Back in August 2021, Apple acquired Primephonic, a classical music streaming service that was beloved by fans of the genre for its extensive metadata and related editorial content, both of which made searching for specific recordings, labels, conductors, and even soloists a breeze.
In its press release issued at the time to announce the purchase, Apple detailed its plans to create “a dedicated classical music app next year combining Primephonic’s classical user interface that fans have grown to love with more added features.” It also announced that Primephonic would be permanently shut down the following week.
Classical music fans had initially hoped that the Apple Music Classical app’s launch would be announced at WWDC 2022. When that didn’t happen, expectations turned to the arrival of iOS 16 but, much to the chagrin of ex-Primephonic subscribers, when that happened in September 2022 there was no mention of a dedicated Classical app from Apple Music.
Hey @Apple you shut down #Primephonic without releasing Apple Classical?!That’s a failure if I ever saw one #WWDC22 pic.twitter.com/my7jyVLWgwJune 6, 2022
Hey @applemusic, any word on when we'll see Apple Classical, or whatever you will call it? It's been over a year since you shut down Primephonic. I look forward to seeing what you can do with this important but poorly-served category.September 16, 2022
So what is it that made Primephonic so special? Mainly, it offered classical enthusiasts what even the best music streaming services fail to deliver: an ability to easily zone in on a particular recording. For example, when searching for “Stravinsky, the Rite of Spring,” most music streaming services will conjure up an excess of results, with everything from a Classical Vibes playlist to a performance by an obscure orchestra on an obscure label.
And while streaming services have gotten better over the years at servicing classical enthusiasts, a community with very particular requirements, none let you explore the genre with the level of surgical precision offered by Primephonic, which let you browse by artists, composers, works, and periods (e.g., Baroque). More important, the service’s extensive metadata let users click through to orchestras, conductors, and even soloists while reading its abundant editorial content, something that even less ardent fans could appreciate.
Apple’s August 2021 announcement, the first and last time we heard anything official about Primephonic from the company, indicated that the forthcoming dedicated Apple Classical Music app would incorporate all of the above features while heaping on additional enhancements. But where is it?
Apple’s Classical Music App – on the horizon?
A recent post by MacRumors cited a tweet announcing the discovery of “Apple Classical” mentions in some of the company’s backend code. That finding would suggest that the app is definitely in the works, and could even appear in a forthcoming iOS 16 version. Apple’s press release did say that its Primephonic-encompassing Apple Music Classical service would appear in 2022, so there’s still time to make good on that statement.
In the meantime, Apple Music has matched Primephonic on its delivery of high-resolution lossless audio, something that many classical releases on the service benefit from. Apple also has a wide range of classical albums available in Spatial Audio, although that feature may not be one that die-hard fans of the genre and its recorded history will spoon down so readily.
Whatever the fate of Primephonic under the banner of Apple Music, the company will have a tough crowd to please when and if the new Classical service ultimately rolls out. Some of those subscribers, their 6-month free Apple Music subscription having run out, have likely since defected to Idagio, another classical music-only streaming service.
Others may have opted for Qobuz, a high-res audio-centric service with its own extensive editorial content dedicated to classical, along with other music genres. Some of these defectors may also now be using Roon, a subscription-based music library and management software that effectively delivers the same metadata-rich browsing experience as Primephonic, but adds an AI-powered music curation feature that makes eerily on-point personalized recommendations.
Apple Music could easily lure ex-Primephonic subscribers back with a timely release of a Classical Music app that builds on the service’s foundation and enhances it with Siri voice command features. To make things even more appealing, they could bundle it in with the company’s current $10/month subscription. Were they to do that, it would be sweet music to the ears of classical enthusiasts.
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Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine.
When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.