Apple’s most expensive headphones won’t support Apple Music’s lossless streaming
Apple on Monday announced it will begin offering lossless and hi-resolution lossless streaming options through Apple Music at no additional cost beginning next month. Unfortunately, subscribers who own AirPods Pro and AirPods Max won’t be able to take advantage of the higher quality audio.
According to T3 and Billboard’s Micah Singleton, neither model will support the new Apple Music perk. As T3 explains, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max take advantage of the Bluetooth AAC codec when connected to an iPhone, meaning they can’t receive the full quality of the Apple Music lossless files, which are encoded as ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) files. The standard lossless streaming option offers audio at 24-bit/48kHz, while the hi-res lossless streaming offers audio at 24-bit/192kHz. Sony’s LDAC codec supports transferring 24-bit/96kHz audio files at a maximum bitrate of 990kbps even over a Bluetooth connection, but Apple products do not contain an LDAC encoder or decoder.
In order to take advantage of Apple Music’s lossless option, you’ll need a USB DAC. Yes, not even a wired Lightning cable connection will enable Apple’s AirPods Max to support lossless streaming, according to Micah Singleton. In a statement to The Verge, Apple says the reason is that “AirPods Max wired listening mode accepts analog output sources only. AirPods Max currently does not support digital audio formats in wired mode.”
Considering the AirPods Max retail for a whopping $549, it’s hugely disappointing to hear this news, although not entirely unexpected. Apple’s headphones are designed for a mobile-first approach, and not necessarily to provide users with the best possible listening experience out there; it was also always a pipe dream to expect Apple’s $250 earbuds to support Apple Music’s higher quality audio.
The good news is audio products powered by Apple’s H1 or W1 wireless chips will support Apple Music’s new Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos. The feature will provide users with a multi-dimensional listening experience, making songs sound more immersive. Thousands of songs will support Spatial Audio at launch, with more support coming down the road.
The reality is most users won’t be able to take advantage of Apple Music’s new lossless features without the right audio equipment. According to Apple, hi-res lossless will require external equipment such as a USB digital-to-analog convert, otherwise known as a DAC.
If you own an Apple TV or HomePod, you may have better success listening to Apple Music’s new lossless features. But if you were hoping to use your AirPods Max and an iPhone 12 to stream lossless audio over Bluetooth 5.0, sadly it isn’t going to happen.
This article was updated at 6:11 PM ET on May 17, 2021, to include a statement from Apple.