Apple Music Lossless: What Devices are Supported?
Apple in June 2021 added new Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless tiers to Apple Music, but so far, it's a bit confusing trying to determine which devices support Apple Music's Lossless Audio and which devices do not.
This guide covers everything that we know so far about Lossless Audio, and we'll be updating it as we learn more.
What is Lossless Audio?
Apple upgraded its entire streaming music catalog to lossless audio using the ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) format. ALAC is a lossless compression format that lets Apple make smaller file sizes without impacting the integrity of the original audio recording.
Lossless means that after compression and then decompression, the audio that you're hearing is identical to the audio as it was recorded by the artist, preserving the texture, detail, and sound that went into the music when it was created.
With lossless audio, Apple Music subscribers can listen to songs exactly as the artists recorded them in the studio and intended them to be heard.
Lossless Device Support
According to Apple, lossless audio on Apple Music can be listened to on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. Support for lossless audio will be added to the HomePod and HomePod mini via a future software update.
The HomePod and HomePod mini are expected to gain lossless audio support with the launch of iOS 15. The HomePod 15 software that was released in July adds Lossless Audio support for the HomePod and HomePod mini, and it will see a public release this fall.
None of Apple's headphones, however, work with lossless audio. The AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max are limited to the Bluetooth AAC codec and simply cannot support the ALAC format.
In regard to a wired connection for AirPods Max, Apple says that AirPods Max can be connected to devices playing Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless recordings with exceptional audio quality, but because of the analog to digital conversion in the Lightning to 3.5mm audio cable, playback will not be completely lossless.
Lossless Audio Quality
The standard Lossless tier starts at CD quality, which is 16-bit at 44.1 kHz, and it goes up to 24-bit at 48 kHz. Apple is also adding a Hi-Res Lossless tier for audiophiles, which is available at 24-bit 192 kHz, but Hi-Res Lossless will require a USB digital-to-analog converter, or DAC.
Even when connected by a physical wire, the AirPods Max won't support true lossless audio.
It is not clear if ALAC support is something that Apple can add in the future because technically, Bluetooth 5.0 should support higher bitrates, nor is it known if Apple plans to add support to future audio devices.
Lossless Audio Songs
At launch, 20 million songs supported lossless quality, with Apple planning to bring support to all 75 million+ songs on Apple Music by the end of 2021.
The feature is limited to Apple Music streaming subscribers. Lossless quality will not be available for iTunes purchases and there is no way to upgrade owned music to lossless via iTunes Match.
Can You Even Hear Lossless Audio?
Lossless audio is not a new concept, and has in fact been supported via iTunes and the Apple Music app for Mac for years now. There is some controversy over lossless audio, and there are quite a few people out there who are unable to hear the difference between lossy audio and uncompressed lossless audio files.
There are also other considerations to take into account, such as the quality of the device that you're listening to music on. Lossless audio is designed for audiophiles and most people will not miss lossless quality on their HomePod, AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max.
Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos
Apple's more notable Apple Music announcement has been somewhat overshadowed by the lossless music feature. The HomePod, all AirPods, and all Beats headphones with Apple's H1 or W1 chip automatically support a new Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos feature that Apple is bringing to Apple Music. Spatial Audio for other headphones paired with an Apple device can be enabled manually via the Settings app on your device.
With this feature, artists are able to record multi-dimensional audio that will make it sound like the music is coming from all around you.
Apple Music Lossless Launch Date
Apple laid the groundwork for the new Apple Music update in iOS 14.6, tvOS 14.6, and macOS Big Sur 11.4, then later enabled lossless quality in June.
Top Rated Comments
In the greatest respect I drive a Tesla with the premium audio system which has been further enhanced and it's still a million miles away from anything remotely capable of being able to recreate the audio frequencies you can't even hear anyway! As I said, you and neither do I have the best car audio system in the world and even if we did it'd be at the **** end of hi-fi speakers which are at the **** end of studio monitors.
I've got a pair of £1400 Sennheiser HD800s, with a £800 super flat amp to drive them and a £1000 DAC - that combo alone still can't let you hear the difference in compression between a 320kbit MP3 and it's lossless brother, so your car certainly can't - that's why I am able to be bold about my assumptions.
I guarantee you won't be able to hear a difference.
I bet Apple could say it works and nobody would even bat an eyelid.
- In the audio world "lossless" typically refers to lossless relative to CD quality, which is 16/44.1 or a dynamic range of 16 bits and a sample rate of 44.1kHz.
- The sample rate determines the maximum frequency you can represent. A digital signal is a discrete (made up of samples) representation of a continues signal (waves). To reconstruct a sinus wave you need exactly two samples. This means that the maximum frequency you can reconstruct equals half the sample rate. This reconstruction is exact and not an approximation (as it is for image pixels). In other words, with a sample rate of 44.1 we can accuratly reconstruct frequencies up to 22kHz, well above the limit of human hearring. For reference, the highest note on a piano is 4286 Hz and most speakers will not be able to produce signals over 22kHz either.
- Does playing at 192kHz make sense? Yes, if you like to play music for your dog and you have very high-end speakers with no other bottlnecks in the connection chain. Otherwise, absolutely not.
- The dynamic range determines the number of different volume levels you can represent. With 16bit you can represent signals from wispering to over 90dB, enough to cause damage to your ears after long exposure.
- Is there an advantage of a dynamic range higher than 16bit? Yes, if you want to accuratly represent fine details ranging from whispering to explosions. For most pop/rock music there is no difference at all.
- Recordings are mostly done at higher sample rates and higher bit rates. Why? This is not because we can hear a difference in the recording, but because it gives additional headroom during production, changing a signal invitably results in some losses which can as such be minimized.
- Airplay does support ALAC 16/44.1, in fact if I am not mistaken, it transcodes all input to this format for transmission. I don't see any reason why HomePods would not be able to play lossless input streams. If you will hear a difference is another question...
- Some people seem to belief everything lossy is the same, this is obviously not the case, the codec and bitrate make a huge difference.
- Currently Apple uses 256 AAC, truth is, most people don't hear a difference with lossless (CD quality) either, especially with low end equipment like HomePods for example. However, there are definetly people who can hear a difference on high-end equipment. If you want to check for yourself with your equipment you can do an ABX test here: http://abx.digitalfeed.net/itunes.html
- There are many reasons why you can compress a PCM signal lossy without any perceptual difference at all. For example, our sensitivity does not only depends on the signal intensity but also on the frequency. For example, humans can not hear sounds at 60Hz under 40dB. While these signals are encoded in PCM, these can be removed without any perceptual difference for humans.
- Eventhough most people can't hear a difference in a scientific ABX test they still belief they do hear a difference. Why? One reason is because mostly they don't test blind. At the moment you have prior knowledge you can't do an unbiased test. Tests have been done with exactly the same equipment audio but different logo's (Bose vs B&O for example), the more premium brand will consistenly perceived better even if the hardware is exactly the same. Secondly, it is common to decode the signal sligtly different. For example, simply increase the volume with 1dB and almost all test subjects will perceive this as higher quality. Third, often tests are done where other factors or at play, such as the DAC, connections and so on.