Eddy Cue Says Spatial Audio on Apple Music is Equivalent to Watching HD Television for First Time
Apple Music's new Spatial Audio feature started rolling out on Monday evening and officially launches today, and to mark the occasion, Apple's services chief Eddy Cue and Apple Music radio host Zane Lowe shared some thoughts.
Spatial Audio, based on Dolby Atmos, is an immersive three-dimensional audio format that enables musicians to mix music so it sounds like the instruments are all around you in space. Thousands of Apple Music songs are available in Spatial Audio at launch, such as Lady Gaga's "Rain on Me" and Kanye West's "Black Skinhead."
Speaking with Billboard's Micah Singleton, Cue described Spatial Audio as a "real game-changer," adding that the Dolby Atmos-based feature is essentially the audio equivalent of "the first time you ever saw HD on television":
I've been waiting for something in music that was a real game-changer. The quality of audio has not been able to really rise because there hasn't been anything out there that when you listen to it, it truly is differentiated to everybody. It doesn't matter whether you're eight years old or 80 years old, everyone can tell the difference and everyone knows this one sounds better than the other one.
And the analogy to that is obviously the first time you ever saw HD on television: you knew which one was better because it was obvious. And we've been missing that in audio for a long time. There really hasn’t been anything that's been substantial. We'll talk about lossless and other things, but ultimately, there's not enough difference.
But when you listen for the first time and you see what's possible with Dolby Atmos with music, it's a true game-changer. And so, when we listened to it for the first time, we realized this is a big, big deal. It makes you feel like you're onstage, standing right next to the singer, it makes you feel like you might be to the left of the drummer, to the right of the guitarist. It creates this experience that, almost in some ways, you've never really had, unless you're lucky enough to be really close to somebody playing music.
Cue talked up Spatial Audio as a bigger deal than lossless audio, another new Apple Music feature that can be enabled starting today. Lossless audio refers to audio recordings that have been compressed without any reduction in the overall quality of the audio, which can result in an improved listening experience, although the difference between compressed audio and lossless audio is not always obvious:
Because the reality of lossless is: if you take a 100 people and you take a stereo song in lossless and you take a song that's been in Apple Music that's compressed, I don't know if it’s 99 or 98 can't tell the difference.
For the difference of lossless, our ears aren't that good. Yeah, there are a set of people who have these incredible ears, and that's one piece of it. There's the other piece of it, which is do you have the level of equipment that can really tell the difference? It requires very, very high-quality stereo equipment. What you find is, for somebody who's a true, for example classical connoisseur, they may be able to tell the difference in lossless. I can't tell personally -- I do the blind tests all the time with the team -- I can't tell.
Apple Music radio host Zane Lowe also spoke about Spatial Audio in an Apple Newsroom editorial, expressing that the feature is all about the emotion and feeling of music:
I'm fascinated to know how I might be emotionally moved by my favorite songs in a different way with Spatial Audio. Because it's all going through my ears and triggering something, right? That's what dawned on me when I was listening to these songs in Spatial: I was listening to these songs that I knew really well, but I was feeling something different. So, it's not even just about the way it's going to end up sounding, it's very much how songs are going to feel.
Spatial Audio on Apple Music will get even more immersive in iOS 15 with the addition of dynamic head tracking when wearing AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.