Apple's Eddy Cue says Spatial Audio is a 'game-changer' for music

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Apple services chief Eddy Cue says that Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos could be the "game-changer" that the music industry has been waiting for, while lossless audio will be a much more niche feature.

Credit: Apple
Credit: Apple


Apple on Monday launched Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio content, bringing immersive 3D streaming and higher-quality audio to Apple Music. A day after the launch, Cue spoke with Billboard to discuss the release of the new Apple Music features.

On lossless audio quality, Cue admits that only a "small set of customers" would actually be able to tell the difference between a normal track and a lossless one. He says some customers who have "incredibly ears" and "very, very high-quality stereo equipment" could tell the difference. For most people, "our ears aren't that good," he said.

"It's a small set of customers, but they want it and we'll certainly give it to them, and they'll have it as part of this. The good news is they'll have lossless and they'll have Dolby Atmos and Spatial," Cue said.

Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos, on the other hand, could be a true "game-changer," the Apple services chief added. Cue likened the quality to HD television -- pretty much any person can immediately tell a difference.

"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 said.

Cue said that Apple spent time talking to labels and artists and educating them on Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos. This step was necessary because converting a song to Spatial Audio requires an in-depth process. It's not a "take-the-file that you have in stereo, processes through this software application and out comes Dolby Atmos," he said.

Because of the additional steps necessary, Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos is launching with a limited set of artists initially. Apple Music offers more than 75 million songs. As of writing, Spatial Audio is only available on "thousands."

Cue does believe that this is just the beginning. He says that, eventually, "every new song that comes out" will support Dolby Atmos.

On the subject of support in CarPlay or third-party speakers, Cue says that he believes Spatial Audio "will go everywhere." Although support within a vehicle is not simple, he believes there's no doubt the platform will become available more broadly in the future.

When asked about the fact that Apple's AirPods Max didn't support lossless, Cue acknowledged that it's a problem, but only a minor one.

"So, yeah, I think there's a small problem with that, but it's a niche problem because, again, most people never have even heard of lossless to begin with and it's only when you tell them [they acknowledge it]. When they hear Spatial Audio and they get to listen to it, I think it's game over," Cue said.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 25
    Eddie Cue is quite right: it’s a small set of customers, alright. Most people can’t hear beyond the limits of 20Hz-20KHz, and even if you can, without the right audio chain there’s just no way you’d hear those differences anyway. Personally, I liked to know that it’s an option, but when I’m on the go, lossless isn’t as much a priority as having access to whatever I want to listen to at a relatively high standard. Lossless is for at home with the amplifier and head cans, a nice Scotch, and the time to actually sit and listen and appreciate. 
    baconstangidomowatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 25
    Eddie Cue is quite right: it’s a small set of customers, alright. Most people can’t hear beyond the limits of 20Hz-20KHz, and even if you can, without the right audio chain there’s just no way you’d hear those differences anyway. Personally, I liked to know that it’s an option, but when I’m on the go, lossless isn’t as much a priority as having access to whatever I want to listen to at a relatively high standard. Lossless is for at home with the amplifier and head cans, a nice Scotch, and the time to actually sit and listen and appreciate. 
    "A nice Scotch" removes the need for "lossless" - I personally find a bottle of wine gradually improves sound quality in direct relation to the amount drunk!
    patchythepirateglennhwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 25
    Eddie Cue is quite right: it’s a small set of customers, alright. Most people can’t hear beyond the limits of 20Hz-20KHz, and even if you can, without the right audio chain there’s just no way you’d hear those differences anyway. Personally, I liked to know that it’s an option, but when I’m on the go, lossless isn’t as much a priority as having access to whatever I want to listen to at a relatively high standard. Lossless is for at home with the amplifier and head cans, a nice Scotch, and the time to actually sit and listen and appreciate. 
    "A nice Scotch" removes the need for "lossless" - I personally find a bottle of wine gradually improves sound quality in direct relation to the amount drunk!
    "A nice Scotch" removes the need for "lossless" - I personally find a bottle of wine gradually improves sound quality in direct relation to the amount drunk!
    Heh, well, quite. Mind you, pal, I’ve got a 34 year-old bottle of Bunnahabhain sitting on the mantelpiece that’s worth rather north of £600 per bottle — the remembrance of which is a guarantor of restraint and propriety.
    patchythepirateJapheywatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 25
    So what’s the best for listening to Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos? Would that be great speakers or headphones?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 25
    In my opinion, headphones for lossless and speakers for Atmos. I’m very lucky to be able to afford both. The thing is, it’s just no good investing only in the headphones or the speakers without the right kit to drive it all. For that, I usually recommend to my fam-fams the Hi-Fi line-up from Cambridge Audio, which I’ve system-matched to Fyne Audio speakers and a pair of Beyerdynamic T1 headphones, but if you’ve got North American ears (and the budget), you might prefer to start with McIntosh and Grado and build your system from there.
    patchythepiratebaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 25
    Eddie Cue is quite right: it’s a small set of customers, alright. Most people can’t hear beyond the limits of 20Hz-20KHz, and even if you can, without the right audio chain there’s just no way you’d hear those differences anyway. Personally, I liked to know that it’s an option, but when I’m on the go, lossless isn’t as much a priority as having access to whatever I want to listen to at a relatively high standard. Lossless is for at home with the amplifier and head cans, a nice Scotch, and the time to actually sit and listen and appreciate. 
    "A nice Scotch" removes the need for "lossless" - I personally find a bottle of wine gradually improves sound quality in direct relation to the amount drunk!
    "A nice Scotch" removes the need for "lossless" - I personally find a bottle of wine gradually improves sound quality in direct relation to the amount drunk!
    Heh, well, quite. Mind you, pal, I’ve got a 34 year-old bottle of Bunnahabhain sitting on the mantelpiece that’s worth rather north of £600 per bottle — the remembrance of which is a guarantor of restraint and propriety.
    If you don't drink it - someone else will - so I suggest you make sure it's poured on your grave - it upset your relatives to do it!
    Mephisdogoleswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 25
    iyfcalviniyfcalvin Posts: 78member
    Regarding Lossless, In my opinion, the average person can “hear” the difference. The key to that is whether they can “recognize the difference and appreciate it.  The “average” person today has lived primarily with highly compressed music, lower quality electronics, emphasizing booming and distorted sounds.  They would not recognize the difference at all.  
    It’s akin to serving an unfamiliar foreign culinary entree to an American palate and having them recognize and appreciate the flavor while growing up on a fast food, prepared food diet.
    mobirdbaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 25
    rcfarcfa Posts: 1,124member
    Most people never heard of lossless? Really?

    Anyone who’s ever heard of these silver discs calls “CD”s has heard of lossless.

    Only Napster, music piracy in conjunction with slow internet, metered cellular data and expensive flash memory brought us the “blessings” of lossy audio compression algorithms.

    So, no, lossless isn’t “niche”, it was and should always be the normal case, lossy compression should be the exception.
    mobirdbaconstangiyfcalvin
  • Reply 9 of 25
    iyfcalvin said:
    Regarding Lossless, In my opinion, the average person can “hear” the difference. The key to that is whether they can “recognize the difference and appreciate it.  The “average” person today has lived primarily with highly compressed music, lower quality electronics, emphasizing booming and distorted sounds.  They would not recognize the difference at all.  
    It’s akin to serving an unfamiliar foreign culinary entree to an American palate and having them recognize and appreciate the flavor while growing up on a fast food, prepared food diet.
    There are many variants between "lossless" and compressed audio, lossless only means it recreates (the often poor) recording accurately.  Most master recordings are made with many objectives in mind (vinyl, broadcast, etc) and most aim to reduce dynamic range to avoid noise and keep the average sound levels consistent.
    Mephisdogoles
  • Reply 10 of 25
    If you don't drink it - someone else will - so I suggest you make sure it's poured on your grave - it upset your relatives to do it!
    I like to enjoys a wee dream from that bottle on very special occasions; my usual tipple is a 16 year-old Laphroaig or the lovely Bushmills original, both over ice. Yea, I sometimes smoke a pipe.
  • Reply 11 of 25
    If you don't drink it - someone else will - so I suggest you make sure it's poured on your grave - it upset your relatives to do it!
    I like to enjoys a wee dream from that bottle on very special occasions; my usual tipple is a 16 year-old Laphroaig or the lovely Bushmills original, both over ice. Yea, I sometimes smoke a pipe.
    Yes, I can agree with the 16 year-old, not sure about the pipe though.
  • Reply 12 of 25
    In defence of the pipe, something’s got to kill me, and I would rather have my little pleasure and live a short(er) life than to have a longer life bereft of the pleasure.
    edited June 2021 baconstang
  • Reply 13 of 25
    In defence of the pipe, something’s got to kill me, and I would rather have my little pleasure and live a short(er) life than to have a longer life bereft of the pleasure.
    Not sure you got the double entendre - your pipe is forgiven - I'm probably on the wrong site.
  • Reply 14 of 25
    genovellegenovelle Posts: 1,391member
    rcfa said:
    Most people never heard of lossless? Really?

    Anyone who’s ever heard of these silver discs calls “CD”s has heard of lossless.

    Only Napster, music piracy in conjunction with slow internet, metered cellular data and expensive flash memory brought us the “blessings” of lossy audio compression algorithms.

    So, no, lossless isn’t “niche”, it was and should always be the normal case, lossy compression should be the exception.
    CDs are not lossless. They are limited to 16 bits and 44.1 kHz while lossless is at least 24 bits and 96 kHz. Every record theses days is recorded well above CD quality. 
    williamlondon
  • Reply 15 of 25
    genovelle said:
    rcfa said:
    Most people never heard of lossless? Really?

    Anyone who’s ever heard of these silver discs calls “CD”s has heard of lossless.

    Only Napster, music piracy in conjunction with slow internet, metered cellular data and expensive flash memory brought us the “blessings” of lossy audio compression algorithms.

    So, no, lossless isn’t “niche”, it was and should always be the normal case, lossy compression should be the exception.
    CDs are not lossless. They are limited to 16 bits and 44.1 kHz while lossless is at least 24 bits and 96 kHz. Every record theses days is recorded well above CD quality. 
    Nothing is lossless - not even analogue - lossless is an unhelpful word, as it is relative, or if you like, how much change from the original.

    in fact you would be hard pressed to determine the difference between 16/44.1 and 24/96k - try a blind test if you think you can. 
    baconstang
  • Reply 16 of 25
    sevenfeetsevenfeet Posts: 451member
    genovelle said:
    rcfa said:
    Most people never heard of lossless? Really?

    Anyone who’s ever heard of these silver discs calls “CD”s has heard of lossless.

    Only Napster, music piracy in conjunction with slow internet, metered cellular data and expensive flash memory brought us the “blessings” of lossy audio compression algorithms.

    So, no, lossless isn’t “niche”, it was and should always be the normal case, lossy compression should be the exception.
    CDs are not lossless. They are limited to 16 bits and 44.1 kHz while lossless is at least 24 bits and 96 kHz. Every record theses days is recorded well above CD quality. 
    CDs are lossless. They do not use a compression technology that throws away data like MP3 or AAC. That is the meaning of "lossless". Do not confuse that with the sampling and bit rates, which certainly do make a difference to the overall sound profile.

    As for what Eddy Cue said, yes Spatial Audio will probably make a bigger difference to most listeners than lossless.  Most people get their music from their phones now and since lossless Bluetooth isn't a thing, Spatial Audio/Dolby Atmos makes more sense because it can be implemented with what most listeners already have.

    That being said, I'm in the minority of users who does have the ability to easily show the difference between lossy AAC and lossless and especially HiRes audio. I have a dedicated 2 channel listening room, a smaller 5.1 home theater listening room and a larger 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos home theater. I spent some of today listening to the Atmos tracks in the Atmos theater and it sounded nice....not unlike the similar content on Tidal (which I also subscribe to mainly since I use the Roon player). I've been waiting for Apple to go lossless for a LONG time, and we got the added bonus of HiRes lossless which I wasn't expecting.

    The problem for me now is that Roon has made it really easy to pipe my lossless and HiRes music to wherever I am in the house at the best possible quality. Apple Music and Airplay can't do that right now which makes using it for day to day listening a lot harder. Airplay can do straight 16 bit/44.1 CD quality lossless right now (it's been part of the standard since Airplay 1 was invented two decades ago). But I usually try to listen to HiRes audio these days if I can and that's going to be hard to feed my DACs which already connected to Roon.
    williamlondontmay
  • Reply 17 of 25
    sevenfeet said:
    genovelle said:
    rcfa said:
    Most people never heard of lossless? Really?

    Anyone who’s ever heard of these silver discs calls “CD”s has heard of lossless.

    Only Napster, music piracy in conjunction with slow internet, metered cellular data and expensive flash memory brought us the “blessings” of lossy audio compression algorithms.

    So, no, lossless isn’t “niche”, it was and should always be the normal case, lossy compression should be the exception.
    CDs are not lossless. They are limited to 16 bits and 44.1 kHz while lossless is at least 24 bits and 96 kHz. Every record theses days is recorded well above CD quality. 
    CDs are lossless. They do not use a compression technology that throws away data like MP3 or AAC. That is the meaning of "lossless". Do not confuse that with the sampling and bit rates, which certainly do make a difference to the overall sound profile.

    As for what Eddy Cue said, yes Spatial Audio will probably make a bigger difference to most listeners than lossless.  Most people get their music from their phones now and since lossless Bluetooth isn't a thing, Spatial Audio/Dolby Atmos makes more sense because it can be implemented with what most listeners already have.

    That being said, I'm in the minority of users who does have the ability to easily show the difference between lossy AAC and lossless and especially HiRes audio. I have a dedicated 2 channel listening room, a smaller 5.1 home theater listening room and a larger 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos home theater. I spent some of today listening to the Atmos tracks in the Atmos theater and it sounded nice....not unlike the similar content on Tidal (which I also subscribe to mainly since I use the Roon player). I've been waiting for Apple to go lossless for a LONG time, and we got the added bonus of HiRes lossless which I wasn't expecting.

    The problem for me now is that Roon has made it really easy to pipe my lossless and HiRes music to wherever I am in the house at the best possible quality. Apple Music and Airplay can't do that right now which makes using it for day to day listening a lot harder. Airplay can do straight 16 bit/44.1 CD quality lossless right now (it's been part of the standard since Airplay 1 was invented two decades ago). But I usually try to listen to HiRes audio these days if I can and that's going to be hard to feed my DACs which already connected to Roon.
    If Cd's are lossless then why have 24bit 96k or higher - surely 16bit 44.1k is enough
    williamlondon
  • Reply 18 of 25
    IreneWIreneW Posts: 300member
    genovelle said:
    rcfa said:
    Most people never heard of lossless? Really?

    Anyone who’s ever heard of these silver discs calls “CD”s has heard of lossless.

    Only Napster, music piracy in conjunction with slow internet, metered cellular data and expensive flash memory brought us the “blessings” of lossy audio compression algorithms.

    So, no, lossless isn’t “niche”, it was and should always be the normal case, lossy compression should be the exception.
    CDs are not lossless. They are limited to 16 bits and 44.1 kHz while lossless is at least 24 bits and 96 kHz. Every record theses days is recorded well above CD quality. 
    That is not really true (even if we ignore that "lossless" is completely undefined and a pointless term). 
    Exchanging audio files between studios, mix and mastering sites, and record companies, is most often 44.1 or 48 kHz and 24 bits. The latter to preserve headroom for the mixing/mastering and encoding process, but the "extra" 8 bits doesn't really carry any useful information in most recordings (and can certainly not be heard in any normal reproduction system).

    williamlondon
  • Reply 19 of 25
    baconstangbaconstang Posts: 904member
    "Game changer"...

    Isn't that what they said about "Quad" 45 years ago?
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