According to a survey, classical music fans are more technically savvy than pop music fans – yet they stream much less. Primephonic’s creators believe that disparity is caused by the lack of quality options for classical streaming, and so it decided to rectify that with a Spotify-esque service specifically tailored to classical music.
Let’s start with the basics: Primephonic’s catalog is extensive, and impressive. You’d be hard-pressed to find a well-known work that isn’t represented here with multiple recordings, and its powerful search engine helps you find your favorites quickly and easily.
That’s if you know what you want, however – for those less familiar with classical music, you’ll be pleased to know that Primephonic’s curated playlists are an excellent way to learn more about a specific composer, or to discover new works from a favorite sub-genre or mood. Even if you do know your Bach from your Brahms, the app’s home page really does wonders to encourage discovery.
There are playlists based around particular instruments, and collections of music by child prodigies or female composers. If you want something evocative of storms, or forests, or morning, you’re covered here. Your next Halloween party or tabletop gaming session can be augmented with playlists of spooky music inspired by ghosts and monsters. In short, there’s a lot of diversity here and plenty to explore.
Most songs have multiple recordings to choose from – hitting Listen starts up the most popular version of the work, but if you want to seek out a particular rendition, it’s easily done. There’s plenty of detail to consume on each version of each track, including the names of everyone involved with the recording and which movements are covered. The detailed organizational system here is built from the ground up with classical music in mind, and clearly showcases information that’s often overlooked in other music apps. It’s a breath of fresh air.
However, lots of things you take for granted from services Apple Music or Spotify are absent here. Though there is a deluge of data about individual tracks, information is somewhat lacking when it comes to playlists. There’s no indication of the total length or number of tracks, and no shuffle button in sight.
We reached out to the developers on that last point, who assured us that a shuffle button is low on their list of priorities because almost everything in the app is either a sequence of precise movements from a composer, or a lovingly curated collection with “a careful intention behind the order of songs.” It would be madness to shuffle the constituent parts of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, for example, and Primephonic’s curators aim for that same level of consideration even in their playlists that feature multiple composers.
Still, it would be nice to have shuffle as an option for those few playlists that are closer in nature to a greatest hits pop album, and the devs say that such features are in the pipeline for later this year.
Price-wise, a monthly subscription clocks in cheaper than other music streaming services – $8/£8 per month, or $80/£80 up front for a year. Those prices will grant access to 320kbps MP3s, which is a pretty standard format and plenty good enough for most users. However, if you’re an audiophile with an expensive sound system then 320kbps just won’t cut it. If that’s the case, you can unlock extremely high-quality lossless FLAC audio files by picking the next subscription tier – though you’ll have to pay almost twice as much for the privilege, and there’s no family plan in sight.
That said, signing up grants access on iOS, Android, and via the Primephonic web player on a computer. Lots of ways to listen. Helpfully, the app makes it easy to choose your preferred audio quality, and whether you’d like to use a lower quality when streaming via a cellular connection to conserve data allowances.
So, Primephonic is not a perfect streaming service, but it’s certainly good – and the core value proposition is hard to ignore for anyone with more than a passing interest in the medium. For classical music buffs – or anyone wishing to become one – we’ve not seen a better solution on the App Store, or even anything close to it.