Apple today published a support article detailing some details about its upcoming lossless audio support on Apple Music.
Some of the devices that will support this feature include iPhone and iPad models running the upcoming iOS 14.6 update in addition to Mac computers running the upcoming macOS 11.4 update.
On these devices, users can play lossless audio up to 24-bit, 48kHz, but high-resolution files require an external DAC. This is because iPhone, iPad, and Macs internal DACs and Apple’s 3.5mm headphone jack adapter are only capable of decoding audio up to 24-bit, 48kHz.
Apple TV 4K models will also have the option to enable lossless audio playback with the tvOS 11.4 update. This device also doesn’t support anything over 48KHz even when connected to an external receiver which is odd.
Next up is the now discontinued HomePod and the new HomePod mini. Both 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 devices will get lost audio since there is currently no way to transmit audio without data loss over Bluetooth. These devices will continue to support transmission on AAC only.
As for connecting the AirPods Max using a cable, while the audio itself can be sent without loss to the headphones via the cable, the headphones then convert the analog signal to digital, a process that is completely lost. This is why Apple doesn’t claim the wired mode is lossless either.
What Apple did not specify in this article is how to make audio without data loss on Windows and Android devices. You might think that the feature wouldn’t be available even on those platforms. Although this is not likely to happen, we have to wait until June to find out.
Earlier this week, Apple announced that it would deliver its entire library of 75 million songs to Apple Music in lossless mode. Missing audio is a method of music compression that reduces file size while ensuring data is not lost. For this purpose, it uses Apple ALAC or the Apple Lossless Audio Codec. On the other hand, Apple Music currently uses AAC or Advanced Audio Coding, which is a lossy method of audio compression.
In addition to providing lossless audio in the standard “Red Book” 16-bit and 44.1kHz format, Apple will also provide up to 24-bit, 192kHz. Higher sample rates known as High-Resolution Audio require more powerful DACs or digital-to-analog converters, hence the aforementioned limitations to play directly on your device. The good thing is that affordable DACs are very popular these days, and you can even get the ones with a built-in subwoofer that can plug directly into your iPhone, iPad or Mac using a USB adapter.
Perhaps it is worth clarifying that High-Resolution Audio and lossless audio are not the same. You can have high-resolution audio in lossless codecs (FLAC, ALAC) or lossy (MQA) codecs. Likewise, lossless audio can be standard resolution (16 bit, 44.1kHz) or high definition (24 bit, 192kHz). Apple is currently offering 16-bit 44.1 kHz AAC and will soon introduce 16-bit and 44.1kHz to 24-bit and 192kHz ALAC as an option. Not everything will be high-fidelity, but it will be lossless.