Will Beats Music help Apple set new music streaming standard?

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Many people scratched their heads when Apple purchased Beats by Dre earlier this year. To many in the music industry, Beats is considered a mid-range headphone with a “me too” music streaming service backed by aggressive marketing. While some industry insiders thought Apple was purchasing the entire company to get their hands on the design team and their CEO Jimmy Iovine, others were simply baffled.

When Apple updated their OS for Apple TV to match the iOS 8 and Yosemite style last week, music fans were pleasantly surprised by the addition of the Beats Music app to the channel line up. Just days earlier, rumors hit the internet that Apple was going to end the Beats Music streaming service. No doubt, the latest update to Apple TV has us thinking otherwise.

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The popular and fashionable Beats by Dre headphones are often disregarded by audiophiles who feel that the emphasis on heavy bass and disappointing high and mid-range frequencies offer poor sound quality. In contrast, Beats Music provides the best sound quality you will hear from any streaming music service. At 320 kbps, the music is as close to CD quality as you can get in this format, putting rival services like Spotify, iTunes Radio, and Pandora to shame. The sound quality is even better than purchases made directly from Apple’s iTunes Store. Arguably, the sound quality is even better when playing your own catalog of music from the popular iTunes Match service.

Although the unique user interface takes some time getting used to, the folks over at Beats put a lot of thought into optimizing the performance of the service. Once you sign-in for the first time (there is a free 14 day trial), you are prompted to select from a series of colored bubbles, each representing a different music genre. You can press the bubble once to show mild enjoyment, or twice to express enthusiasm. You can also make the selection more prominent with additional presses. If there are music styles that you enjoy but do not see, then you can load more options with the press of a button and continue on with your selections. Once you have completed this process, you are then opted to choose which artists you like in the same manner as before. By doing this, Beats Music learns a good deal about the music you like.

During a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed his admiration for Beats Music because it had an impressive way of knowing exactly what to play next to maintain a certain mood. After the user has interacted with the program long enough, Beats Music can in fact learn your tastes well enough to the degree that Tim Cook described. Of course, it’s not a perfect science, and not everyone will feel the same way about the music choices Beats Music makes. Still, the user has the option to like songs and dislike others and Beats learns more about your musical preferences as time goes on.

One of the most unique features of Beats Music is the Sentence option. The user is prompted to complete a sentence using certain key words that will help describe your exact mood to the application. After hitting “play”, the service will choose music it decides will be right for you. Sentence is a cool, albeit imperfect, feature that may take you down a musical path that you were not expecting, which in part is what makes such experiences fun. All of this seems to suggest that Beats Music is about listening to the music that you like and the process of discovering new artists and musical styles.

Unlike iTunes Radio or Pandora, Beats Music does not offer a free version. You are paying for an interactive, ad-free musical experience that gets to know your taste in music the longer you use it. You can download playlists and entire albums within the app to be played when offline, a convenient feature that will save you a lot of money if you do not have a large data plan with your phone carrier or if you are using Beats on a Wi-Fi only tablet. Although the music files that Beats provides are not small, the quality of the sound is immediately impressive and noticeable.

With the recent retirement of the iPod Classic and an entire year gone by without updates to the iPod line, some believe Apple is finally working on their own high quality music player, much like Neil Young’s Pono or Sony’s new Walkman. Hopefully, this also implies that Apple is finally preparing to provide audiophiles and music lovers a high quality, lossless alternative to the underwhelming quality that seems to dominate the MP3 music industry.

With MP3 purchases on the decline while music streaming services are on the rise, it would behoove Apple to keep Beats Music and learn from the fledgling service. If Apple can continue to improve the sound quality of their music while also adopting some of the smart features built into Beats Music, then Apple may once again set the standard for what we should expect from a stellar music listening service.

About Author

Poet, web designer, and tech writer, Brad Bailey is co-founder of Tech Gen Mag. Having once been a regular in the Orange County poetry circuit, Brad set his notebooks aside to assist childhood friend, Kristian Markus, with the task of building a web-based tech magazine. Born into the Nintendo generation, Brad is a longtime fan of video games, gadgets, and computers.

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