Apple acquires Primephonic classical streamer; will shut it down next week; plans new service

Good news for classical lovers in Apple Music, bad news for Primephonic subscribers: Apple has bought Primephonic and will shut it down a week from today.

It’s not competition roadkill; Apple does not run a direct competitor in the classical music streaming app field. Apple Music does include classical music, of course. The purpose of acquiring Primephonic is to improve that aspect of Apple’s existing service, and to eventually create a new stand-alone service built to the unique requirements of classical music and its fans.

“In the coming months, Apple Music Classical fans will get a dedicated experience with the best features of Primephonic, including better browsing and search capabilities by composer and by repertoire, detailed displays of classical music metadata, plus new features and benefits,” the company says in its news release.

Primephonic was created to solve the persistent failures of global streaming services when presenting classical music. The standard metadata for non-classical song-based music (Artist / Album / Track) does not work in the classical repertoire. “Artist” can mean performer or composer, for example, whereas the composer in pop music is mostly disregarded. Should “track” be an entire sonata, or one of its movements? And calling classical pieces (which are mostly instrumental) “songs” is profoundly offensive to classical music lovers.

So, creating a comprehensible catalog of classical music is a thorny proposition, beyond the ken of broad music services. One result — aside from offending a small portion of users — is that search and discovery of classical formats and recordings are ruined for the most part.

Primephonic was started in mid-2017 to solve these problems and build a business on the small and passionate classical listening market. Apple seems to share the mission and see the business potential of serving the niche classical audience.

“We love and have a deep respect for classical music, and Primephonic has become a fan favorite for classical enthusiasts,” said Oliver Schusser, Apple’s vice president of Apple Music and Beats. “Together, we’re bringing great new classical features to Apple Music, and in the near future, we’ll deliver a dedicated classical experience that will truly be the best in the world.”

Meanwhile, the existing service will be unplugged next Tuesday, September 7. Primephonic subscribers will be bundled into Apple Music for six months without charge — we predict painful disappointment with that arrangement. On the bright side, those aficionados will access a robust classical catalog, if a poorly sorted one compared to a specialty service, and thousands of classical albums are encoded with the Dolby/Apple “Spatial Audio” tech which more deeply articulates the sonic experience.

In time (“coming months” the company says) Apple will launch a new dedicated classical streaming experience based on Primephonic tech.


Brad Hill