Tag Archive for ‘Music’

Switching Your Default HomePod Music Service to Pandora ➝

John Voorhees, writing for MacStories:

Apple first revealed that the HomePod would support third-party music streaming services at WWDC without any explanation of how that would work. However, with the release of Pandora’s update, we now know that the process involves a combination of the third-party app’s settings and Apple’s Home app.

Other third-party music services are sure to follow Pandora’s lead, so even if you’re not a Pandora user, it’s instructive to see how it has implemented HomePod integration.

I gave this a try yesterday afternoon and it works really well. I’ve never been an Apple Music subscriber, but have two HomePods throughout our house — and a HomePod Mini on the way. Instead, my wife and I use a combination of Pandora Plus and Plex through Prism.

Some of our music was purchased through iTunes so we can certainly use voice commands for some of our playback interactions on HomePod, but because all of our music isn’t available, more often than not we simply use AirPlay from our iPhones.

But the mental model of this new setup is much easier to grok. Being able to playback Pandora radio stations through voice commands on our HomePod and continuing to play specific songs and albums with AirPlay is quite nice.

➝ Source: macstories.net

The Streaming Model for Music Doesn’t Work for Artists When They Do Not Earn Live Performance Income ➝

Nick Heer:

There has never been a better time to support musicians directly. The next Bandcamp fee waiver day is June 5, and many artists sell merch and records on the web. You can still buy albums on iTunes, too, in the way your great aunt told you stories about.

I’ve purchased about a half-dozen albums over the past couple of months between physical CDs and iTunes purchases, which is much more than I typically do. If you’re able to support your favorite musicians right now, I would encourage you to do so.

➝ Source: pxlnv.com

A First Look at the Doppler 2 Music App ➝

Marius Masalar takes a look at Doppler 2, a music app that’s built for people that maintain a collection of purchased tracks. The app looks slick and I’d love to give it a try, but you essentially have to transfer your music manually with iTunes file transfer, the Files app, or the app’s built-in WiFi transfer feature.

I currently store my music in my Plex library and use Prism for playback. Prism let’s me authenticate with my Plex credentials and either stream audio right from my server or download the tracks to play them locally. I can pick and choose which tracks to download or, from the library view, I can download all tracks that I haven’t yet. I would love to see Doppler fern this as an option as well. Until then, I’ll stick with Prism.

➝ Source: thesweetsetup.com

Taking Stock of Subscriptions ➝

Nick Heer, on the subscription pricing trend:

But, especially over the long term, I think users will find it fatiguing — at best — to live in a world where we pay hundreds of dollars a month to listen to music, use software, and store files. There are advantages: we can listen to most music of our choosing on demand; our software is constantly up to date and regularly has new features; the files we store are synced across our devices.

Extrapolated over a longer term, however, these niceties start to feel like lock-in. What if your music listening habits don’t change all that much? What if you don’t really need all those new features, or you’re frustrated that you feel forced to relearn a piece of software you’ve relied upon for years because an update changed the UI dramatically? What if you only edit most of your files from the same device?

I’ve embraced subscription pricing for some things — like the software that I use and rely on every single day. I’m looking at you, 1Password, Ulysses, TextExpander, Overcast, Day One, and Bear. But there’s a part of me that feels like subscription services are a terrible trap in other contexts.

Take music, for example. What happens in ten years when the pace with which you listen to new music slows? You find yourself listening to the same hundred albums over and over again. In previous generations? No big deal. You bought your records, 8-tracks, or cassettes and can listen to them until they physically cease to function.

But with subscription services, you either keep paying or go through the costly process of buying the music you truly care about. Because you never actually bought the albums, you just paid a monthly fee for access to them.

Prism for iOS

Prism, Artist and Album List

While everyone was fawning over Soor, a full-scale Apple Music client that shipped last month, I was sticking to my roots of purchasing and managing my own library of music. Not to say that I don’t like Soor, quite the contrary, I even purchased the app despite not having an Apple Music subscription. I love seeing innovation in the App Store and will gladly support developers that do so. But paying a monthly fee for a streaming music service just isn’t my style.

I’ve maintained a collection of purchased AAC files and ripped MP3s ever since I received my first iPod as a gift over fourteen years ago. Back then I was managing my music in iTunes, not only because it was a great piece of software, but also because it was the only software that was capable of syncing with my primary audio player. But a couple years ago I transitioned my media to Plex — starting with my ripped movie and TV show collection and then eventually moving my music library as well.

It’s been a wonderful experience to have my media living in an application that allows me to stream from my home server to any device I own — whether I’m in my living room watching a movie on the Apple TV, streaming an episode of The Office on my iPad from a hotel, or playing back music in my car from my iPhone. Plex makes it easy to manage my music and gives me access to it whenever and wherever I want it.

I’ve watched as many of my friends and family have moved from purchasing music to paying a monthly fee to use a streaming service and I don’t entirely understand the appeal. Maybe if I was constantly discovering and listening to new music, I’d consider using such a servic, but that’s never been the way I experience music. I have a very distinct taste and rarely enjoy anything outside of that niche — I listen to pop-punk music almost exclusively. Since I only find a handful of new albums that I enjoy each year, its far more economical for me to purchase the music I want and use my existing home server and client applications to access it.

But the Plex app has never been a great music player. I would describe it as “passable at best”. You can build playlists, search for songs, sync tracks to your device for offline playback, and more. It has all the features you would want, but it lacks the simplicity and focus that I enjoy in a music application. I don’t want too many additional features to get in my way when I want to listen to the latest album by Stand Atlantic.

From the time I started managing my music library in Plex, every few months I would find myself searching the web for a music-focused application that I could use as a replacement for Plex’s own app. Something that was a little closer in functionality to Plexamp, which is the experimental, super minimal music player for Mac, Windows, and Linux that the folks at Plex released a little over a year ago.

Prism, Player and Up Next

Plexamp has become my default music player on macOS and I wanted something simple and streamlined that would allow me to playback music from my Plex library on iOS. My searching always came up empty, though. That is, until a few weeks ago when I came across a post on Plex’s forum from the developer of Prism.

Prism can playback locally stored music that you’ve synced from iTunes or purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Music Store. But more importantly, you can sign in with your Plex account and playback music from your Plex library.

The app has a simple interface that’s reminiscent of the iPod app from the early days of iOS. After logging into your Plex account and selecting your music library, you’re presented with a list of artists. You can tap the “Filter” button to display your library by album or track, if you prefer, and there are options for sorting as well — by name, recently added, most popular, and most played.

After selecting an artist, you can even choose how you want the individual artist page to display. I prefer a simple list of albums that I can tap to display tracks from, but you can display all of the tracks from the artist with album headers instead. And just like the main view, you have the ability to select how the items are sorted as well.

The application places a heavy focus on its filtering functionality, which gives you the ability to build playlists on the fly based on any number of criteria that you can mix and match to find just the songs you want — you can filter based on release date, whether or not a track has been played, media kind, artist, and more.

I haven’t found the filtering feature to be particularly useful for me, though. It’s nifty, but the app doesn’t allow you to save these filters for future use. So if you built one that was particularly rad, you would have to rebuild it each time you wanted to use it. In the future, I’d like to be able to save these filters as playlists or smart playlists because, for now, I don’t see the point in spending much time building complex filters only to lose all that work when I want to change views.

Alongside the app’s overall focus and minimalistic aesthetic, I’m a huge fan of the app’s player view. With the exception of the scrub bar, it features big chunky playback controls that are easy to interact with. Unlike the Plex app, there isn’t a bunch of additional, unnecessary cruft that clutters up the player. I don’t have any use for omnipresent repeat and shuffle buttons and I can’t think of a single instance where I’ve used the 10- and 30-second skip buttons, all of which are featured prominently in the Plex player.

Meanwhile, the main player view for Prism sticks to the basics — a scrub bar, play/pause, next, previous, a like button, volume bar, and AirPlay. The app also features an info button that will toggle the display of additional details about the file you’re playing — file format, bitrate, file size, and more. This is the only unnecessary control on the main player and it’s quite unobtrusive so I’m willing to overlook this minor detail.

But the player view is a bit deeper than what immediately meets the eye. You can swipe left and right on the album art, which functions as a next/previous track control. I don’t find myself using it too often, but I could see this being handy at times when you want to skip tracks without looking at the screen — like when you’re driving.

One of my favorite features of Prism, though, is the ability to swipe up on the player, revealing the repeat button and, more importantly, the Up Next queue. You can swipe on an individual track to remove it from the queue or use the grabber bars on the right to reorder them to your liking. My typical workflow involves launching the app, hitting shuffle from the main view to shuffle all of the tracks in my library. From there, I can swipe to the Up Next queue and remove tracks that I’m not in the mood for. This gives me the spontaneity of shuffle without the unexpected buzzkill, as Jimmy Iovine would put it.

The app isn’t without faults, of course. I’ve run into a bug a handful of times where the player won’t display properly — the album art and controls get sort of stuck while loading and the app loses most of its interactivity. The music still plays and you can control playback using Control Center or the lock screen, but the app itself is just in some weird mostly-frozen state.

I have confidence that the developer will track down and fix the bug, though. In the relatively short time I’ve been using the app, the developer has issued three updates, two bug fix-focused releases and one that included a major new feature — offline playback, which I’ll cover in a moment. I’ve also been on the Prism beta for a short while and the developer is typically issuing a handful of builds for each version that makes it to the App Store — there’s quite a bit of development activity.

Regarding that major feature release, though, offline playback is one of the most crucial features for the app. It opens the door for use on airplanes, long road trips with questionable cellular coverage, and home network oddities. Without the ability to cache tracks locally, you’re entirely reliant on your home server being able to serve the files. And that’s assuming you have internet access everywhere you go, which is not the case for my wife. She travels through two cellular dead zones on her daily commute and this app wouldn’t even be an option if not for the ability to download tracks locally.

Prism on iPad

Aside from offline playback, Prism also runs great on the iPad, making excellent use of the additional screen real estate to display both the artist list and the album/track list simultaneously. The developer even refers to the iPad version as “first class” right on the app’s homepage, which is quite reassuring to me, given that the iPad is my primary personal computer. I frequently use my iPad as my music playback device while I work, streaming to the AirPort Express-connected speaker on my desk and it makes for a fantastic listening experience.

Prism is a full-scale music player that offers just about everything you could want and more — I haven’t even covered its support for CarPlay, dark mode, 3D Tough, and multiple icon options. But most importantly, it has the ability to use your Plex library as a music source, which is a feature that simply no one is doing aside from Plex itself. And I think it does a better job in every way.

Linky Adds Songlink and Songwhip Integration ➝

The latest update to Linky adds the ability to convert links from Apple Music or Spotify into a single URL that lets you open the track or album in a variety of music services. You’ll have to enable it in the app’s settings, but it’s worth it. And the settings page for the feature is brilliantly designed, offering an example link that lets you see what the two available services look like before choosing one.

AirPlay 2 Comes to Sonos ➝

From the Sonos weblog:

There’s more great stuff to stream than ever and we want to make it dead simple to enjoy it all on Sonos. That’s why we’re excited to announce the latest addition to the Sonos platform: AirPlay 2.

With AirPlay 2, you can effortlessly stream just about any sound from your iPhone or iPad to one of our AirPlay-compatible speakers. (That’s Sonos One, Beam, Playbase, and the second generation Play:5, by the way.)

$199 for an AirPlay 2 compatible speaker — the Sonos One — sounds like such a great deal, but I just don’t like the idea of having an Alexa-powered device in my home. I don’t want to have that extra mental overhead of remembering which voice assistant I’m speaking to and I’m much more comfortable, from a privacy perspective, with Apple’s offerings.

Call me foolish or paranoid, but I think I’d rather save my money and buy a second HomePod when I can afford it.

HomePod, Preordered

I was on the fence last night about preordering the HomePod. It’s a new product from Apple and therefore I want one, but this wasn’t exactly the most elegant launch. Apple hasn’t done enough to explain the device to customers and many of us are scratching our heads when it comes to implementation details — how will it work with multiple iCloud users? What does the setup process look like? How useful will the limited set of smart speaker features be?

I went to sleep uncertain and this morning I placed my preorder — space gray, if you’re curious. The reality is that, even with recent software fumbles and poor decisions in the Mac hardware line, I still have a great deal of trust in Apple to build the best products on the market. Their messaging with the HomePod leaves a lot to be desired, but I still think it’s going to be a killer device. Even if it takes a few software updates to get there.

We saw a similar scenario with the Watch. And although Apple was a bit better at delivering a cohesive message with that device, many of us were still skeptical at first about its usefulness in day-to-day life. But the Apple Watch turned into a wildly successful product. It took a little time for Apple to discover where they should be focusing their effort, but it only took a few watchOS iterations for the Watch to become an essential device in each of its owners’ lives. And I don’t expect the HomePod to be any different.

We could spend all day discussing the HomePod as a smart speaker that competes with the Amazon Echo and Google Home. And we could spend just as much time discussing the HomePod as a high-end audio device that competes with Sonos and other, more traditional speaker manufacturers. But the HomePod sort-of sits in the middle of that spectrum. And I think, for a first-generation product, Apple is making the right compromises. They’re taking the best parts of those two market segments and marrying them in a slick package that integrates seamlessly with the gadgets many of us already have in our homes — iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, HomeKit devices, etc.

I hope Apple gets their messaging straight over the course of the year and is able to head into the holiday season with a better focus on what makes the HomePod stand out from the competition. With the initial HomePod announcement taking place at least year’s WWDC, I suspect we’ll hear more about future software advancements at this year’s developer conference. That will be the perfect time for Apple to focus on the HomePod features that matter most and hopefully give third-party developers an opportunity to build for the platform. Whether that will actually happen or not, I’m not sure. But I’m certain that Apple is aware of the mistakes they’ve made with the HomePod’s launch and will be taking steps to correct their course in the coming months.