With Apple Music and Spotify continuing to battle it out over the top streaming music spot, neither company is holding back on new features. Apple’s launch of Lossless and High-Res music ups the game for Apple Music customers who receive this jump in music quality without any additional price increases. This won’t impact the decision for some music listeners, but for many audiophiles, there is huge value in this additional experience. Let’s take a look at Apple Lossless music and how you can start listening.
What Is Apple Music Lossless?
When you listen to streaming music, there’s a good chance the audio file has been compressed to help make the transmission to you more seamless. By doing so, each streaming service knows that a little bit of audio quality is sacrificed from the original recording value. In the case of lossless compression, all of the original data or the original audio file format is preserved. Said another way, this is Apple’s opportunity to completely embrace high-resolution audio. Using its proprietary “Apple Lossless Audio Codec,” ALAC for short, you will enjoy more detail with every song.
Eventually (sometime in June 2021), every user of Apple Music will be able to go to “Settings -> Music -> Audio Quality” and select what type of quality they want. It’s important to know that high-res music will require more data use, so make sure to factor that in when making any decisions. This is a really important consideration that shouldn’t be ignored, as downloading lossless audio to your phone also takes up more space. Ultimately, having the option of either CD quality or ALAC goes a long way to please both the average music listener and the audiophile.
Of course, Apple isn’t alone in this offering, as alternative services like TIDAL and Amazon Music HD have already begun to offer this service. Amazon beat Apple’s announcement by only a few days, while TIDAL has been offering high-res music for years. Separately, Apple’s biggest competitor, Spotify, has committed to its own lossless tier sometime later this year. One additional consideration is that any live radio on Apple Music – such as Apple Music 1, Apple Music Hits or Apple Music Country – will not enable lossless nor will any music video.
What Devices Support Lossless?
With the release of ALAC long after the release of the first few AirPods, there’s a big caveat, as AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max (even when wired) will not support lossless music. While each of the named devices supports Apple’s current AAC Bluetooth Codec, Bluetooth connections are not lossless, which is the biggest hurdle toward future AirPods working with this improved audio experience. The same goes for Beats wireless headphones. However, Apple has said that the AirPods Max can connect to Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless recordings with great audio quality. The analog-to-digital conversion takes place in the Lightning to 3.5mm audio cable, so any playback will not be truly lossless.
On the other hand, any modern iPhone running iOS 14.6 and above, iPads running iPadOS 14.6 (and above), Macs using 11.4 and above and Apple TVs running tvOS 14.6 can all use lossless music. To activate on a Mac, open the Apple Music app and choose “Preferences” from the menu bar, then “Playback,” and look for Audio Quality. Inside this menu, you will be able to select Lossless and turn it on and off. On your Apple TV 4K, go to “Settings -> Music -> Audio Quality” and select “Lossless.;”
Last but certainly not least, Apple has stated that support for lossless audio will be added to both the HomePod and HomePod Mini through a future software update.
Do Not Forget Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos
While overshadowed during the Lossless announcement, Apple also announced that its entire music catalog will be available in Dolby Atmos which enables Spatial Audio. This means that when you listen to music on compatible headphones, you will feel as though the music is surrounding you. AirPods and Beats or any headphones with either the W1 or H1 chip will automatically have this functionality enabled. Speakers on any modern iPhone, iPad and Mac will also be compatible with a future software update. Third-party headphones will be able to turn on Dolby Atmos in the device settings through Bluetooth.
For traditional music listeners who value their playlists more than music quality, the difference won’t be immediately apparent. For audiophiles or those who can truly discern between the different types of quality, this is a welcome addition to the Apple Music experience. That it won’t cost any extra is music to our ears.