The late David Bowie's music is already immersive on many levels, but that's now reflected in the mixes themselves. All of Bowie's post-2000 studio albums (Heathen, Reality, The Next Day and Blackstar) plus a live album (A Reality Tour) have been remixed in Sony's 360 Reality Audio for release on Amazon Music Unlimited, Deezer and Tidal on January 21st. You can also listen to four of the A Reality Tour songs today (January 6th) at 7PM Eastern through Sony Square and YouTube, and through the Artist Connection mobile app afterward.
Importantly, longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti was responsible for the mixes. This is as close as you'll get to a Bowie-approved mix in 2022, in other words, and it's a fitting tribute for the rock legend's imminent 75th birthday. You can use any headphones to listen in 360 Reality Audio, although Sony would clearly prefer you use its products.
This won't satisfy fans who want 360-degree mixes of full classic albums like Hunky Dory or Low (really, the album with "Sound and Vision" didn't get a rework?). You likewise won't be thrilled if you prefer services like Apple Music or Spotify. Only a handful of Bowie songs have received the spatial audio treatment to date, though — this is still a treat for enthusiasts eager for some audio bliss.
No, Meta and Beat Games still aren't done adding big-name musicians to Beat Saber. They're releasing a 10-song Lady Gaga Music Pack that, as you'd imagine, brings some of the pop superstar's best-known songs to the VR rhythm game on Quest and Rift headsets. There aren't any surprise picks here — the collection ranges from early hits like "Poker Face" to the Ariana Grande collaboration "Rain on Me." Still, you might appreciate slicing to Gaga's beats with a Chromatica-inspired backdrop.
The pack should be available tonight (December 9th) at $13 for the whole bundle, or $2 per song. Completists could undoubtedly poke holes in the selection (you won't get singles like "Applause"), but it's hard to object loudly when Gaga's dance pop should lend itself well to Beat Saber's gameplay.
In partnership with Spotify, Tinder has introduced Music Mode as part of its new Explore section, letting you hear the "Anthem" songs of members when you swipe to their profiles — a sort of mixtape for dates, if you will. The idea is to help you find others that share your musical taste, according to Tinder.
The new feature requires that you link your account to Spotify and choose an Anthem song "that defines [you] inside and out," according to Tinder. If you've done all that, you'll be able to head over to the Explore section and find the Music Mode card. Once you enable that, it'll automatically play any member's chosen anthem when you swipe their profile.
Tinder and Spotify added the Anthem feature back in 2016, so Music Mode is a new way discovering users favorite songs. Tinder notes that "around 40 percent of all Gen Z members globally have already added Anthems to their profiles and when they do, they see a 10 percent increase in matches." Tinder said the Explore tab introduced this summer is the "biggest update to Tinder since the invention of the original Swipe feature," thanks to the interactive features.
At the very least, Music Mode could help reduce the awkwardness of realizing you and your date have nothing in common when it comes to music. "Songs are deeply personal, and Music Mode is a place to spark something new through music," Tinder VP Kyle Miller said in the press release. The new feature should launch "soon," according to Tinder.
In early December, Spotify rolls out its Wrapped year-in-review so that users can relive their go-to artists, songs and podcasts from the last several months. Today, the service is debuting the 2021 installment with some familiar features and a number of new additions, both of which are personalized to each listener's streaming habits. Like before, you'll get all the info on your top artists, genres, songs, podcasts and total minutes listened with the ability to share those details on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, for the first time ever, TikTok.
With Wrapped 2021, Spotify is once again using the stories-style format it revealed last year. The company is continuing to make this personalized retrospective exclusive to its mobile apps on iOS and Android. Here, you'll get all of your stats along with a number of playlists the service will build based on your months of listening. Those include Your Top Songs 2021 and Your Artists Revealed, appearing alongside service-wide lists for the Top Tracks and Top Artists of the year. Spotify has also compiled playlists for its library of podcasts, including Best Episodes of 2021 and Best New Podcasts of 2021, to help you discover what was popular in the world of episodic content.
In terms of new features, Spotify has added a "2021: The Movie" section to the Wrapped story carousel. This assigns songs from your activity to opening credits, a training montage and dance-off of a theoretical film for your 2021 music habits. Spotify also added "Your Audio Aura" that displays colors based on your go-to music moods — like "confident" and "bold." The story section includes a Two Truths game as well, where you are presented with three potential facts about what you listened to most with the goal of trying to pick out the lie. Lastly, the company is leveraging its Blend feature that compares your music with a friend's listening activity. For Wrapped, Blend will analyze your year of streaming with someone you know to mind commonalities.
Alongside Wrapped, Spotify has also announced the most popular artists on the platform for 2021. For the second straight year, Bad Bunny took the top spot globally, amassing over 9.1 billion streams this year. Olivia Rodrigo's "drivers license" and SOUR were the global top song and top album, respectively. And a revelation that shouldn't be too shocking: The Joe Rogan Experience, a Spotify exclusive, was the top podcast both globally and in the US. For the full breakdown of what was popular in 2021, check out Spotify's full lists here.
The 2021 edition of Wrapped is rolling out to all users today in Spotify's iOS and Android apps.
Spotify is testing a new feature called Discover that lets users scroll through a feed of vertical videos and skip or like them, much as you do on TikTok, TechCrunch has reported. The feature was spotted in the latest version of Spotify's beta iOS TestFlight build by Chris Messina, who tweeted that it appeared as a fourth icon in Spotify's iOS toolbar.
Discover looks to be a way for users to find new music in an intuitive, rapid way, by swiping up and down to move through the feed. You can tap on a heart to like the song, or hit the three-dot menu to bring up Spotify's standard information card about the song.
The format may use Spotify's Canvas format, Messina notes. That allows artists to create videos to go along with songs, rather than just static images, and appears on certain songs instead of the standard album art when you play a video. They can be in the form of standard video and mixed media, along with 2D and 3D graphics. In pitching the feature, Spotify tells artists that Canvas boosts key engagement metrics like sharing, adding to playlists and visiting profile pages.
Spotify confirmed to TechCrunch that it's testing the feature, but declined to share further details like how it would curate feeds. "At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience," a spokesperson said. "Some of those tests end up paving the way for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We don’t have any further news to share at this time."
Spotify is far from the first platform to flatter TikTok through imitation. Instagram's Reels and YouTube Shorts are virtual clones of TikTok, and even Netflix recently introduced a TikTok-like comedy feed called Fast Laughs. It's not clear yet if Spotify's discovery feature will make it out of beta, but it looks like a useful way to find new music.
You can now access your Apple Music account on LG smart TVs even if you don't have an Apple TV. The music streaming service is now available for all the brand's TVs running webOS version 4.0 and higher, over a year after it made its debut on TV platforms with Samsung. Since webOS 4.0 only rolled out in 2018, the Apple Music app will most likely be accessible on newer models.
If your TV can run Apple Music, you'll find yourself faced with an interface and navigation similar to what you'll see if you were using an Apple TV. They're also visually similar to the Apple Music experience on iPads, iPhones, Android devices and PC. The service's app for LG can access all its songs, playlists, 4K music videos and livestreamed Apple Music Radio. It supports tracks with time-synced lyrics, as well, so you can sing along while reading the lines on a big screen.
The app's release on LG smart TVs stays true to Apple's strategy of focusing more attention on its services and making them available on non-Apple hardware. That way, the tech giant can reach more potential customers who aren't married to Apple devices and can work towards making its services more veritable rivals to competitors like Spotify and Netflix.
Snap has signed a music licensing deal with Sony Music Entertainment. The partnership means Snapchat users will have access to songs from Sony artists. With today’s announcement, the company has licensing deals with all the major music labels. And Snap plans to take advantage of the milestone by launching new AR music filters.
Sometime “soon,” the company says it will release a set that will feature pre-selected songs embedded in the filter. Additionally, they’ll be ones that allow you to make it look like you're singing along to a song and yet another set that adds you and a friend to an animated music video. In short, Snapchat is becoming more like TikTok and Instagram. You’ll know you’re about to add one of the new filters if there’s a musical note next to it.
You don’t have to look far to find out why Snap is doing this. Since launching the Sounds feature last year, the company notes its users have created more than 1.2 billion videos, leading to nearly 77 billion views. In other words, music has been great for Snapchat’s engagement metrics.
Charts have a useful way for users to check out the top songs on a given day as well as what's trending. The company is giving fans and artists to check out, as well as a on which to peruse them.
New to the platform are weekly genre charts. You'll be able to see the top 200 songs across , with user playlists and editorial input used to categorize tunes. You can also take a peek at artist charts. These will be updated every Friday to show the top 200 artists globally, as well as in each of Spotify's top 65 markets, based on streams from an artist's entire catalogs.
What's more, users can dive into more than to see the biggest songs in specific locations. Local pulse charts, meanwhile, show how popular a song is in a city compared with how big that track is around the world. That should provide a sense of how listeners' tastes in one city match up against the broader Spotify userbase.
There are a few features tailored toward artists as part of this expansion. They can see when a song entered the chart, its peak position and streaks. Credits are now included for each song on charts under the "more" option. If a song is doing particularly well, artists and fans can share that success using promo cards that Spotify created.
Spotify also expanded its this year. There's now an option to see the top podcast episodes, in addition to the most popular shows.
Having somehow made it through a second year of global pandemic and political unrest, give the loved ones on your holiday shopping list the greatest gift of all: an alternative to doom-scrolling. In Engadget’s 2021 Media Gift Guide you’ll find a diverse selection of books — fiction and nonfiction alike — as well a host of streaming content suggestions that will keep their recipients entertained through the holidays and beyond. If you’ve got a book, show or movie that you think would make the perfect present, tell us all about it in the comments below!
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
NYT bestselling author, Rebecca Roanhorse — the literary force behind Star Wars: Resistance Reborn — has done it again. Her latest fantasy series, Between Earth and Sky, takes readers on an epic journey of trauma, healing, vengeance, and eventual redemption. The first book in the series, 2020’s Black Sun, weaves a masterfully engrossing — and markedly inclusive — tale that eschews the common Arthurian Legend retellings in favor of a unique fantasy world inspired by pre-Columbian America cultures. If you’ve got a fan of fantasy on your holiday shopping list, pick up Black Sun for them before the sequel, Fevered Star, drops next April.
The ending of Game of Thrones was nothing short of a slap in the face to fans. I mean, really, all that and Bran wins? GTFOH. If you’ve got a fan of George “Double R” Martin on your holiday shopping list, do them a favor and turn them on to Joe Abercrombie’s Age of Madness trilogy. Set in a world in which the seeds of industrialization have just taken hold even as the age magic and mysticism stubbornly refuses to be uprooted, AoM tells a tale of mighty nations at war while the powerful elites who rule them vie for control over both their countries’ external fates and their courts’ internal politics. Packed with captivating characters, political intrigue, incredible reversals of fortune and stunning betrayals, Age of Madness is a grimdark masterpiece where everybody, for once, gets exactly what they deserve.
Whether we like it or not, this is Jeff Bezos’ world and the rest of us just live in it. Our current slate of 21st century techno-robber barons have achieved unfathomable wealth and unassailable power; but as Paul Bradley Carr’s latest novel, 1414º, illustrates, you can’t spend that money or wield that influence when you’re dead. If you’ve got a fan of high-tension whodunnits and techno-thrillers on your holiday shopping list, 1414º will be a surefire hit.
Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells
Martha Wells can’t stop, won’t stop, dropping Murderbot hits. The reigning queen of hard sci-fi releasedFugitive Telemetry— the sixth book in her Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Alex Award winning series — earlier this year and let me tell you from experience, it is a banger. Our self-aware SecUnit anti-hero is back in another standalone adventure, this time on the trail of a vicious murderer aboard Preservation (space) Station. If the sci-finatic on your holiday shopping lists enjoys space intrigue and robotic mysteries, you can’t go wrong with Fugitive Telemetry.
The year is 2052 and Earth finds itself unwillingly annexed into a galactic empire it didn’t even know existed and is presented with a simple choice: provide our new alien overlords with a viable commercial product or face extermination. Thus, Earth’s mercenary legions are born. Armed with alien-made weaponry and a mysterious technology that allows soldiers to be reconstructed after being killed in battle — like reloading from a previous save point but far more gooey — Earth’s legions set out across the stars to fight the wars that the galaxy’s elder races are too self-important to fight themselves. Already 16 books deep, author B.V. Larson continues to lead the genre of military sci-fi from the front, so if you’ve got a fan of Starship Troopers, Aliens-style space marines, or Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow on your holiday shopping list, congrats! You can cross them off now.
Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond by Ashley Jean Yeager
Far from a household name, astronomer Vera Rubin’s pioneering research helped convince the scientific community of the possibility that dark matter — the mysterious materials that make up a vast majority of the universe but cannot be observed — actually exists. In Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond (not to be confused with Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, a collection of Rubin’s own essays), author Ashley Jean Yeager takes readers on an inspiring biographical journey through the astronomer’s early year before examining the challenges she faced working in an often hostile, male-dominated field, and her eventual vindication and professional triumphs — looking at you Vera C. Rubin Observatory. If you’ve got a younger someone on your holiday shopping list who’s interested in pursuing STEM, this could well be the book that puts them on a path towards scientific greatness.
During the Zeppelin’s heyday, airships weren't just a means of the well-to-do to slowly get to distant destinations in comfort and luxury, they also offered a new means of (albeit pokey) exploration. N-4 Down by Mark Piesing takes readers on a thrilling, nail-biting adventure of the largest arctic rescue operation in history as famed Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, rushed to save the surviving crew of the airship Italia, which crashed during its attempt to land men at the North Pole in 1928. The history and aeronautical buffs on your holiday shopping list are going to absolutely love it.
For the last 10,000 years, humanity has had an unprecedented and largely destructive impact on the environment around us. But as climate change increasingly wreaks its own havoc on us in return, humanity must now work to reverse or at least mitigate the harm that we have caused. In Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert examines just what we can do to make things right with Mother Earth and avoid a catastrophic climate crisis.
Green Bank, West Virginia is, technologically speaking, stuck in the 1950s. And for good reason! This bucolic Appalachian town is home to the ultra-sensitive radio telescope at the Green Bank observatory, which necessitates that basically every device that can emit a radio signal — everything from iPads to microwaves — be heavily restricted. In The Quiet Zone, journalist and author Stephen Kurczy, embeds himself in Green Bank to give readers a firsthand look at what life could be like without our precious digital tech. The Quiet Zone is the perfect gift for the aspiring luddite on your holiday shopping list.
Given the myriad COVID-induced supply chain challenges that retailers are girding for this upcoming holiday season, finding physical copies of these titles could prove to be a bit of a challenge. So, perhaps consider gifting the book worms on your holiday shopping list the Kindle Paperwhite and a subscription to Amazon Kindle Unlimited? Virtually every one of the books listed above are available on the digital service along with millions of others as well as magazines and periodicals.
But there’s only so much one can read during those long winter nights so why not curl up on the couch with a nice cup of hot cocoa and watch some sterling examples of our new Golden Age of Television? If you’ve got a Trekkie on your holiday shopping list, you really can’t go wrong with a subscription to Paramount+. The $5 - $10 a month service unlocks a plethora of Star Trek shows including the Emmy award-winning Picard and the hilarious Lower Decks.
Got someone with small children on your gift list? Throw them a bone with a Disney+ subscription. The service hosts nearly the entirety of Disney’s massive, decades-deep archives along with new family-friendly series and episodes arriving daily.
I want to get one thing out of the way at the top. I wish that anyone — anyone — other than Kanye West had released the Stem Player. At this point he’s more than 10 years past the creative zenith of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and five years removed from the uneven, but decent Life of Pablo. These days, his cultural relevance is driven more by spectacle and controversy than artistic output.
Still, I can’t help but be drawn to the Donda Stem Player: It’s a fascinating and unique device. But my interest is in spite of, not because of Kanye West.
So what is it? Well, it’s basically a tiny puck-shaped computer dedicated specifically to remixing Kanye’s latest album. Using it you can change the volume of different stems, or tracks, in the songs on Donda. For instance, if you’re wondering what “Off the Grid” would sound like as an instrumental you can simply turn down the vocals. Or if you find the sonar ping synth in “Jonah” unbearable, just turn it off. You can also create loops of little song chunks, reverse them, speed them up, slow them down and even add effects.
It looks kinda like a sex toy, though, and is covered in what I assume are surplus Fleshlights. It doesn’t feel unpleasant, exactly, but it is slightly unnerving. And the vaguely fleshy hue doesn’t help matters. The main controls on the front are four touch-sensitive strips that light up to tell you what volume a track is at or what effect you’ve selected, for instance. The whole thing vibrates, too, with haptic feedback every time you touch a button or a strip, though it can lag behind your actual touch quite a bit.
One of the limitations here is that it tops out at four stems. This often means all the melodic content is one track. I’ll also say that the effect selection leaves something to be desired. There are two different speeds of tremolo, a few different echo options and “feedback” which is basically just an out of control echo.
Being able to quickly loop a chunk of music, reverse and slap some reverb on it is kinda fun. It allows you to transform a song into something completely unrecognizable, but it’s not super useful as a practical remix tool.
I was somewhat disappointed by the Stem Player’s ability to handle non-Donda tracks. The site promises that you can upload any song to the player. You can even drop in a YouTube link and it will parse out the audio. Then it will automatically split the song into stems so you can remix it. This is no easy task, even for pro-grade software on a high-powered PC. Predictably, it's hit or miss here.
The Stem Player handled “DIRTY!” from JPEGMAFIA and “Stonefruit” by Armand Hammer reasonably well, though there was some slight bleed through of the synth line into the vocal stem on “Stonefruit.” Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” fared a little worse. Half the bass line was on its own track, while the other half was lumped in with the drums. It even bled into the vocals. There was also a decent amount of digital artifacts in the stems.
It would seem that fairly stripped-down hip hop productions will do ok, but as the complexity of a song increases the Stem Player starts to struggle parsing the different parts. The Armed’s “An Iteration,” for example, was broken down into drums, vocals and a single track of everything else. Then the fourth stem, which is supposed to be for bass, was basically silent. In fact, I often encountered this issue with music I uploaded to the Stem Player myself. Badbadnotgood’s “Love Proceeding” was reduced to just two stems: drums and not drums.
I have concerns about what happens to the Stem Player in a few years or even months time, too. The only way to upload new songs to it is through the Stem Player website. So if that ever goes offline you might be stuck. I also can’t figure out how to get mixes and songs off the player. The instructions both included with the player and on the site are pretty barebones and at times, slightly confusing. In the FAQ it says you can save what you’re mixing by pressing the volume up button then it explains that “four recordings can be saved, play back from the final, red track.” The only problem is, I have no idea what the hell that means.
Perhaps the biggest knock against the Stem Player is the price. $200 is a lot to throw at a musical curiosity. Especially when that money mostly serves to feed the ego of one of the most megalomaniacal celebrities in the world.