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  • Apple Music's Lossless and Hi-Res Mess

     


    This morning I've been testing Apple Music's new lossless and Hi-Res offerings on both my iPhone 12 Pro running iOS 14.6 and my Mac Mini (M1) running macOS 11.4. In my tests, I'm only concerned with playing the music bit perfectly, in other words without making any changes to the audio. If Apple Music says it's streaming lossless audio, then I want to stream that audio losslessly, rather than accidentally converting it to lossy AAC or MP3 etc... Whether or not people can hear the difference is a topic for another discussion. I'm just making sure I can play the music in its original form and that Apple is sending true lossless and Hi-Res to my audio devices. 

     


    Let's Dig in


    What is bit perfect and why should I care? In the simplest terms, bit perfect means that the audio hasn't been changed. The music sent, in this case from Apple Music, into the playback device hasn't been altered. The source is what has been delivered to Apple by the record labels. Apple is just the delivery company.

     

    If you care about high quality, getting the lossless streaming you're paying for from Apple Music, Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon Music, etc... then you should care about bit perfect because without it you have no idea what's happening to your audio. If this isn't a concern for you, no worries. 

     


    Testing Methodology 

     

    Device 1
    My Apple iPhone 12 Pro running iOS 14.6 and the Apple Music app. I connected the newest version of the Apple Camera Connection Kit to the iPhone, so I could attach a USB Audi interface, and feed power to the phone and interface. 

     

    Device 2
    Apple Mac Mini (M1) running macOS 11.4, and Apple Pro Display XDR, and USB audio interface connected to the ports on the back of the display. 

     
    I use the following testing methodology to test Apple Music. 

     

    The USB audio interface is a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB that accepts USB input and outputs audio over AES/EBU or S/PDIF (BNC). 
     
    I use a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 that identifies and decodes HDCD on all sample rates from 44.1 up through 192 kHz. When an unaltered HDCD music track is played, the HDCD indicator on the DAC is illuminated. The HDCD flag is on the 16th bit for lossless CD files and the 24th bit for high resolution files. Any alteration, DSP, volume leveling, etc... changes this least significant bit and won't enable the HDCD indicator to illuminate on my DAC. Apple Music's lossless audio that I tested was 16 bit / 44.1 kHa and the Hi-Res audio was both 24 bit / 176.4 kHz and 24 bit / 192 kHz. That's the hardware piece. 
     
    With respect to source files, here's what I do. 
     
    I have a list of roughly ten known HDCD albums (although I could use more if needed). Many of these albums were only released as HDCD encoded CDs/files. There is no alternate lossless version. For example, Reference Recordings only releases CDs that are HDCD encoded. Pearl Jam's Live On Two Legs was only released as an HDCD master for its lossless CD version. 
     
    I set a baseline by playing my own local copy of the albums and make sure the HDCD indicator illuminates. I played some Reference Recordings albums through Apple Music on macOS and made sure the app could handle bit perfect playback. All was good there. On iOS, I used used other apps such as Qobuz, to play the identical music through the identical hardware. All was good through the Qobuz app. Again, there are no alternative versions of these lossless albums. It's the same music on all the services that offer lossless streaming.
     
    Absolutely there are possible holes in my methodology, but I believe I've minimized them as much as possible. If anyone can identify a hole, please let me know and I will retest. 
     

     

    Test Results
     
    On macOS, I found no way to play bit perfect lossless or Hi-Res audio from Apple Music. In addition to a couple other nonsensical issues that I'll get into later, Apple is doing something to the music it streams. 

     

    Test 1, streaming Pearl Jam's Live On Two Legs release I was able to illuminate the HDCD indicator for the first couple seconds of playback. After this, the light went out for good, even if I skipped to the next track. When I clicked the play button to start the entire album over again, the HDCD indicator illuminated again for a few seconds. If I had to guess, I'd say this is because of watermarking mandated by the major record labels. Apple has a perfect copy of the album on its servers, the perfect copy starts, but then something changes in the stream that causes the music to not be bit perfect. I'm open to all input on what this could possibly be, but watermarking is my best educated guess for now. 

     

    Test 2, streaming the Reference Recording's album Exactly Like This from Doug MacLeod, displays different behavior and bolsters my aforementioned watermarking theory. This album, from a very small independent record label that I don't believe watermarks it's music, alters between bit perfect and not bit perfect. Upon playback, the HDCD indicator is on sometimes then off for a period of time, then back on etc... I really don't have a good guess for why this happens. I originally thought maybe an adaptive bit rate issue caused it, but even after downloading the tracks to my device offline and playing them, the problem remained. 

     

    Test 3, streaming the Reference Recording's album Break The Chain from Doug MacLeod produced the identical behavior. The only difference here was that the album was Apple's Hi-Res offering at 24 bit 176.4 kHz. Again, no solid bit perfect playback. Something is happening to the music. 

     

    A note about Apple's Hi-Res offerings that makes this a real mess. On Macs running macOS / OS X, the Apple Music app looks at the sample rate in Audio Midi upon the app's launch. Whatever same rate is set there, is the sample rate that Apple Music will use for playback as long as the app is open. OK, fine you say, Apple Music lossless is probably 16 bit / 44.1 kHz and that can be set in Audio Midi. Sure, now for the mess. Apple Music Hi-Res is be definition not 16 bit / 44.1 kHz. It go up through 24 bit / 192 kHz. OK, you can run through the whole dance closing Apple Music, manually setting the sampan rate in Audio Midi, then reopening Apple Music and off you go. Oh no you can't. Apple Music doesn't tell you what the sample rate of its Hi-Res music albums. Thus, you have no idea at what sample rate to set Audio Midi. 
     

    UPDATE: To find the sample rate of the album and play it correctly you have to play a track, click the info button to reveal the sample rate, change Audio MIDI to correct sample rate, restart Apple Music, play the track again. 

     

    How did I find the same rate? Fortunately, the Apple Music app on iOS has auto sample rate switching, which enabled me to get the rate, then sixth back to my Mac to run the tests. This was good because I could see the bit perfect audio stream for the first few seconds once I had the correct sample rate set. 


    Note: the Qobuz app plays this music bit perfect on my Mac.

     

     

    On iOS, as I just mentioned, we have the high benefit of automatic sample rate switching when playing music in Apple Music. The results for Test 1, 2, and 3 were identical on iOS as they were on macOS. Bit perfect for the first few seconds of major label albums. Bit perfect on and off for Reference recordings' albums. Apple Music on iOS switched between outputting 44.1 to outputting 176.4 without an issue. If only the audio would remain bit perfect during playback, it would be a great solution. 

     

    I will note that the Qobuz iOS app played everything bit perfect, but there needs to be an asterisk. For some reason Qobuz resamples the 176.4 Doug MacLeod album Break The Chain at 192 kHz on iOS rather than 176.4. I checked Neil Young's greatest hits to make sure I cold stream 192 material bit perfectly from Qobuz and succeeded. iOS and iPhones are fully capable of bit perfect audio at 176.4 kHz, so I'm not sure why Qobuz is resampling the RR releases. 

     


    What About mQa?

     

    There is interesting news on this front. Some labels have snuck mQa material into Apple Music just like they have on other services. Users of Apple Music can search for mQa and they'll see some albums such as the Radka Toneff Fairytales album. The albums playback as mQa on a DAC in my system that is a full mQa decoder. 

     

    I checked a number of other albums that have appeared on Tidal as mQa only and didn't find mQa for these releases on Apple Music. 

     

    As readers of Audiophile Style know, I'm no fan of mQa and am very pleased it hasn't made its way into more releases or officially into Apple Music. Those who may be reading this as fans of Apple Music, rather than typical audiophile offerings, and aren't familiar with mQa, can get the gist of it and the company from the following videos.


    Part 1 - https://youtu.be/pRjsu9-Vznc
    Part 2 - https://youtu.be/NHkqWZ9jzA0

     


    Wrap Up

     

    As it stands now, Apple Music's lossless and Hi-Res offerings are a bit of a soup sandwich. You can't really stream the audio without some type of DSP going on that makes the music different from the lossless version on CD and on other lossless services. My guess is digital watermarking. In addition, it's not possible to get a consistent lossless or Hi-Res stream for other music that I tested, such as that from Reference Recordings. When I ran into similar issues with Amazon Music HD, using its apps just like I used the Apple Music apps, I was happy to find the Amazon Music HD streams lossless and Hi-Res through third party devices from Bluesound. Given that Apple doesn't integrate with Bluesound, I can't test this. Apple does integrate with Sonos, but as I found previously (link), the new Sonos Port can't stream bit perfect either, so a test on that platform would be useless. 

     

    I will happily update this article if there are holes in my tests or something else changes. As it stands now, I don't know of any holes and I stand by these conclusions. 

     

     

     



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    24/48 is lossless (not Hi-Res) by Apple definition.

     

    24/48 (or anything above 16/44.1) is Hi-Res by Qobuz definition, and is generally accepted in the audio community (I believe).

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    3 hours ago, miguelito said:

    Semantics... They are calling hires anything that is above what their hardware currently supports. I think it makes plenty sense, as then they can say "iPhone DACs support lossless but not hires". 

    I think it makes no sense. Their 24/96 files are also 'lossless'. Would have been off calling them 'hifi' and 'high res' tiers. 

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    Branding lossy as Premium does not make much sense to me either.  From time to time there were users who subscribed to the wrong tier because of this misleading word.

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    9 hours ago, Isn S said:

    Does the BitPerfect v3.2.0 app no longer work with Apple Music?

     

    It's working here – macOS Big Sur 11.4, Music 1.1.5.74.

     

    Minor cosmetic issue: since Big Sur the menu bar icon is offset to the top resulting partially cropped. Everything else is working as usual. Remember that auto sample rate switching works for local files only.

     

    I have no idea if/when it will be updated. I wrote to them about that minor graphical glitch and never got a response.

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    Purist tendencies aside, after some more testing I'm rather liking the "broken" Audio Midi implementation of Apple Music on the M1 Mac mini / MacOS.

     

    Very handy when trying to wring out ultimate sound quality from a streaming service / web browser etc by piping the system audio to HQ Player via Rogue Amoeba's Loopback software.

    And under more casual conditions, by just setting the sample rate to "whatever" – it still sounds at least as good as using an iOS device (or Qobuz) which does do the autosample rate switching properly.

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    On iPhone and iPad, after enabling lossless in settings, and use the built-in iOS device speaker to play, we can see Lossless logo in the list of tracks for an album.

     

    My question is, when you bring up the playing screen where you see a larger album art, and only the current playing track name is shown (instead of a list of tracks), do you see the Lossless logo?  I cannot for most of the albums I tried (over a dozen, including Taylor Swift).  I suspect this is a regional thing, or perhaps I did something wrong.

     

    Thanks.

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    Recording engineers are discussing / trying to understand Apple Music here. Taylor Swift's engineer pops in to discuss his Atmos mixes

     

    https://gearspace.com/board/new-product-alert/1354059-apple-music-announces-spatial-audio-dolby-atmos-will-bring-lossless-audio-entire-catalog.html

     

    On my iPhone / THX Onyx combo I find the few AM hires tracks I could find comparable with Qobuz. So now they need to update thier music library. I wonder how long that will take. 

     

    I agree with the computer audiophile, Spatial and Atomos seems to be a real mess sound quality wise, especially with non Apple headphones. The only track I enjoyed was The Doors "Rider of the Storm" in Atmos. All the others seem to mangle the audio with a weird phasey - washed out effect. 

     

    There are also long scrolling pages of instructions for what to switch on and what not to if you aren't using Apple's latest headphones. That's a confusing PITA IMHO. 

     

     

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    18 minutes ago, wklie said:

    My question is, when you bring up the playing screen where you see a larger album art, and only the current playing track name is shown (instead of a list of tracks), do you see the Lossless logo? 

     

    Yes, and including some Taylor Swift I tried too.

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    32 minutes ago, charlesphoto said:

    There's a real simple solution to all of this: it's called Qobuz (or Tidal if you must). Heck I even have a free 'lifetime' sub given to me by Tidal, and I still ponied up $150 this year for Qobuz, because it's better (sound and curation, for me at least). I do understand it's not in all regions, so yeah, there's that, and that some already have package Apple subs or subs to several services. 

     

    But man humans, and audiophiles more specifically, just love to chase after the newest sparkly thing no matter what - and I do realize it's Chris' job to do so, and many are investigating AM out of curiosity, but in my opinion Apple has had enough of our $$ to last them until the next millennium, so be sure to do the right (audiophile) thing and continue to support the small guys. Nobody on here or other audiophile forums need to save the $3/month. I love Apple hardware (ok, not their phones - Pixel user myself for the camera) and am planning on an M1 purchase at some point, but resolutely refuse to go anywhere near Apple Music. Rant over, continue on...

    Agreed! I switched to Qobuz from Tidal a year ago and never looked back! 
    I have what’s called the Apple One subscription which includes the Apple TV+, Apple Music, Apple Fitness +, and multiple family iCloud accounts and a much larger iCloud storage limit, so I’m paying for Apple Music also regardless. 
    Also, as an iPhone user and I have two MacBook Pro’s and two iPads, an Apple TV, it would also be nice to have the lossless or high resolution Apple Music too, but mostly for car or travel/ desktop convenience, although I suppose Qobuz is available to use on all these hardware platforms anyhow except for the Apple TV. 

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    6 hours ago, Heckyman said:

    Purist tendencies aside, after some more testing I'm rather liking the "broken" Audio Midi implementation of Apple Music on the M1 Mac mini / MacOS.

     

    Very handy when trying to wring out ultimate sound quality from a streaming service / web browser etc by piping the system audio to HQ Player via Rogue Amoeba's Loopback software.

    And under more casual conditions, by just setting the sample rate to "whatever" – it still sounds at least as good as using an iOS device (or Qobuz) which does do the autosample rate switching properly.

     Were you able to pipe apple music stream to hqplayer? I failed miserably with either black hole or loop back. Couldn’t get the stream to hqplayer.

     

    Would you mind sharing the settings?

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    Has anyone done any true testing on AirPlay 2 streams of Apple Music. Is it a lossless(bitrate) stream or is it being transcoded to AAC?

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    On 6/9/2021 at 11:35 AM, whell said:

    Let's see.  We've got:

     

    • Amazon Music HD which dropped its pricing as a hedge against Apple Music and possibly Spotify going lossless.  But its interface is questionable, and true bit perfect hi res playback is available on a limited number of devices. 
    • Apple Music which appears to be releasing its lossless music in a "not quite ready for primetime", so we might not know what we have in this service for some time to come. 
    • Tidal, the MQA-addicted and thus (to me) worthless offering.   Pricing pressure applied by Amazon and increasing competition.
    • Qobuz, who has a very nice offering, truly lossless playback and is available on multiple devices.  However, its already dropped its pricing once in the last 12 months in response to Amazon and is facing renewed pricing and lossless streaming competition from more than just Amazon.
    • Spotify, going lossless at 16/44.1 at some point later this year.  Interface?  Great.  Lossless market availability?  Unknown.   Lossless tier pricing?  Unknown.
    • Deezer, lossless at 16/44.1, with a decent interface, but whose pricing may leave them out of step with their competitors. 

     

    Enter the pool at your own risk. ;-)

    Deezer doesn’t have exclusive mode/bit perfect output yet either. Don’t know if Deezer can do automatic sample rate switching either. Although Deezer doesn’t offer anything higher than CD resolution at the moment anyway.

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    Have anybody tried leaving their midi at 24/96 or 24/192 - is there a significant sound difference when playing just redbook tracks.  I know purists dont like that, but i would like to know if its really that bad. By the way i listen with my old IMAC 2013 so I am out of luck to try the new apple music on my mac.  I guess an excuse to buy a new computer. For now i guess i will still use Tidal. 

     

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    7 hours ago, Neil Lavitt said:

    Has anyone done any true testing on AirPlay 2 streams of Apple Music. Is it a lossless(bitrate) stream or is it being transcoded to AAC?

     

    I'm interested in this as well.

     

    It seems to me that results are mixed, generating confusion. In my previous posts in this thread I summarized what I've found and what have personally experienced on this topic.

     

    I'm a little disappointed at how AirPlay is handled by AppleMusic. I was confident that it'd have provided lossless experience (within its 44.1 kHz limit, of course).

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    12 hours ago, jvvita said:

     Were you able to pipe apple music stream to hqplayer? I failed miserably with either black hole or loop back. Couldn’t get the stream to hqplayer.

     

    Would you mind sharing the settings?


    Yes, I followed the instructions here:

     

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    4 hours ago, Heckyman said:


    Yes, I followed the instructions here:

     


    thanks. Will give it a go. But having to change hqp sample rate manually is a big put off.

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    On 6/11/2021 at 2:05 PM, wklie said:

    On iPhone and iPad, after enabling lossless in settings, and use the built-in iOS device speaker to play, we can see Lossless logo in the list of tracks for an album.

     

    My question is, when you bring up the playing screen where you see a larger album art, and only the current playing track name is shown (instead of a list of tracks), do you see the Lossless logo?  I cannot for most of the albums I tried (over a dozen, including Taylor Swift).  I suspect this is a regional thing, or perhaps I did something wrong.

     

    Thanks.

     

    Usually the lossless icon is shown. This happens most of the time.

     

    Sometimes it happens that the icon isn't shown, despite the album being lossless (tested with album Lover by Taylor Swift).

     

    With and external DAC connected, this inconsistency doesn't happen.

     

    Tested with iPhone and iPad.

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    On 6/11/2021 at 3:34 AM, wklie said:

    24/48 is lossless (not Hi-Res) by Apple definition.

     

    24/48 (or anything above 16/44.1) is Hi-Res by Qobuz definition, and is generally accepted in the audio community (I believe).

    https://content.abt.com/documents/61707/MDR1ADACS_manual.pdf

    https://www.digitaltrends.com/music/what-is-high-resolution-audio/

     

    https://audiophilereview.com/audiophile/the-truth-about-high-resolution-audio-facts-fiction-and-findings/
     

    Many opinions what is hi res. 
     

     

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    Found this posted on the following forum thread:  

    https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/apple-to-launch-high-fidelity-audio-streaming-incl-atmos.1084291/page-28#post-27084289

     

     

    Music Blogger Bob lefsetz just sent this out. It is concerning if Apple are seeking to make these versions the new standards. A good reason to keep buying physical

    "I got the following e-mail from a producer/engineer:

    "I just want to try and alert you to the potential seismic scam happening with this Atmos roll out. Atmos catalog remixing is being done by the truckload in a handful of Nashville, LA, and NYC rooms right now and has been for a couple of years, and almost none of it is being overseen or approved by the artist or original producer or mixer. And these versions- according to Apple- will be the new standard versions, superseding the original versions, now designated by Apple to the dustbin of history.

    I have heard some Atmos mixes which were indeed an improvement. However, most are not. And I would like to steer you toward this demo from Apple to get a sense of their mindset

    Introducing Spatial Audio 

    In the rush to make content for Apple, labels are jamming this crap out with little QC and -again- almost no input from artists. This format has real potential but if they continue to try and tell us that **** like this 'new' version of 'What’s Going On' is better than then original, then it will be seen as a counterfeit and a fraud, and will go the way of the Home Pod. I know how you feel about catalog being remixed and this has potential to be a worst case scenario."

    And then my inbox filled up with more, and iMessage started to ring from other professional engineers.

    Now wait a second, this was supposed to be a breakthrough. But is it more of a marketing gimmick? A way for Apple to gain subscribers?

    So I pulled it up.

    You can hear it, it definitely sounds different, but is that a good thing?

    And here's where I venture out beyond the limits of my knowledge, to what these people are telling me.

    There are over a hundred reference points in Dolby Atmos. As in this is far beyond conventional 5.1. Think of a movie theatre, where the sound moves around, now you get the idea.

    But that's movies. We're talking about music, sans pictures.

    Now the truth is almost all music today is ultimately released in stereo. You record it, someone mixes the multiple tracks down to two, and then a mastering engineer EQ's it. The artist supervises the entire process. But when it comes to Atmos...

    Let's say you have the equipment and ability to make an Atmos mix. My understanding is right now, you send the end product to Dolby and they use their special sauce to create the final product. Furthermore, they have special sauce to turn the same Atmosfied music into two track stereo. So, in a business where how it sounds is critical, Dolby is the ultimate arbiter.

    The writer at the top is right. It is sacrilegious to remix/Atmosfy classic tracks. They weren't cut that way to begin with. It even bugs me that they're using remixed tracks from "Abbey Road" to Atmosfy, now you're multiple steps from the original.

    Now if we look at the history here...

    The big breakthrough came in the mid-sixties, when there were two formats, mono and stereo. At first albums came in both iterations, then stereo only. And the goal was to buy the best home stereo you could afford, so you could hear the end product the way it was made, so you could get closer to the music.

    Then they introduced quad. There were two competing formats, they both failed.

    And then, this century, there was surround sound, a lot of money was dropped and consumer adoption was extremely low. Once again, the albums were being bastardized, this is not how the band and producer and engineers envisioned the sound to be, this was an afterthought. And it also required a special system to hear, which most people didn't own, the script had flipped, from buying ever better, more expensive stereos to boom boxes and then headphones. And right now the standard is AirPods/earbuds, which ironically don't even work with Apple's Spatial Sound/Dolby Atmos. But if you have a wired connection...

    I fired up Apple Music last night on my iPad. There's Zane Lowe's dog and pony show linked to above, but there's also 127 demo tracks, as in Apple is trotting these out to demonstrate the greatness of Spatial Audio. I pulled up ones I was familiar with.

    Now I was listening on wired Sennheiser headphones, which retail for about $300, far better than what most punters are listening on, never mind the bass-heavy, distorting of the music Beats, talk about a marketing job.

    And the tracks were, as I said, definitely different. Not radically different, but there was more space...

    But then I started getting reviews e-mailed to me.

    And just now I went back. Now I'm listening via my computer, with $700 Audeze headphones with a separate headphone amp. And what I've learned is...the Spatial Audio and stereo versions are not only different, the process affects the punch, the essence of the originals!

    I compared Spatial Audio tracks to their HD equivalents on Amazon Music and I found exactly what one writer said: the vocal gets lost. Instead of being up front and in your face, it's buried more in the mix.

    Let's start with Apple's demo track, "What's Going On." In the stereo mix Marvin Gaye is up front, the band is backing him, in the Spatial Audio version, the band is surrounding him, on the fringe, background vocals popping up way up to the right, Marvin is just an element, not the essence, it's a cornucopia of music, but it's not the legendary track, it's absolutely different, a sacrilege.

    Same deal with the Doors' "Riders On the Storm." Pat Benatar's "We Belong."

    Let's talk Bon Jovi's legendary "Wanted Dead or Alive." Listen to the stereo version and it's like there's a band on stage, the members are not all standing in the same place, but they're definitely on stage, in front of you, you've got a cohesive sound. Now on the Spatial Audio take... It's like you're in the arena and sounds are not only coming from the stage, but off to the right and left of it, from other places in the arena. It's an immersive experience akin to a...movie. But is music a movie? I don't think so. And in this movie, the instruments dominate, Jon Bon Jovi is fighting for attention, and he's losing the battle.

    Wait, it gets worse. Forget the big budget records, more and more music is being made by individuals in bedrooms, home studios, on a budget. They have neither the equipment nor the skill to mix in Dolby Atmos. As for just sending the file to Dolby to be processed...that's like finishing a painting and having an amateur come in and completely change it, make it 3-D.

    Actually, the more I listen to these Spatial Audio cuts, the more offensive they become. Kind of like those Beatles remixes. These are not the original records, they've been messed with, they're not even facsimiles, they're bastardizations.

    Now the truth is this is a headphone genre. Which at the moment doesn't support Bluetooth, which is how most people listen to music on headphones today. So they can't hear the space, but somehow they're going to listen to two channel Atmosfied mix-downs. Oh, there could be two takes, like with mono and stereo in the sixties, but that's far too confusing, we need one standard, the marketplace needs one standard.

    So, maybe there's a future for Spatial Audio...if it's mixed that way to begin with. But as demonstrated now, it's a hell-bent drive in the wrong direction."

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    25 minutes ago, Stereo said:

    Found this posted on the following forum thread:  

    https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/apple-to-launch-high-fidelity-audio-streaming-incl-atmos.1084291/page-28#post-27084289

     

     

    Music Blogger Bob lefsetz just sent this out. It is concerning if Apple are seeking to make these versions the new standards. A good reason to keep buying physical

    "I got the following e-mail from a producer/engineer:

    "I just want to try and alert you to the potential seismic scam happening with this Atmos roll out. Atmos catalog remixing is being done by the truckload in a handful of Nashville, LA, and NYC rooms right now and has been for a couple of years, and almost none of it is being overseen or approved by the artist or original producer or mixer. And these versions- according to Apple- will be the new standard versions, superseding the original versions, now designated by Apple to the dustbin of history.

    I have heard some Atmos mixes which were indeed an improvement. However, most are not. And I would like to steer you toward this demo from Apple to get a sense of their mindset

    Introducing Spatial Audio 

    In the rush to make content for Apple, labels are jamming this crap out with little QC and -again- almost no input from artists. This format has real potential but if they continue to try and tell us that **** like this 'new' version of 'What’s Going On' is better than then original, then it will be seen as a counterfeit and a fraud, and will go the way of the Home Pod. I know how you feel about catalog being remixed and this has potential to be a worst case scenario."

    And then my inbox filled up with more, and iMessage started to ring from other professional engineers.

    Now wait a second, this was supposed to be a breakthrough. But is it more of a marketing gimmick? A way for Apple to gain subscribers?

    So I pulled it up.

    You can hear it, it definitely sounds different, but is that a good thing?

    And here's where I venture out beyond the limits of my knowledge, to what these people are telling me.

    There are over a hundred reference points in Dolby Atmos. As in this is far beyond conventional 5.1. Think of a movie theatre, where the sound moves around, now you get the idea.

    But that's movies. We're talking about music, sans pictures.

    Now the truth is almost all music today is ultimately released in stereo. You record it, someone mixes the multiple tracks down to two, and then a mastering engineer EQ's it. The artist supervises the entire process. But when it comes to Atmos...

    Let's say you have the equipment and ability to make an Atmos mix. My understanding is right now, you send the end product to Dolby and they use their special sauce to create the final product. Furthermore, they have special sauce to turn the same Atmosfied music into two track stereo. So, in a business where how it sounds is critical, Dolby is the ultimate arbiter.

    The writer at the top is right. It is sacrilegious to remix/Atmosfy classic tracks. They weren't cut that way to begin with. It even bugs me that they're using remixed tracks from "Abbey Road" to Atmosfy, now you're multiple steps from the original.

    Now if we look at the history here...

    The big breakthrough came in the mid-sixties, when there were two formats, mono and stereo. At first albums came in both iterations, then stereo only. And the goal was to buy the best home stereo you could afford, so you could hear the end product the way it was made, so you could get closer to the music.

    Then they introduced quad. There were two competing formats, they both failed.

    And then, this century, there was surround sound, a lot of money was dropped and consumer adoption was extremely low. Once again, the albums were being bastardized, this is not how the band and producer and engineers envisioned the sound to be, this was an afterthought. And it also required a special system to hear, which most people didn't own, the script had flipped, from buying ever better, more expensive stereos to boom boxes and then headphones. And right now the standard is AirPods/earbuds, which ironically don't even work with Apple's Spatial Sound/Dolby Atmos. But if you have a wired connection...

    I fired up Apple Music last night on my iPad. There's Zane Lowe's dog and pony show linked to above, but there's also 127 demo tracks, as in Apple is trotting these out to demonstrate the greatness of Spatial Audio. I pulled up ones I was familiar with.

    Now I was listening on wired Sennheiser headphones, which retail for about $300, far better than what most punters are listening on, never mind the bass-heavy, distorting of the music Beats, talk about a marketing job.

    And the tracks were, as I said, definitely different. Not radically different, but there was more space...

    But then I started getting reviews e-mailed to me.

    And just now I went back. Now I'm listening via my computer, with $700 Audeze headphones with a separate headphone amp. And what I've learned is...the Spatial Audio and stereo versions are not only different, the process affects the punch, the essence of the originals!

    I compared Spatial Audio tracks to their HD equivalents on Amazon Music and I found exactly what one writer said: the vocal gets lost. Instead of being up front and in your face, it's buried more in the mix.

    Let's start with Apple's demo track, "What's Going On." In the stereo mix Marvin Gaye is up front, the band is backing him, in the Spatial Audio version, the band is surrounding him, on the fringe, background vocals popping up way up to the right, Marvin is just an element, not the essence, it's a cornucopia of music, but it's not the legendary track, it's absolutely different, a sacrilege.

    Same deal with the Doors' "Riders On the Storm." Pat Benatar's "We Belong."

    Let's talk Bon Jovi's legendary "Wanted Dead or Alive." Listen to the stereo version and it's like there's a band on stage, the members are not all standing in the same place, but they're definitely on stage, in front of you, you've got a cohesive sound. Now on the Spatial Audio take... It's like you're in the arena and sounds are not only coming from the stage, but off to the right and left of it, from other places in the arena. It's an immersive experience akin to a...movie. But is music a movie? I don't think so. And in this movie, the instruments dominate, Jon Bon Jovi is fighting for attention, and he's losing the battle.

    Wait, it gets worse. Forget the big budget records, more and more music is being made by individuals in bedrooms, home studios, on a budget. They have neither the equipment nor the skill to mix in Dolby Atmos. As for just sending the file to Dolby to be processed...that's like finishing a painting and having an amateur come in and completely change it, make it 3-D.

    Actually, the more I listen to these Spatial Audio cuts, the more offensive they become. Kind of like those Beatles remixes. These are not the original records, they've been messed with, they're not even facsimiles, they're bastardizations.

    Now the truth is this is a headphone genre. Which at the moment doesn't support Bluetooth, which is how most people listen to music on headphones today. So they can't hear the space, but somehow they're going to listen to two channel Atmosfied mix-downs. Oh, there could be two takes, like with mono and stereo in the sixties, but that's far too confusing, we need one standard, the marketplace needs one standard.

    So, maybe there's a future for Spatial Audio...if it's mixed that way to begin with. But as demonstrated now, it's a hell-bent drive in the wrong direction."

    We’ve been discussing it in the mQa thread. This whole thing about not involving anyone who created the original art, in the spatial audio conversion is very similar to mQa. 

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    57 minutes ago, Stereo said:

     

    Thanks.

     

    I posted the link on another forum where someone replied to my concerns about forced mixing with "No one’s forcing anything on recordings.".

     

    I'm not completely convinced about Dolby Atmos. It can be done for new productions – only if the artist agrees of course and, anyway, it has to be taken with a grain of salt.

     

    For past productions I'd be very cautious.

     

    I'm worried that it could be widely adopted for three reasons:

     

    1. Apple is believing in it and pushing it
    2. Sonic differences are noticeable by anybody. It's not like hi-res which only audiophiles with golden ears say they perceive the improvement
    3. It's easily reachable with headphones. Most people listen today with headphones. It's already there: available for everyone

     

    The third point means that even if audiophiles are interested in Dolby Atmos, then they can't enjoy it on their current 2 channel systems. They would have to update their system to how many speakers? 4, 5, 7?

     

    If a new 2 channel Hi-Fi system costs from ~ 2 grands up, how much would it cost a multichannel system (I'm not talking of cheap home theater)?

     

    Not to mention the proper space to host 3x or more speakers. Sure, not all enthusiasts have cramped rooms. Still, I don't think the majority would upgrade to multichannel.

     

    Luckily, the stereo isn't going away. Dolby Atmos and stereo currently coexist.

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