simple solution to a complex problem. No point asking algorithms to compile listening lists based on what you listened to before, you just end up in a terrifying vortex of tedium.

  • Molto Andante says:

    Try to find Sofia Gubaidulinas „Offertorium“. Great work, 3 recordings on IDAGIO, none chez Apple

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      Yes the Kremer recording is there, alongside 90 other works by Gubaidulina. The Apple catalogue and the consistency of its metadata are outstanding. Still a few slips but it’s a massive improvement on its previous efforts and most others’.

      It also seems to me hugely more likely to lead new listeners to classical music (because the subscription is bundled with the all-genres Apple Music) than classical music-only apps.

      Again for true audiophiles you can always find a better way of listening – but for most people in most circumstances, and when combined with decent headphones, the simplicity and portability will greatly outweigh any disadvantages in quality.

  • Steve says:

    For the millions of us in the Android universe, this is still a non-event. Paying my $12 a month for Apple Music and waiting…

  • Mecky Messer says:

    “Flagship project of 2023?!?!”

    The level of delusions of grandeur in this community is concerning. It rivals that of Flat Earthers and others in need of self congratulation.

    Apple Music Classical is literally a drop in the bucket for Apple, and only matters for it has an association with higher income consumers of their ecosystem.

    Don’t worry, the death of the category is well on its way. The puechase of primephonic was opportunistic and driven by billions of dollars of cash they were hoarding. Google has spent 100X on bogus projects just because they could.

    “Flagship”….These people…..

  • IP says:

    I wish I could believe, but isn’t it the same company that got their headphones from Dr. Dre?

  • Karden says:

    “DNA – Chicago: I’m no hi-fi purist, but my listening standard is simply that technology should reproduce, as much as practical, the natural sound of a live performance. For me, this generally means listening to speakers, which can often replicate this illusion, while even very high-end headphones do not.”

    I also notice that the acoustical properties surrounding an orchestra affect the quality of the recording too. Although sound engineers tweak the track, they can do only so much to enhance aural qualities.

    Based on recordings, I could tell that the recently renovated Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, as one example, was more so-so or less impressive than some of its observers claimed.

  • Save the MET says:

    I hope there’s is better than Prime, which is a disaster. Their channels don’t equate to what they state. I’ve clicked on theirm Mozart channel and the first piece that came up was the Moonlight Sonata. Sonos is terrific, but limited to one station and on a loop that rarely changes. How many times can one listen to Steve Reich’s “Different Trains”. There is a market for digital streaming classical music that runs like a classical radio station with knowledgeable announcers.