Yesterday, Apple Music announced that it will enable lossless audio streaming for all its subscribers at no extra cost, starting in June. But as it turns out, Apple does not actually sell headphones or speakers that can play the lossless sound.
First, Apple’s wireless headphones only support the lost AAC codec (which is also used by Apple Music), so AirPods and AirPods Pro are out. AirPods Max can be connected with a cable using a 3.5 mm adapter, but it does not work either.
As the company explains, this introduces an analog step followed by digitization of the signal again, and it is technically not lossless. Apple HomePod and HomePod mini also cannot play lossless audio.
Apple Music uses the ALAC lossless format to deliver the new high quality content. It starts at 16-bit 44.1 kHz, aka CD quality. Bluetooth needs specially designed codecs to handle this reliably. Hi Res Lossless format adjoins 24-bit 48-192 kHz, forget about wireless, you will need a wired external DAC for this.
But Apple does not have a wireless codec that can handle lossless transmission yet. That may not change with the upcoming launch of AirPods 3.
The other new format that comes to music, the spatial sound from Dolby Atmos, can be enjoyed on headphones using Apple H1 and W1 chips, which include AirPods as well as several wireless Beats headphones, so there is no problem with that.