One thing that gives Apple Music an edge over its competitors is its massive lossless music library. In fact, every track in its library has a lossless audio option. That’s over 75 million tracks.
It’s ridiculous, and everything is encoded with the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) to retain all those little details from the source recordings. This should make every lossless Apple Music track sound exactly as it did in the studio, as the artist intended.
That’s important because streaming apps have become the de facto standard for how we get our music. However, this comes at a cost to quality. Most of the time, they do not deliver high quality music files to our devices, in order to limit the amount of data sent.
It’s a simple math, CD audio takes a lot of data and unlimited data plans weren’t exactly a thing when streaming services first started. Even now, most audio streams are “lossy” or encoded to a lower quality than your CD collection.
Fortunately, thanks to better recording and mastering techniques, this lossy encoding isn’t as noticeable as it could be – most of the time. For the most visible tracks, music streaming services have started adding “lossless” audio, which increases the quality of the recording, while destroying your data plan.
About a year ago, Apple Music started adding lossless quality tracks to its library. Now each of the over 75 million tracks has a lossless option, but it’s not enabled by default.
What is “lossless” audio in Apple Music?
All digital audio creation uses a process called sampling to create digital files from analog recordings. This process is usually “lossy“, where it removes information from the original file to create a smaller saved file.
Lossless audio attempts to preserve the original analog recording as much as possible. This makes the digital version as close to the original as possible, but it comes at a cost. It comes at a cost for how much storage it has to take up and how much data it will use if you stream it.
Unlike some streaming services, Apple Music offers every subscriber the lossless audio option at no additional cost. This is in addition to the existing higher resolution audio stream of CD quality, or 16bit/44.1kHz.
It comes in two variants:
- Lossless: Stream at up to 24-bit/48kHz resolution
- Lossless High Resolution: Stream at up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution
The entire Apple Music catalog was encoded using Apple’s lossless codec, Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC). This means that each track has a lossless version, which ranges from 16bit/44.1kHz (CD quality) to 24bit/192kHz.
What else do I need to use lossless audio in Apple Music?
Your iPhone or iPad must have the latest software. You can listen to lossless audio from the built-in speakers or a wired connection to headphones, receivers, or powered speakers.
If you want to listen at sample rates above 48kHz, you will also need a external digital-to-analog converter (DAC). You can use a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapterbut that’s limited to 24-bit/48kHz at maximum bitrate, like the internal speakers.
Lossless audio requires a lot of bandwidth. You can also use it with WiFi-enabled wireless speakers, like the HomePodwhich supports lossless streaming.
Can I use lossless audio via Bluetooth?
The short answer here is no, Bluetooth does not have the bandwidth to handle the high bitrate of Apple Music lossless audio.
This means that your AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods (3rd Gen), or Beats wireless headphones will not give you lossless audio quality, even if you have it set up on your device.
You will get the Apple AAC Bluetooth codec which is one of the premium offerings for Bluetooth audio. Maybe a future pair of Apple wireless headphones will offer lossless support.
How to Enable Lossless Audio on Apple Music (iPhone & iPad)
All Apple Music subscribers have the lossless audio option as part of their subscription. Here’s how to set it up.
- To open Settings app on your iPad or iPhone
- Scroll to Music and faucet above
- Faucet on Music quality
- Faucet on Lossless Audio to turn it on or off
- Change the quality you want to stream at Cellular broadcast, 5G and Wi-Fi, and for Downloads
Choose lossless lets you stream audio at up to 24-bit/48kHz quality. Choose Lossless High Resolution gives you a maximum quality of 24bit/192kHz.
Remember that unless you have an unlimited data plan, your cellular or 5G data will drain quickly. Hi-Res Lossless operates at a maximum data usage of 9216 kbps. That’s a huge leap from the 320KB max bitrate of high-quality MP3s you’re used to streaming.
high-speed Internet indicates that you must have at least 20 Mbps broadband to use Hi-Res Lossless. This amounts to roughly doubling the bit rate of the transferred files. With this logic, Lossless would require 5 Mbps, which could be handled by almost any broadband connection.
How to Enable Lossless Audio on Apple Music (Android)
The latest version of Apple Music app for Android supports lossless audio. The same restrictions apply, i.e. a wired connection to headphones, receivers or powered speakers, the built-in speakers or a DAC if you want to listen to more than 48kHz.
Some Android devices support sample rates above 48kHz without the need for an external DAC, so check with your device manufacturer.
To enable or disable Lossless:
- To open Apple Music app
- Faucet the After button (the three-dot menu)
- Then, faucet on Settings
- Faucet on Audio quality
- Faucet on lossless to turn it on or off
You also have the same options for maximum quality as iPhone or iPad users. Choose lossless lets you stream audio at up to 24-bit/48kHz quality. Choose Lossless High Resolution gives you a maximum quality of 24bit/192kHz.
Again, this will chew up your data plan if you’re going to use it on cellular or 5G data.
Is there anything else I need to know about Apple Music lossless audio?
While Apple’s official support pages state that “all Apple Music apps” offer lossless audio, this is not the case.
This is the version of Apple Music that recently appeared on Roku devices. Roku said The edge this support is not available “at the moment”, which could mean that a future update will enable it.
It’s not entirely surprising. Apple Music app on PS5 does not mention lossless audio and Apple TV 4K only supports sample rates up to 48kHz.
Now you know how to listen to the best audio quality through Apple Music, lossless (or more precisely, Hi-Res Lossless).
It’s a shame that you need to buy additional hardware to enjoy the highest level of audio quality. Future Apple devices might support Hi-Res Lossless on their own, and Apple might just future-proof its services here.
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