Apple announced today that it will offer two new features to its Apple Music subscribers, lossless audio and Dolby Atmos tracks. Both features will be available in June at no additional cost.
Apple offers its entire library with 75 million songs in lossless. Apple’s optional codec is its ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), which is open source and royalty free. The lossless tracks start at CD quality, which is 16-bit at 44.1 kHz, and will go up to 24-bit at 48 kHz based on the tracks. These tracks can be played on all newer Apple devices and other compatible devices.
In addition, there will also be a Hi-Resolution Lossless tier, which will go up to 24-bit at 192 kHz. Due to the large file sizes and additional hardware requirements, the Hi-Resolution Lossless setting must be enabled separately through settings and requires an external DAC.
Apart from that, Apple will also offer a selection of tracks in the new Dolby Atmos audio format, in what Apple calls Spatial Audio. Currently, only “thousands” of tracks are available in Spatial Audio, but more are being added regularly.
Tracks available in Dolby Atmos play automatically in Spatial Audio mode on all AirPods and Beats headphones with the H1 or W1 chip, as well as on the built-in speakers on the latest iPhone, iPad and Mac models.
It’s not yet clear if Dolby Atmos will be available to all Apple Music customers or only those who have Apple devices. While Spatial Audio is an Apple feature, Dolby Atmos has been available on other platforms for a while, including Android devices.
Apple is the latest player to enter the lossless audio and surround format of its music streaming service. Tidal, for example, has been offering both lossless sound and Dolby Atmos tracks for a few years now. Others like Amazon, Spotify and Deezer have also offered lossless audio. However, all of these services have offered it at extra cost, while Apple is the first to provide it as part of the basic subscription.
Loss without sound is sound that retains all the information in the source file. Most of the audio we stream or download today is compressed with lossless techniques to reduce file sizes. These compression techniques strategically remove parts of the sound that the human ear cannot easily hear, but depending on the techniques and equipment used, not to mention the listener, the limitations of compressed sound may be exposed. With lossless sound, there is no loss of quality, as the files are identical to the source sound.
However, not all lossless sound is created equal. Apple also offers high-resolution audio, which is also lossless, but has higher bit depth and sampling rates, preserving even more of the original recording. Much of this tends to be in the region outside of human hearing, which is why high-resolution sound has often been a topic of debate, as it claims to offer improvements in areas that most people cannot physically hear.
As for Dolby Atmos, it is an audio format that moves away from typical channel-based audio to object-based audio. While mastering the content, the sound can be mapped to a discrete point in a 3D space around the listener rather than a specific channel. When played on a compatible Atmos system, the connected speaker automatically approximates and reproduces the sound in this location without being manually programmed to do so. For the user, it means a sound that is more three-dimensional and natural instead of getting caught between your two ears.
Lossless sound and Dolby Atmos will be available to all Apple Music subscribers at no extra cost from June 2021.