Apple Music embraces Spatial Audio in India!

Music in multichannel

If you’re a music lover, today might be a good day to subscribe to Apple Music. Officially, the first music streaming service in India to offer both, lossless audio and Spatial audio with Dolby Atmos at no extra cost over the standard subscription rates makes this a big deal. Not just for Apple, but the music and consumer electronics industry alike. While Apple’s implementation of Lossless audio is complicated and limited at the same time and you can get the details of it HERE, it’s the Spatial audio feature that holds the higher “wow” factor. After having spent the whole morning going through curated playlists that allow you to experience Dolby Atmos for music without effort, I was quite honestly, blown away. 

There are ways to experience Spatial audio on Apple devices and currently, all the AirPods and BeatsX, Beats Solo3 Wireless, Beats Studio3, Powerbeats3 Wireless, Beats Flex, Powerbeats Pro, or Beats Solo Pro support it. Support for third party wired headphones for lossless audio is already present and Android devices will be getting both Spatial and Lossless audio on Apple Music Android app soon too. But, the magic of Dolby Atmos / Spatial audio music for me was via an Apple TV 4K connected to an AV receiver and played back through a bonafide multi-speaker surround sound system. It makes a joke of audiophiles who spend hours and maybe even years getting them to sound just right in the listening position where the one person can experience audio nirvana, if you close your eyes and imagine. With some of the well-mixed examples on Apple Music’s Spatial Audio playlists, tracks like Come Together by the Beatles and Boom by Tiesto shatter any previous references you may have of the song and just opens up a whole new dimension, delicately placing sounds around the different speakers and effectively immersing you into the creator’s vision. Of course, this also highlights any limitations your hardware may have, like mismatched speakers or an overboosted subwoofer. But, if you have a timbre-matched 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos speaker system (not a soundbar), Spatial Audio on Apple Music is a legit game-changer with the potential to be the murderer of two-channel audiophilia. The efficacy of spatial audio relies a lot on the mixing engineer’s sensibilities and where the vocal tracks are anchored in relation to the musical elements. Some tracks work better than others and can heighten the intended effect. Think Another One Bites the Dust by Queen or Riders on the Storm by The Doors, where aggressive panning was part of the experience, but limited by stereo until now. The experience can vary, especially on headphones where spatial audio can rob certain vocals of life and forwardness, but it definitely works well to reduce listener fatigue by giving the soundstage a lot more depth instead of simply playing straight into your ears. A lot will depend on the engineering of the album now and Apple is working closely with Dolby to plug holes in the ecosystem. Initiatives are being taken to double the number of Dolby Atmos-enabled mixing studios and even help independent artists with resources to create their music in spatial audio. Later this year, Apple will release an update to Logic Pro that will empower any musician to create and mix their songs in Spatial Audio compatible with Apple Music.

Here are the basics

As of today, thousands of tracks are already available in Dolby Atmos with more being added constantly. From the Indian contingent, A.R.Rahman (Dil Bechara, 99 Songs, Meri Pukaar Suno), Divine (Mirchi), Badshah (Top Tucker), Amit Trivedi (Raavan) and Prabh Deep (Paapi) are the artists first off the block with mixes in spatial audio. If you like to get a feel of the current culture and vibe of a particular city, Global City Charts give you the top hits from around 100 cities, including Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. These are not human-curated but based on popularity and AI algorithms with daily updates. Perhaps the biggest blow to the competition, even with all the shiny new tech might be Apple’s generous decision to include Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio within the existing subscription rates, which might be the lowest in the world at 99/month. Even if you aren’t an Apple Music fan and waiting for Spotify to launch its premium hi-res tier in India, getting a free 3-month trial won’t hurt to assess the future of sound. As I write this, I’m itching to go through the entire Spatial Audio playlist only to rediscover my favourite music in a whole new way...it really is addictive!