A little over a week ago I decided to activate my three-month free trial with Apple Music. This was at the expense of my Spotify subscription, which I cancelled for the duration of the trial with a view to leaving permanently if the new service worked out better. My initial impression of Apple Music was one of awe. Awe at the depth of the catalogue, the sound quality, and how easy it was to integrate into my music collection.
I haven’t looked into the technical specs of the sound quality, mainly because I think the numbers don’t matter. It’s my ears that count, not bitrates and whatnot. To me, the sound quality with Apple music is superior. Through the same headphones I used with Spotify, Apple Music’s tracks just sound bigger and more present. Spotify had a tendency to sound a bit tinny and exactly as you’d expect a streaming service to sound. Apple Music has a depth that is almost on par with the music I own and have on my device.
Playlists are Apple’s big selling point, with human curated compilations rather than Spotify’s algorithm calculated suggestions. I have enjoyed the Apple ones and they do tend to be close to what I would generally choose to listen to, but this is also its weakness. They are too good at finding things I would already listen to, while Spotify’s wildly off base algorithm would come up with leftfield things that bore no relation to what I had listened to in the past. That’s not to say that Spotify didn’t present a lot of things that were simply of the same genre or from the same country, but sometimes they would come up with something new and exciting that I would never think to search for. Apple seems to take things I have in my collection and feed me back playlists of their favourite Blur songs, or what they consider to be Wilco’s best, or Radiohead’s “deep cuts” – a term that makes me shudder with embarrassment.
Over the course of the last week, I have discovered that using Apple Music has changed the way I approach my music collection. On my iPhone it requires turning on iCloud Sharing to download playlists and albums for offline listening, but the upshot of this is that everything across the iCloud is then synced to my phone. This is annoying and a flaw. Apple think that they can find everything I have in my collection in the cloud and let me listen to it anywhere, but they don’t have all the records I have. Also, if the naming convention is different to what they have, it won’t work. So I end up with a lot of pale grey songs that I can’t listen to but are bloating my music app. In the end I just turn off the iCloud Sharing and don’t sync to my phone. I am undecided if I will continue with Apple Music as I already find myself missing the set-up I had with Spotify. The latter made it simpler to see what I had downloaded for offline listening and what i didn’t, ensuring I didn’t waste precious data when I needed to preserve it (usually at the end of the month when my cap was at its limit).
Apple Music has tried to make the subscription music indistinguishable from the purchased music for a seamless experience, and they have succeeded. However, this success has added a layer of confusion that may make me switch back to what I had before. Spotify’s clunky interface and lack of integration are seen as weaknesses, but for me they were important ways to separate the owned from the rented.