Apple will roll out lossless audio and Dolby Atmos support on Apple Music next month, and the upgrades will come at no additional cost to subscribers. But they do have one rather significant caveat.
High-resolution lossless tracks can’t be enjoyed on AirPods — not even the $549 AirPods Max. So what can you enjoy them on? We’ll explain everything you need to make the most of Apple Music’s big changes.
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Apple calls the improvements the “biggest advancement ever in sound quality” for Apple Music. “Listening to a song in Dolby Atmos is like magic,” said Oliver Schusser, vice president of Apple Music and Beats. “Apple Music as we know it is about to change forever.”
You’ll be able to enjoy some of that magic with Apple headphones. Spatial Audio with support for immersive Dolby Atmos will be available on all AirPods and Beats with an H1 or W1 chip. You will also be able to listen to it through the built-in speakers on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
However, to enjoy lossless audio, you’ll need certain hardware.
How to listen to lossless audio on Apple Music
Lossless audio uses the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) “to preserve every single bit of the original audio file.” Little details that often get stripped out when a song is compressed for other formats remain intact, so you hear every track exactly as the artist created it.
More than 75 million tracks will be available in ALAC format through Apple Music when lossless audio rolls out in June. You’ll have three resolutions to choose from: 16 bit at 44.1 kHz, which is CD quality; 24 bit at 48 kHz, and “Hi-Resolution Lossless” of 24 bit at 192 kHz.
To take full advantage of Hi-Res Lossless audio, you’ll need “external equipment,” Apple says. It’s not available on AirPods — not even AirPods Max when connected to your device with a cable — or on HomePod or the built-in speakers on your Apple devices.
The right hardware
What you need for Hi-Res Lossless audio is a pair of high-end wired headphones that support digital audio in high resolution, or a USB digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
Something like the Audioengine D1, currently priced at $169 on Amazon, would be sufficient. It plugs into your Mac and to speakers or headphones, and supports Apple Music’s highest quality setting of 24 bit at 192 kHz. The $109.99 FiiO K3 does a similar job.
If you already splashed out on AirPods Max, however, and you have no interest in spending more, you’re not completely out of luck. Connect your headphones to your iPhone with a cable and you will be able to enjoy 24-bit lossless audio at 48 kHz.
Enabling lossless audio on Apple Music
When lossless audio rolls out, you’ll need to enable it manually by following these steps:
- Open the Settings app on your device.
- Tap Music.
- Tap Audio Quality then choose one of the lossless audio resolutions.
The higher the quality of your audio, the larger the audio file. (That’s one of the reasons why Hi-Res Lossless currently can’t be streamed to wireless headphones over Bluetooth.) Bear that in mind if you’re streaming over a data connection or you have less than stellar internet speeds.