In 2021, Apple Music started giving users access to all of its music in lossless audio. But what exactly is lossless audio? Is there anything bad about listening to music in the lossless format from Apple? How much better does it sound, really? Here’s our opinion about using Apple Music with Lossless Audio.
Using Apple Music with Lossless Audio: Yes or No?
What Is Lossless Audio?
When talking about audio files, there are two basic types: compressed and uncompressed files.
Uncompressed files take up a lot more space on your hard drive than compressed files, but they have their own benefits. When editing music, uncompressed files can be loaded into memory faster because the software you’re using to open them doesn’t have to first decompress them. This is why Pro Tools and other digital audio workstations usually only use uncompressed WAV files and similar file types (DAWs). If you just want to listen to music, you might care more about how much storage space and bandwidth your device has than how long it takes to start playing a song. This is why audio files are compressed.
This started with files like MP3s, which get smaller by cutting out parts of the original file. This kind of compression can make files smaller, but you can never get them back to the way they were before. This is sometimes called “lossy audio” as a shorthand way to compare it to the other option, which is called “lossless audio.”
Lossless audio formats like FLAC and Apple’s own ALAC still compress files so that they are much smaller than WAV files that haven’t been compressed. The difference is that once they are decompressed, they have exactly the same audio as the original file, and nothing is lost.
Apple Music and Lossless Audio
Lossy audio is used by Spotify and many other services, including Apple until not too long ago. This is because it’s easier to stream over a cellular or other limited data connection. This compression sounds better than the old MP3s, but it still doesn’t carry the original signal 100% of the way.
Apple will have changed all of its songs to lossless in June 2021. Its catalog of songs recently topped 100 million. Once you turn on lossless audio in Apple Music, this service will deliver lossless audio using Apple’s ALAC codec. You can still choose compressed streams, which use less data but have slightly lower audio quality. Apple’s AAC codec is one way to do this.
Apple Music is not the only service that offers lossless audio, but it is one of the few that doesn’t charge extra for lossless audio. This is great because you can try lossless audio to see if you like it without paying extra for a higher-tier subscription for a month.
As part of the base Apple Music subscription, you can also listen to Hi-Res audio. To listen to hi-res audio, you’ll need special equipment, which we’ll talk about later in this article.
Supported Hardware for Lossless Audio
Lossless audio can be played on the iPhone, iPad, macOS, and Apple TV with Apple Music. In 2021, Apple also made the HomePod and HomePod mini work with lossless audio. You can listen to lossless audio in Apple Music on Windows and Android devices as well.
If you are using Bluetooth, you probably won’t be able to benefit from lossless audio. For lossless audio to work, you’ll need to use wired headphones. Depending on the device you’re using, you may need a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter.
Be aware that while it’s easy to listen to lossless audio, it’s not as easy to listen to hi-res audio. On older devices, the Lightning adapter or headphone ports can only handle up to 24-bit/48Hkz. High-resolution streams can go even higher, usually up to 24-bit/192kHz.
You’ll need an external digital-to-analog converter if you want to listen to high-res audio on Apple Music (DAC). Sometimes these come with headphone amps, but if they don’t, you’ll also need a headphone amp or an integrated amplifier to hear your music.
Can You Use AirPods for Lossless Audio?
After you turn on lossless audio, you may wonder why the music on your new AirPods Pro doesn’t sound better. The answer is simple: no AirPods models support lossless audio, whether you use Apple Music or another service. This is true for both the original AirPods and the AirPods Pro and Max.
It’s easy to understand why. The AirPods use Apple’s AAC codec over Bluetooth, which doesn’t have enough bandwidth for true lossless audio. We are starting to see lossless audio over Bluetooth, but none of the AirPods we have now support it.
Is Apple Music’s lossless audio worth it?
Most of the time, turning on lossless audio for Apple Music is a good idea. You might not always notice a big difference in sound quality, but there are some songs where almost everyone can hear the compression artifacts. With lossless audio, you don’t have to worry about this.
If you listen to music on your phone most of the time when you’re not on Wi-Fi, you might want to turn off lossless audio. You can turn off lossless audio for cellular connections by going to Settings > Music > Audio Quality and choosing “High Quality” or “High Efficiency” instead of “Lossless.” You can leave lossless audio turned on for Wi-Fi and downloads, which will let you still use lossless audio sometimes.
High-quality audio is a different story. For many people, buying and hooking up extra gear to listen to music isn’t worth the time and money. Still, you have nothing to lose by turning on lossless audio, and you might find that you like music even more.