Not every Apple device will support Lossless Audio. In fact, most of the ones that don’t will come as a big surprise. Take a look.
In June, Apple plans on introducing two new Apple Music tiers, Lossless Audio and High-Res Lossless Audio. Neither option will cost extra, with both tiers available as part of an Apple Music subscription. However, this doesn’t mean all Apple devices support both tiers. In fact, most of them don’t.
What is Lossless Audio?
With lossless, song tracks are compressed, then decompressed without impacting the integrity of the original recording. This results in songs that sound the same as the artist recorded them. For Apple Music, the iPhone maker plans to transaction audio files to its proprietory ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) format.
At launch, all of Apple’s most important products will support Lossless Audio, including Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. However, none of Apple’s AirPod headphones or HomePod products will work with Lossless Audio or Hi-Res Lossless Audio since each is limited to the Bluetooth AAC codec. In term, this codec cannot support the ALAC format.
Not Even the AirPod Max
Bluetooth means wireless, so one might assume that the $549 AirPod Max headphones would support Lossless Audio, at least when connected to a cable. And yet, that’s not the case.
As Apple told The Verge, “Lossless audio is not supported on AirPods, any model. AirPods Max wired listening mode accepts analog output sources only. AirPods Max currently does not support digital audio formats in wired mode.”
There’s no word on why the discontinued HomePod and current-generation HomePod mini don’t support any version of Lossless Audio. On this point, Apple would only confirm to The Verge that neither product supports the new Apple Music feature.
What About High Res Lossless Audio?
This brings us to the high-res version of Lossless Audio. While Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV support regular Lossless Audio, they cannot play the better high-res version. For this, unfortunately, you’ll need a separate USB digital-to-analog converter or DAC.
Different Lossless Variations
At launch, Apple plans on transitioning 20 million of Apple Music’s 75 million tracks to the lossless format, with the rest moving on before the end of 2021. Apple plans on offering the standard Lossless tier at CD quality, which is 16-bit at 44.1 kHz, and it goes up to 24-bit at 48 kHz. The Hi-Res Lossless tier comes in at 24-bit 192 kHz, and again, this requires a separate DAC.
The Good News
Lossless Audio isn’t the only new feature coming to Apple Music in June. Apple also plans on adding Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos. With Spatial Audio, you gain an immersive experience where sounds come from all around and from above. Apple began offering a similar feature for video in 2020, and Microsoft Windows 10 now includes Windows Sonic Spatial Sound, which is something similar.
The new Spatial Audio feature is compatible with any AirPods or Beats headphones that use the Apple H1 or Wi chip and through the built-in speakers on iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Apple says thousands of sounds in Spatial Audio will arrive on launch day across various genres, including hip-hop, country, Latin, pop, and classical. More tracks across other genres should arrive in the coming weeks and months.
According to Apple, bringing Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos will ultimately make it easier for musicians, producers, and mix engineers to create songs in Dolby Atmos. The company also promises new initiatives. These double the number of Dolby-enabled studios in major markets, offer educational programs, and provide resources to independent artists.
The Future is Cloudy
Apple’s success has often been driven by how well its hardware and software connect. With this in mind, it doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to assume Apple’s plans include future devices with native lossless support. Whether Apple can or would deliver lossless support to existing headphones through a software update is unknown. Perhaps, however, we’ll know soon.
The company plans on releasing Apple Music Lossless Audio with Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos sometime in June. On the 7th of the month, Apple begins its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) with a keynote. Historically, Apple uses this event to announce new software and hardware. Perhaps some of the new goodies will relate somehow to Apple Music. Stay tuned.