Apple Clarifies Lossless Audio on Apple Music and Ensures It’s Coming to HomePod
Apple today posted a support article that clarifies some details about its upcoming lossless audio support on Apple Music.
Some devices that will support this feature include iPhone and iPad models running the upcoming iOS 14.6 update as well as Macs running the upcoming macOS 11.4 update.
On these devices, users can play lossless audio up to 24-bit, 48kHz, but higher resolution files will require an external DAC. This is because the internal DACs of iPhone, iPad, Macs, and Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter are only capable of decoding up to 24-bit audio, 48 kHz.
Apple TV 4K models will also have the option to enable lossless audio playback with the tvOS 11.4 update. This device also does not support anything beyond 48kHz even when connected to an external receiver which is weird.
Next are the now-discontinued HomePod and the new HomePod mini. Both of these devices will have the ability to play lossless audio in a future update.
That leaves us with all wireless AirPods including the original AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max. None of these will get lossless audio as there is currently no way to transmit lossless audio through Bluetooth. These devices will continue to support transmission only on AAC.
As for connecting AirPods Max using a cable, while the audio itself can be sent losslessly to the headphones via the cable, the headphones then convert the analog signal to digital, a process that is not completely lossless. This is why Apple does not claim that wired mode is lossless either.
What Apple does not specify in this article is how lossless audio will work on Windows and Android devices. You would think the feature won’t even be available on those platforms. While that probably won’t happen, we’ll just have to wait until June to find out.
Earlier this week, Apple announced that it will deliver its entire library of 75 million songs to Apple Music in lossless mode. Lossless audio is a way to compress music that reduces file size while ensuring no data loss. For this, Apple uses its ALAC or Apple Lossless Audio Codec. On the other hand, Apple Music currently uses AAC or Advanced Audio Coding, which is a lossy technique of audio compression.
In addition to providing lossless audio in the standard 16-bit, 44.1kHz ‘Red Book’ format, Apple will also provide it up to 24-bit, 192kHz. Known as high-resolution audio, these higher sample rates require a much more robust DAC or digital-to-analog converters, hence the aforementioned limitations of playing directly on your device. The good thing is that affordable DACs are pretty common these days, and you can even get ones that have a built-in amplifier that can plug directly into your iPhone, iPad, or Mac using a USB adapter.
It’s probably worth clarifying further that lossless audio and high-resolution audio are not the same thing. You can have high resolution sound in lossless (FLAC, ALAC) or lossy (MQA) codecs. Likewise, lossless audio can be standard resolution (16 bit, 44.1 kHz) or high resolution (24 bit, 192 kHz). Apple currently offers 16-bit 44.1 kHz AAC and will soon offer 16-bit, 44.1 kHz to 24-bit, 192 kHz ALAC as an option. It will not all be Hi-Res, but it will all be lossless.