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Apple Music and Amazon Music offering higher quality audio at no extra cost

By | Published on Tuesday 18 May 2021

Listening to music

It seems that higher quality audio streaming is no longer a premium product. Both Apple and Amazon have announced that their users will now be able to enjoy some super enhanced audio action via their respective music platforms at no extra cost.

Apple announced two developments in the higher quality audio domain yesterday. First, that it will start making its Apple Music catalogue available in ‘lossless audio’ from next month, initially for about 20 million tracks, with the aim to have the full catalogue available in that form by the end of the year.

And secondly, that thousands of tracks will become available in ‘spatial audio’, a super duper audio format utilising Dolby’s Atmos technology. “Spatial Audio gives artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences for their fans with true multi-dimensional sound and clarity”, the tech giant bragged yesterday.

“Apple Music is making its biggest advancement ever in sound quality”, added VP Of Apple Music Oliver Schusser. “Listening to a song in Dolby Atmos is like magic. The music comes from all around you and sounds incredible. Now we are bringing this truly innovative and immersive experience to our listeners with music from their favourite artists like J Balvin, Gustavo Dudamel, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Kacey Musgraves, The Weeknd, and so many more”.

Apple, of course, is not the first streaming service to offer higher quality audio across its catalogue, nor to play around with Dolby Atmos.

However, ever since Tidal predecessor WiMP first started doing the higher quality audio thing, the logic has been that premium audio should come at a premium price. And that offering an HD or HiFi or Lossless variation of a streaming service is a sneaky way of persuading some subscribers to pay a higher monthly fee. Which means more subscription money in the pot for everyone to share.

But, said Apple yesterday, “these new features will be available for Apple Music subscribers starting next month at no additional cost”. So lots of lossless audio, but no bigger digital pie as a result.

That’s a pain for those Apple competitors, like Tidal, Deezer and Amazon, that already offer higher quality audio at a premium rate. And even more so for Spotify, which is yet to even launch its lossless option, but which nevertheless previewed it earlier this year, the assumption being that it would follow its competitors lead and charge a premium for that new option.

Amazon went big on higher quality audio in September 2019 when it launched Amazon Music HD, also undercutting its competitors already doing the lossless thing by offering HD audio at a £5 premium, compare to the £10 premium that had become industry standard by that point. But there was still a premium to be paid.

Although, no more. As Apple Music announced it was making lossless audio available to its users at no extra charge, Amazon also got out an announcement of its own revealing that its HD service was now available to all subscribers of its main premium streaming music set-up at no extra cost, including those on a family plan or who get a discount as an Amazon Prime member.

“When we first launched Amazon Music HD, our goal was to lead the industry by enabling music fans around the world to stream the best quality recording, the way artists intended their music to be heard”, declared VP Of Amazon Music Steve Boom. “We’re THRILLED now to make Amazon Music HD available to everyone at no extra cost. All music fans should have access to this quality of music, and now they do!”

It has to be said that premium-priced higher quality audio has always been a relatively niche product, and throughout the history of digital music audio quality has generally improved across the board as the years have gone by. And some artists – while obviously also liking the idea of a bigger digital pie from which everyone can share – would nevertheless like as many fans as possible to hear their recordings in the best audio format possible.

However, if charging a premium for HD is no longer an option, the question is, are there any other add-ons streaming services could introduce to charge subscribers extra money in order to increase the music industry’s digital revenues, especially in countries that are near market saturation in terms of new subscriber sign-ups?

Or, actually, would it be better to allow artists to sell add-ons directly through their direct-to-fan channels – capitalising on the rise of D2F donation and subscription tools – and have the industry accept that regular price rises across the board are the way to ensure that the main digital pie at least keeps up with inflation? We will see.