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 (yet), 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.