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Want to get started with Lossless Audio? This is the Audio Equipment you’ll need

Want to get started with Lossless Audio? This is the Audio Equipment you’ll need

If you’re excited about Apple’s announcement of lossless audio coming to Apple Music soon, you may be wondering how lossless audio works and what exactly it’s all about. Once you’ve learned about all that, you may also be interested in knowing how you can listen to lossless audio on Apple Music when it’s available in your region. Well, we’ve got you covered on that front as well. Depending on which device you have, we’ll tell you exactly what you need to experience lossless audio on your smartphone or computer. Just a heads up, it might end up being a slightly expensive affair if you want the best experience!

Note that lossless audio does NOT work via Bluetooth, so you can’t use your existing pair of wireless earphones to experience lossless audio. You’ll need a pair of wired earphones or headphones, specifically ones that support HiFi audio. You’ll also need a dedicated DAC that plugs into the USB-C or lightning port of your smartphone as DACs on most devices aren’t good enough. Some phones even in 2021 (surprisingly) still come with a headphone jack and a good built-in DAC, so in such scenarios, you won’t need an external DAC. In some scenarios, you will also need an AMP.

How to Experience Apple Music Lossless Audio using Wired Earphones

Note: The following recommendations are strictly limited to entry-level lossless audio listening and are not intended for master-level music production or audiophile-grade experience. This is the bare minimum you would need to experience lossless audio and even then, we cannot guarantee if you will be able to notice the difference between a 320kbps MP3 and a 1411kbps FLAC file.

To get started off with listening to lossless audio, you will need an external DAC to connect your headphones or earphones. If you’re wondering why you need a DAC and what it actually does, think of it as an accessory that processes audio and does a better job doing it compared to the DAC that’s in-built on your phone. DACs are Digital to Analog Converters and their basic job is to convert the data on your phone which is in binary to audio that you can hear from your headphones or speaker. Yes, all phones do have a built-in DAC, but they’re just not good enough. A high-quality DAC can process higher quality audio, something that the internal DAC on most smartphones cannot.

For example, the ROG Phone 5 from Asus has an ESS DAC that supports up to 32-bit audio at 192KHz which is more than sufficient for listening to lossless audio. You don’t need an external DAC in this case. However, most in-built DACs don’t support processing 24-bit, 192KHz audio which is necessary for Apple Music’s Hi-Res Lossless audio tier.

An external DAC can also come with a built-in AMP to help drive your headphones with higher impedance levels, something that a lot of standalone phones cannot do. An AMP is generally required when your device, in this case, a smartphone or a computer is unable to provide enough power to your headphones. When you plug in your headphones and you feel that the volume levels aren’t satisfactory even at higher levels, that’s when you would need an amp to power your headphones.

Let’s start with the most basic arrangement. Apple Music lossless will have two tiers – Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless. Lossless itself is a step-up from standard MP3 quality but Hi-Res Lossless takes it up a notch almost to the Master Copy level. If you want to experience only the base lossless tier on your iPhone, you can pick up Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm DAC and any of the wired earphones or headphones from the suggestions down below and you’ll be good to go.

    Apple Lightning to 3.5mm DAC
    This Lightning to 3.5mm DAC from Apple will let you plug in standard headphones with a 3.5mm connector to experience the base tier of lossless audio on Apple Music. While the DAC looks unassuming and modest, it surprisingly works, perhaps offering some justification for its price. This is the cheapest DAC that you can get for the iPhone and is a great way to get started off with the lossless audio experience with Apple Music before you splurge on something more premium

Note: The maximum resolution for the Lossless tier of Apple Music is 24-bit/48KHz while the maximum resolution for the Hi-Res Lossless tier is 24-bit/192KHz.

Lightning DAC for iPhone to Play Lossless Audio

If you’re not satisfied with the base tier of lossless audio and want to experience the best audio quality that Apple has to offer, you will need to attach a superior DAC which can facilitate this process since the one Apple sells is limited to processing audio up to 24-bit/48KHz.

The following accessory is a 32-bit DAC which is in all probability, an overkill for almost anybody wanting to experience lossless audio on their Apple smartphone. If you still want to go all-in, you can consider getting this particular DAC.

    Spectra X2 32-bit DAC for iPhone
    This 32-bit DAC is a premium accessory for your iPhone and will give you the best quality audio output. It might as well be overkill for a lot of people but if you're an audiophile and want the best, why not?

USB-C DACs for Android Phones and Mac/Windows Computers

Since Apple announced that Apple Music lossless audio is coming to its Android app as well, we decided that some USB-C DACs would also be worth including for those of you who want to enjoy the crisp audio quality on Android and your Mac/Windows computers. Note that you’ll also need a pair of good-quality wired earphones to go along with the DAC. We have a few options listed below.

    iBasso DC03 USB-C DAC

    Popular and reliable DAC

    The iBasso DC03 is a popular DAC recommended by audio enthusiasts and is the perfect gateway to lossless audio on your device.
    Spectra 32-bit USB-C DAC

    Premium DAC for Android

    We recommended the lightning version of the same DAC if you have an iPhone so if you have an Android, this is a good quality DAC to get.
    Portable USB-C 32-bit DAC

    Affordable USB-C DAC

    This is one of the most affordable 32-bit USB-C DACs that we could find and should be good enough for most people wanting to experience lossless audio.

USB-A DACs for Computers as well as Smartphones

USB-A sound cards and DACs have been around for a long time and are quite versatile in the sense that you can attach a USB-A DAC to your laptop or desktop directly if it doesn’t have a USB-C port. The same DAC can even be used with your Android smartphone if you have an OTG adaptor. These DACs top out at 96KHz, though, so the Hi-Res Lossless tier tracks on Apple Music will still be downsampled.

    Creative Sound Blaster Play 3

    Great way to start

    This is a 24-bit DAC that is a good way to enter the world of lossless audio. Paired with a good pair of headphones, this DAC can produce a great quality sound output.
    Xtrem Pro X1 USB-A DAC

    Affordable high performance DAC

    The Xtrem Pro X1 DAC connects via USB-A and offers reliable performance at an affordable price. If you just want to get started, this is an ideal option.
    AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC

    Premium DAC for the best quality

    If you want to go all-in on a premium audio setup, this is the DAC for you. It's a 32-bit DAC and can play audio files all the way up to 96KHz.

Best Wired Earphones/IEMs for Apple Music Lossless Audio

IEM stands for In-ear Monitor and this is what you’ll require to enjoy lossless audio on Apple Music. You’ll need to connect the IEM to the DAC and the DAC will then connect to your smartphone or computer. This is the setup you’ll need to experience the best tier of lossless audio on Apple Music. There are various HiFi IEMs you can get at different price points, but we’ve shortlisted some of the best wired earphone options for you.

    KZ ZST Colorful Hybrid IEM

    A good start headset

    This is a good option if you want to try out an IEM for the first time to see if you're comfortable with them.
    KZ ZSN Pro IEM

    Best IEMs on a Budget

    These are one of the most popular IEMs you can find and they're also affordable. Highly recommended.
    FiiO FH3 Triple Driver IEM

    Premium IEMs with great quality

    These IEMs from FiiO are expensive but offer great quality sound output. If you're willing to spend extra, go for them.
    CCA CA4 Dual Driver IEM

    Another good budget offering

    This particular IEM is also a good option if you're on a tight budget. The dual drivers offer good quality sound output.
    Shure SE215 Professional IEM

    Professional-grade IEM with deep bass

    Shure is a popular brand in the audio equipment space and these IEMs carry forward that legacy. They're sound isolating and offer great quality audio output.
    Moondrop Starfield Dynamic IEM

    Another premium quality IEM

    These IEMs are also quite expensive but work very well with a good quality DAC. If you like the look of these, you can get them over the other premium options.
    Linsoul Tin Dual Driver IEM

    Reliable mid-range offering

    If you want a solid and reliable IEM at a not-so-expensive price, and one that has great audio quality, this is the one for you.
    KZ ZS10 Pro Steel HiFi IEM

    Premium sound at an affordable price

    These are one of the best IEMs in term of price to performance ratio and even in terms of reviews. They don't cost a lot but punch above their weight.
    Kbear KS1 super bass IEM

    Cheapest IEMs available

    These IEMs are one of the cheapest available options if you want to experience lossless audio. You can try them out and upgrade to better ones later if you like the idea of IEMs.

Best Wired Headphones for Lossless Audio

If you’re not comfortable with IEMs since they are of the in-ear kind and a lot of people don’t seem to prefer them since they create a vacuum seal in the ears, you can also get a pair of good quality studio-level headphones to experience lossless audio. Let’s take a look at a few options. Note that you may need an AMP too with some of these if you’re using them with your smartphone.

    Audio-Technica ATH-M50X

    A good fit for everyone

    The ATH-M50X from Audio-Technica is a pair of headphones with a flat sound profile and will suit most people. These studio monitors are a great way to get started off with lossless audio.
    Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones

    Headphones for multiple use-cases

    The Sony WH-1000XM4 is one of the most popular pairs of headphones known for its ANC. However, when used with an AUX cable, it can be used for lossless audio as well.
    AKG Pro K371 Headphones

    Good mid-range pair of headphones

    The AKG Pro K371 are a pair of over-the-ear, closed-back studio headphones that don't cost a lot but work well with lossless audio. A good mid-range option.
    Sennheiser Momentum 3 Headphones

    Premium headphones with great features

    The Sennheiser Momentum 3 is actually a pair of wireless earphones with some great features but when used with a cable, it can be a great way to experience lossless audio.
    Philips SHP9500 HiFi Stereo Headphones

    Another good option for starters

    The Philips SHP9500 is another good affordable option if you don't want to spend too much to get yourself a lossless audio rig. When paired with a good DAC, they can sound really good.
    Beyerdynamic BT990 Pro Headphones

    Premium headphones at a good price

    The Beyerdynamic BT990 Pro is a popular headphone that offers a premium experience. These are open-back stereo headphones and are a great way to enter the world of lossless audio.

If you’ve got everything we mentioned, you should now be set to experience lossless audio on Apple Music or any other platform for that matter. Spotify is also set to roll out lossless audio, so when that happens, you’ll be ready if you have a good DAC and a good pair of IEMs like the KZ ZSN Pro or the FiiO FH3. If you prefer headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X is a good option to start with.

About author

Sumukh Rao
Sumukh Rao

A tech fanatic with a hunger for knowledge in the ever-growing field of science and technology. An avid quizzer and a gadget critic who loves simplifying tech for the masses has a keen interest in modding Android devices.