The Beatles’ Last Stand

The Beatles’ Last Stand

On September 27, 2023, executives from Apple Corps and Universal Music Group held a press occasion on the Dolby Theater in Manhattan. The occasion included Dolby Atmos demos of forthcoming Beatles releases. It included some large information—though the largest information wasn’t apparent at first.

The apparent headline: The Beatles are releasing a brand new tune. It’s known as "Now & Then," and all 4 Beatles play on it. You’ve most likely heard about it by now, since there is a large advertising and marketing marketing campaign. UMG is asking it "the final Beatles tune." For extra info, see this article.

Those attending the press occasion additionally realized that on November 10, Universal and Apple Records will reissue the Red and Blue albums in expanded, fiftieth Anniversary type, as 2-CD and 3-LP units and for streaming, with "demixed" remixes of each tune from Magical Mystery Tour backward. (The remixes of The Beatles—aka the "White Album"—and Abbey Road have already been reissued, and among the Let It Be multitrack tapes and dwell recordings had been "demixed" for the Let It Be reissue.)

For audiophiles, crucial info revealed that day was probably not in regards to the Beatles. It got here in response to a query Stereophile directed at Apple Corps CEO Jeff Jones. (Apple Corps Ltd., the Beatles’ umbrella company, is after all not associated to Apple Computer’s Apple Music, which can be concerned on this story.)

A little bit of background. Soon after Apple Music’s 2021 press occasion saying its embrace of Dolby Atmos and "spatial audio" (additionally lossless stereo, although that was deemphasized), one in every of us (JCA) poked round to see what he may be taught in regards to the know-how. JCA realized that Atmos in its lossless, hi-rez "TrueHD" type is able to wonderful technical high quality—however Apple Music’s streaming model of Atmos is fairly lossy, maxing out at a bitrate of 768kbps for loudspeaker supply—roughly equal to 1 channel of CD-quality audio—and a disappointing 256kbps should you’re utilizing headphones (footnote 1). When you contemplate that Atmos is a multichannel know-how—the specification permits as much as 128 audio channels for enter—you understand how lossy it’s on this distribution format.

We’re primarily two-channel guys for music listening, however we’re open-minded. TF enjoys his assortment of four-channel "quadraphonic" recordings. We’ve each lengthy appreciated the theoretical benefits of multichannel audio and the expertise of well-produced multichannel music.

Those lossy-compression charges, although, are scary. If we need to expertise these new Beatles records in Dolby Atmos—that is all they performed on the press convention—in actual excessive constancy, the place ought to we flip?

It has been clear for some time to anybody paying consideration that components within the recorded-music business are pushing exhausting for Atmos. Audio engineers present an Atmos combine as a deliverable for a lot of new albums and remasters. Many of these mixes are most likely excellent, and little doubt they’re combined, mastered, and archived in lossless type—even in excessive decision. But there is a critical distribution drawback: The solely manner most individuals can entry an Atmos combine is by way of a streaming service—primarily Apple Music, though Tidal, Qobuz, and Amazon Music supply some Dolby Atmos tracks. As described above, the streaming model of Atmos isextremely lossy. We’ve seen only a few sources of high-quality Atmos downloads, and anyway, downloads look like going away and thus should not the long-term reply. How, then, can we entry higher immersive variations of this music—higher than what’s supplied by the streaming providers—now and sooner or later?

One of us (JCA) has been asking this query ever since Apple Music’s Dolby Atmos debut and has not often obtained a straight reply. Jones—the Apple Corps CEO—supplied one. In the previous, higher-quality Atmos information (and different multichannel codecs) had been stashed on Blu-ray discs in just a few deluxe version field units, together with among the earlier Beatles fiftieth anniversary "tremendous deluxe" bins. Jones’s information: Those Blu-ray discs are going away. Why? Because they increase prices therefore the retail worth, and, as Jones put it, "only a few customers care." The streaming model of Atmos spatial audio, Jones mentioned, "made the Blu-ray out of date." Neither the brand new Beatles tune nor the brand new remixes will probably be accessible in high-quality Atmos. What you stream on Apple Music is what you get.

Jones might be right: Few customers care. Streaming Atmos is sweet sufficient for most people. Older audiophiles have lived lengthy sufficient to recollect earlier generations of file executives telling us that nobody cares about higher sound. We, after all, are these "only a few customers." We do care.

Jeff Jones does not converse for the entire music business. One suspects, although, that the opinion he expressed is broadly held, and he appears to be proper about Blu-ray discs: They’re hardly thriving as a music-distribution format. (We’re much less positive about motion pictures.) Except for vinyl, bodily codecs normally are fading (footnote 2). The solely factor prone to be left standing is streaming—plus, possibly, vinyl.

How a lot does this matter? The key factor for us is that stereo variations will proceed to be accessible on the regular top quality, streaming and in any other case. Indeed, latest Beatles reissues have streamed at 24/96.

We suspect—however after all we will not make sure—that Apple Music’s lossy Atmos will slowly fade away below the load of upper manufacturing prices, lack of client curiosity, and inferior technical high quality on this distributed type. Experience exhibits that folks do not precisely discover a discount in high quality. They merely cease listening.

Jones’s feedback made one factor clear: For these of us who care about perfectionist audio, Atmos, as conceived by record-company executives, isn’t the reply. We ought to hope for its demise.

Footnote 1: See skilled.dolby.com/occasions/dolby-atmos-music-specifications/#gref. Atmos additionally has different disadvantages. It does not "fold down" to stereo very nicely; a devoted two-channel stereo combine is superior (particularly when it is lossless). And Atmos is proprietary, not an open format. Those who use it should pay royalties to Dolby. If you had been against MQA on these grounds, it is best to, for consistency’s sake, oppose Atmos.

Footnote 2: See riaa.com/u-s-sales-database. If something, downloads are fading even sooner.

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November 16, 2023 at 04:08PM

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