Apple today released a support article clarifying some details about its upcoming lossless audio support on Apple Music.
Devices that support this feature include iPhone and iPad models running the upcoming iOS 14.6 update, as well as Macs running the upcoming macOS 11.4 update.
On these devices, users can play lossless audio at up to 24-bit, 48 kHz, but higher resolution files require an external DAC. This is because the internal DACs of iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter are only capable of decoding up to 24-bit, 48kHz audio.
The Apple TV 4K models also get the ability to enable lossless audio playback with the tvOS 11.4 update. This device also does not support anything beyond 48 kHz, even when connected to an external receiver, which is strange.
Then there is the now discontinued HomePod and the new HomePod mini. Both of these devices will have the ability to play lossless sound in a future update.
It leaves us with all the wireless AirPods, including the original AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. None of these get lossless sound because there is currently no way to transmit sound without problems via Bluetooth. These devices only support transmission over AAC.
As for connecting the AirPods Max using a cable, while the sound itself can be sent losslessly to the headphones via the cable, the headphones then convert the analog signal to digital, a process that is not completely lossless. This is why Apple also does not claim that the wired mode is lossless.
What Apple does not specify in this article is how lossless sound works on Windows and Android devices. One might think that the feature will not even be available on these platforms. Although it probably will not happen, we will just have to wait until June to find out.
Earlier this week, Apple announced that it will deliver its entire library of 75 million songs on Apple Music in lossless. Loss without sound is a way to compress music, reducing file sizes while not losing data. For this, Apple uses its ALAC or Apple Lossless Audio Codec. On the other hand, Apple Music currently uses AAC or Advanced Audio Coding, which is a lossless audio compression technique.
Aside from delivering lossless audio in standard 16-bit, 44.1 kHz ‘Red Book’ format, Apple also delivers it up to 24-bit, 192 kHz. Known as high definition audio, these higher sampling rates require a very baffling DAC or digital to analog converter, hence the above limitations of playing it directly on your device. The good thing is that DACs are affordable these days, and you can even get them that have a built-in amplifier that can be connected directly to your iPhone, iPad or Mac using a USB adapter.
It is probably worth further clarifying that lossless sound and Hi-Res sound are not the same. You can have Hi-Res audio in lossless (FLAC, ALAC) or lossy (MQA) codecs. Similarly, lossless sound can be standard resolution (16-bit, 44.1 kHz) or high resolution (24-bit, 192 kHz). Apple is currently offering AAC 16-bit 44.1 kHz and will soon optionally offer ALAC 16-bit, 44.1 kHz to 24-bit, 192 kHz. Not everything will be Hi-Res, but everything will be lossless.