Apple in June 2021 added new Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless levels to Apple Music, but so far it’s a little confusing trying to figure out which devices support Apple Music’s lossless audio and which devices do not.
This guide covers everything we know about Lossless Audio so far, and we’ll update it as we learn more.
What is lossless audio?
Apple has upgraded its entire streaming music catalog to lossless sound using the AT THE C (Apple Lossless Audio Codec). ALAC is a lossless compression format that allows Apple to create smaller file sizes without affecting the integrity of the original audio recording.
Lossless means that after compressing and then decompressing, the audio you hear is identical to the audio as it was recorded by the artist, preserving the texture, detail, and sound that went into the music during of its creation.
With lossless sound, Apple Music subscribers can listen to songs exactly as the artists recorded them in the studio and wanted them to be heard.
Support for lossless devices
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 HomePod and HomePod mini via a future software update.
HomePod and HomePod mini are expected to have lossless audio support with the launch of iOS 15. HomePod 15 software released in July adds lossless audio support for HomePod and HomePod mini , and it will see a public release this fall.
None of Apple’s headphones, however, work with lossless sound. AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max are limited to AAC Bluetooth codec and simply cannot support ALAC format.
Regarding a wired connection for AirPods Max, Apple says that AirPods Max can be connected to devices playing lossless and high resolution lossless recordings with exceptional audio quality, but due to the analog-to-digital conversion in the cable. Lightning audio to 3.5mm, playback will not be completely lossless.
Lossless audio quality
The standard lossless level starts at CD quality, which is 16 bit at 44.1 kHz, and goes up to 24 bit at 48 kHz. Apple is also adding a Hi-Res Lossless level for audiophiles, which is available at 24-bit 192kHz, but Hi-Res Lossless will require a USB digital-to-analog converter, or DAC.
Even when connected by a physical wire, AirPods Max will not support true lossless audio.
It’s not clear if ALAC support is something Apple can add in the future as technically Bluetooth 5.0 is expected to support higher bit rates, and it’s also unclear whether Apple plans to add support for future audio devices.
Lossless audio songs
At launch, 20 million songs supported lossless quality, with Apple planning to support all 75 million and more songs on Apple Music by the end of 2021.
The functionality is limited to Apple Music streaming subscribers. Lossless quality will not be available for iTunes purchases and there is no way to upgrade the music you own to lossless through iTunes Match.
Can you even hear lossless sound?
Lossless audio is not a new concept and has actually been supported through iTunes and the Apple Music app for Mac for years. There is some controversy over lossless audio, and there are quite a few people 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 you are listening to music on. Lossless audio is designed for audiophiles and most people won’t miss out on lossless quality on their HomePods, AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max.
Spatial audio with Dolby Atmos
Apple’s more notable announcement Apple Music has been somewhat overshadowed by the lossless music feature. The HomePods, all AirPods and all Beats headphones with Apple’s H1 or W1 chip automatically support a new Spatial Audio feature with Dolby Atmos that Apple is bringing to Apple Music. Spatial audio for other headphones paired with an Apple device can be manually enabled through the Settings app on your device.
With this feature, artists can record multidimensional sound that will make the music appear to be 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.