Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Apple has dropped a bombshell on us all, announcing that they will be offering tracks in Apple Music in lossless format as well as in Spatial Audio for even more immersive listening. The downside? None of Apple’s wireless AirPods products will be able to support lossless audio, not even the S$849 AirPods Max.
Apple recently announced that it is delivering two new features that will bring “the next generation of sound” to Apple Music subscribers for free in June 2021. The new features, Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio, will give subscribers a new way to enjoy and appreciate their favourite music artists and songs.
Apple’s Vice President of Apple Music and Beats, Oliver Schusser, mentioned in his statement that listening to a song in Dolby Atmos is “like magic”. He further explained that the music comes from all around the user and that it sounds “incredible”. “Apple Music as we know it is about to change forever,” Schusser said as he ended his statement.
Schusser’s description of Apple Music’s Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos feels spot on. This new feature provides artists with the opportunity to create “an immersive audio experience” for their fans with multidimensional sound and clarity. The feature will also enable artists to mix music, so the audio comes from all around and from above.
Apple Music will automatically play Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, so be sure to check if your wireless headset comes with either of these chips. Apple Music can also play Dolby Atmos tracks using the built-in speakers in the latest iPhone, iPad and Mac versions.
Subscribers will have the opportunity to enjoy thousands of songs in Spatial Audio from various artists like Grammy Awardee Giles Martin and genres – from classical to pop. Apple Music is currently working with more artists to add new releases as more of them create music with Spatial Audio experience in mind.
That’s not all Apple announced though. Apple Music will now have an opt-in for users to stream music in Apple’s Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) to preserve every bit of the original audio file. This new feature will be available on more than 75 million songs.
Apple Music subscribers must have the latest version of Apple Music to start listening to songs with Lossless Audio. To turn the feature on, go to Settings, then Music and finally, Audio Quality. Apple Music’s Lossless tier starts at CD quality (16-bit 44.1kHz) and goes up to 24-bit 48kHz. The feature is playable natively on Apple devices.
An M-Audio USB digital-to-analogue converter Credit: M-Audio
Apple Music will also offer Hi-Resolution Lossless Audio all the up to 24-bit 192kHz. However, due to the large file sizes and bandwidth for Lossless and Hi-Resolution Lossless Audio, Apple Music subscribers will need to opt into the experience. Hi-Resolution Lossless Audio will also require external equipment like a USB digital-to-analogue converter for it to work.
The one major problem is that you can’t enjoy Lossless Audio with even the AirPods Pro or AirPods Max because they’re wireless, and most Bluetooth codecs right now aren’t able to support high enough bitrates over the connection for CD quality. Another kicker is that the AirPods Max won’t be able to play Lossless Audio songs even when it’s plugged in wired because the dongle required actually converts the signal to analogue before re-digitising it, and Apple is saying that in this situation, the listener would not be getting pure lossless because of that re-digitisation step.
Most audiophiles don’t use Bluetooth equipment for critical listening, and this is exactly why. Most Bluetooth earbuds and headphones aren’t able to support lossless music right now, but having a lossless source will definitely equate to more information getting transmitted through the stream and thus better sounding music, as opposed to having a lossy source. Of course, whether you’ll be able to hear the difference is another matter altogether. But the people who can hear the difference and already have the gear required to fully utilise Apple Music’s Hi-Res Lossless Audio will definitely be jumping on this.
That being said, Apple seems to be banking on Spatial Audio being the bigger draw for consumers. Truthfully, most people won’t be able to hear the difference between lossy and lossless music in the first place, especially when it’s through Bluetooth earbuds or headphones, but the difference that Spatial Audio brings will definitely be noticeable.
Apple’s Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos, on the other hand, will work on most Apple devices released recently, including AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max and even Apple TV. The company also added that the HomePod and HomePod mini speakers will support Spatial Audio but not Lossless Audio.
Written by John Paul Joaquin