24 May 2021

T3: “AirPods Max and AirPods Pro don’t support Apple Music Lossless, Apple confirms”

Apple has announced that it’s adding ‘Lossless’ and ‘Hi-Resolution Lossless’ streaming options to Apple Music in June 2021 for no extra charge, as well as offering Dolby Atmos ‘Spatial Audio’ 3D music, too.

In Apple’s new terminology, ‘Lossless’ is CD quality, from 16-bit 44.1kHz playback up to 24-bit 48kHz, while ‘Hi-Res Lossless’ delivers up to 24-bit 192kHz. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means – it means music comes in larger files with much less compression, meaning more realistic results, provided you’ve got good enough equipment to actually hear the difference.

Apple has confirmed to T3 that this equipment, sadly, does not include AirPods Pro or AirPods Max. Both of Apple’s elite headphone models only use the Bluetooth AAC codec when connected to an iPhone, which means they can’t receive the full quality of the Apple Music ‘Lossless’ files, which will be encoded as ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) files.

Matthew Bolton

Apple’s current speakers do not support this recently announced lossless playback either – but the company is at least planning to add support via an upcoming software update. As for the headphones, playback quality looks limited even while wired (apparently requiring a Lightning to 3.5 mm audio cable), because of the analog to digital conversion in the cable.

HomePod Mini, photo by Dan Seifert, The Verge
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

After pushing people for years to abandon first the headphone jack, then wired headphones altogether, this sudden shift to lossless audio seems strange. Apple’s hardware looks utterly unprepared for this new service, and very few people can actually tell the difference between compressed and uncompressed audio files. While it is certainly possible that Apple has HomePod and AirPods upgrades ready to launch in the coming months, this rush to announce it could actually be aimed at thwarting the competition. Earlier this year, Spotify has announced a HiFi option, but without a firm launch date or prices. Offering Apple Music Lossless at no extra cost could be Apple’s blunt way of maintaining feature parity on paper, while also undercutting Spotify’s prices. Amazon also dropped the prices for its HD Music tier this May, making it effectively free. Under these circumstances, it will be hard for Spotify to justify charging more for its HiFi option when if eventually launches.

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