This article was published on September 1, 2021

Here’s why Apple is making an app just for classical music lovers

Apple bought a streaming service dedicated to classical music

Here’s why Apple is making an app just for classical music lovers
Napier Lopez
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Napier Lopez


Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.

Listening to classical music on streaming services can be a pain, to say the least. Sure, regular streaming services are fine if you only want the occasional hit of the Moonlight Sonata when you’re feeling emo, but most streaming services just aren’t built for the way classical enthusiasts regularly search for and listen to music.

Apple wants to fix that. The company announced this week that it bought Primephonic, a streaming service that sought to address many of the common grievances classical music lovers have when they’re just trying to get down with some Mahler.

Apple said it would start by curating classical music experiences with Primephonic playlists and exclusive audio content and that it would deliver “a dedicated experience with the best features of Primephonic, including better browsing and search capabilities by composer and by repertoire, detailed displays of classical music metadata, plus new features and benefits.” In 2022, it plans to release a dedicated app for classical enthusiasts.

It seems like a logical move for Apple. The company shook up the industry when it announced it would introduce both lossless music and spatial audio as a free upgrade for existing subscribers. If I had to guess, I’d say the intersection of audiophiles who care about lossless audio and classical musical enthusiasts is greater than most other genres. Catering to these listeners gives Apple additional clout to steal a few users from competing platforms.

Now, maybe you think it’s silly that classical music would need its own app. How elitist! But as one of those classical music lovers, so let me walk you through some of the common grievances I’ve suffered over the years from the more mainstream music platforms.

  • Most streaming services don’t understand the concept of playing an entire symphony or concerto in a playlist. Rarely does someone want to only listen to the first movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, for instance.
  • Relatedly, the inclination towards playing singular parts of a track often devoids music of its context within a work.
  • Classical music is usually mixed at a much lower volume than pop music in order to maximize dynamic range. Playing classical music alongside other genres will often lead to dramatic jumps in volume. Alternatively, you’ll compress the dynamic range if you try to normalize the volume across different music.
  • Most streaming services provide lackluster at-a-glance details on the music being played. For example, when listening to a new piece, I might be presented with the name of the piece and performer(s), but not the actual composer.
  • Classical music tracks tend to have really long titles, e.g. “Piano Sonata No. 8  in C minor, Op. 13 – ‘Pathetique’ – 2. Adagio di molto e con brio.” These are often cut off before I can see the actual name of the piece.
  • The playlists often suck — especially the automated ones. You’ll often only get ‘greatest hits’ type of collections, and there are usually only a handful of decent curated ones.
  • There often aren’t enough subdivisions within the ‘classical’ genre. Maybe you really like Baroque stuff (like Bach) or Romantic stuff (like Tchaikovsky) but the Classical period itself (like Mozart) bores you. Perhaps you only want to listen to choral works, or maybe you want to specifically find pieces written for the cello. While most services may have a handful of playlists for different classical genres, your options are limited
  • Likewise, you have limited search options if you’re trying to filter recordings by specific conductors, orchestras, ensembles, soloists, etc.
  • I like to work out to classical music, but there are rarely decent curated playlists for folks like me.

Many of these are things Primephonic sought to address, and joining Apple Music only gives them more power to do so. As the startup mentioned in its announcement about the acquisition, part of the limitation with its service was that it simply couldn’t reach enough people, especially those who listened to more than only classical:

As a classical-only startup, we can not reach the majority of global classical listeners, especially those that listen to many other music genres as well. We therefore concluded that in order to achieve our mission, we need to partner with a leading streaming service that encompasses all music genres and also shares our love for classical music. 

With Primephonic’s features embedded into Apple Music as well as a custom app, classical music lovers will theoretically have the option to get a proper listening experience and enjoy other genres too. Plus they’ll have access to Apple’s cool new Spatial Audio tech in one of the categories of music in which it makes the most sense.

While I’m not personally interested in entering the Apple ecosystem, proper classical music integration may just be enough to get me to consider switching to Apple Music.

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