Apple recently announced that high-quality lossless audio and Dolby Atmos will arrive on the Apple Music streaming service in June, free to all subscribers. But, while a pleasant surprise, the news left many questions unanswered.
For starters, it was quickly revealed that Apple’s own AirPods and HomePods, even the $ 549 AirPods Max, are not compatible with the highest quality lossless audio and would only benefit from Dolby music instead. Atmos, using Apple’s spatial audio technology.
But now Apple has released a support document to shed some more light on the situation. But only a little.
First spotted by 9to5Mac, the document acknowledges how HomePod and HomePod smart mini speakers currently use the AAC music standard, but adds loosely: “Support for lossless technology will be available in a future update. software. “
The situation is equally murky when it comes to Apple’s AirPods and Beats headphones. The company says, “AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and Beats wireless headphones use Apple’s AAC Bluetooth codec to ensure excellent audio quality. Bluetooth connections do not support lossless audio.”
However, Apple goes on to explain that lossless audio can be listened to through the company’s Lighting-to-3.5mm headphone jack adapter. The dongle contains a digital-to-analog converter that supports lossless audio up to 24-bit / 48kHz. It’s not the best lossless audio quality Apple Music offers, but it should sound better than AAC streamed over Bluetooth.
The problem here is that HomePod speaker Wi-Fi connections have higher bandwidth than AirPods Bluetooth connections. However, while we expect the original HomePod to sound better with lossless audio, we doubt there is much of a difference to the much smaller HomePod mini. After all, no matter how good the source material is, there’s not much you can do with the physics of a small speaker.
AirPods Max cannot produce true lossless sound
As for Apple’s flagship headphones, the company explains how AirPods Max can use its Lightning to 3.5mm audio cable to connect to devices playing lossless, high-resolution audio. However, Apple adds, “Considering the cable’s analog-to-digital conversion, playback will not be completely lossless.”
Apple also adds that radio, live and on-demand content from Apple Music 1, Apple Music Hits, and Apple Music Country, and music videos will not be offered in lossless audio.
Finally, the Apple TV 4K can output lossless audio through its HDMI connection, as long as the audio system you connect it to can also accept and output lossless audio. There is a limitation here too, however, as the Apple TV 4K does not support sample rates above 48kHz, and therefore cannot output high-resolution lossless audio.
Ultimately, we believe lossless audio (and particularly high-resolution lossless audio) will only make a real difference to audiophiles who play their music through very high-end sound systems. For the rest of us, Dolby Atmos thanks to Apple’s spatial audio technology will be the biggest draw.