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How to listen to Lossless audio on Apple Music

Apple is bringing audiophile grade Lossless audio to Apple Music subscribers at no extra cost, from next month. Here’s what you’ll need to enjoy the free, studio-quality upgrade from June.

Apple has really placed the cat among the proverbial pigeons by announcing Apple Music with Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos is coming soon, as well as Lossless audio for the full 75 million songs in its catalogue.

What is Lossless?

“Lossless” audio tracks retain all of the data needed to play the file at close to the original quality while still reducing the file size to make it more consumable. Apple will use the new ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) format to provide the tech.

The company explains: “Lossless audio compression reduces the original file size of a song while preserving all of the data perfectly. Apple Music is making its entire catalog of more than 75 million songs available in lossless audio at different resolutions. In Apple Music, “Lossless” refers to lossless audio up to 48kHz, and “Hi-Res Lossless” refers to lossless audio from 48kHz to 192kHz. Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless files are very large and use much more bandwidth and storage space than standard AAC files.”

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Compatible hardware and software

However, while this upgrade does not carry a monetary charge, not all Apple Music subscribers will be able to listen to their library at the new high-end audio quality. Only some hardware is compatible and, in some cases, additional gadgetry must be purchased.

An iPhone 12 with black on white background, displaying J Balvin Colores screen with Amarillo being played at the bottom

For example, the Apple Music app for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV will support Lossless Audio. However, you will need the forthcoming iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, macOS 11.4, or tvOS 14.6. Apple does say some external equipment will be required to hit those audiophile high notes, such as a USB Digital to Analog Converter for the highest-end “High-Resolution Lossless” tracks.

However, the company’s AirPods and AirPods Pro – while supporting the Dolby Atmos portion of the upgrade – will not support Lossless Audio. The same goes for the new, high-end AirPods Max over-ear headphones, due to incompatible codecs. It’s currently not clear which third-party audio manufacturers’ speakers and headphones will support the new standard, and whether it can be done wirelessly at all.

We’re sure to learn more about this in the coming weeks, but we’ve asked Apple for some clarification on the issue.

HomePod and HomePod mini now confirmed

Apple has now confirmed that the HomePod and HomePod mini speakers will be able to access the new lossless tracks when they arrives in June. In an updated Apple support document the company says “HomePod and HomePod mini currently use AAC to ensure excellent audio quality. Support for lossless is coming in a future software update.”

Apple didn’t announce HomePod compatibility initially, leaving many to wonder whether the expensive smart speakers wouldn’t have access to the lossless files. However, because HomePods rely on a Wi-Fi connection to play music, they have joined the homegrown devices able to handle the additional resolution. We’re already looking forward to pairing them up for stereo lossless sound.

How to enable Apple Music Lossless audio

From here, you’ll need to enable the higher-quality files in the settings and chose when you wish to deploy them. For example, you may want to select Lossless and Hi-Res lossless over Wi-Fi connections. Lossless (from 16 bit at 44.1KHz) offers CD-quality audio, while Hi-Res Lossless (24 bit at 192 kHz) is essentially the Studio sound you’re hearing, provided you have a good home audio set up.

“You can listen to lossless audio using the latest Apple Music app on an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV,” Apple adds. “Turn on lossless audio in Settings > Music > Audio Quality,” Apple says in the announcement. “You can choose between Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless for cellular or Wi-Fi connections. Note that Hi-Res Lossless requires external equipment such as a USB digital to analog converter.”

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