The word “lossless” sounds as if it describes the uncompressed audio being used. But lossless audio compression is one thing. Here’s a quick introduction.
Lossless audio formats use compression algorithms to preserve audio files in their original recorded state. It differs from at a loss audio formats like MP3, WMA, AAC and others that compress audio using algorithms that strip bits of sound data to preserve space.
So how do lossless audio compression algorithms preserve sound with compression? Lossless formats compress silences in sounds to near zero, reserving more space for actual audio. Some examples of popular lossless audio compression formats include FLAC, WAV, and ALAC.
But wait, isn’t WAV an uncompressed audio format? Yes and no. WAV files are just audio containers in Windows. They can contain both uncompressed raw audio files and audio files compressed using a codec. WAV is mostly uncompressed, but it has poor metadata support and has therefore fallen by the wayside in the digital realm.
Apple has developed its own lossless audio compression technology called the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC). In addition to AAC, the entire Apple Music catalog is now encoded in ALAC in resolutions ranging from 16-bit / 44.1 kHz (CD quality) to 24-bit / 192 kHz. Apple says the difference between AAC and ALAC is virtually indistinguishable.
Lossless audio compression – Apple Music
Ready to start listening to lossless music on Apple Music? There are a few things you should know. First, streaming lossless audio over a cellular connection is generally a bad idea. This is because these lossless audio files are much larger than lossy audio formats like MP3.
You should download any lossless audio that you listen to frequently on your phone to avoid data overage. You should also be prepared to have a wire attached to your phone for listening. AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and Beats wireless headphones use Apple’s AAC Bluetooth codec.
Bluetooth connections cannot provide lossless listening at this time. Apple says support for lossless compression will be available for HomePod and HomePod mini in a future software update.
How to Listen to Lossless Audio on iPhone and iPad
You can enjoy music losslessly on any iPhone or iPad with iOS or iPadOS 14.6 or above. You will also need some hardware to get the best audio quality from your music.
- A wired connection to headphones or speakers
- Integrated iPad speakers
- To listen to songs at sample rates above 48 kHz, you will need an external DAC (digital to analog converter)
You will also need to enable the lossless setting in Apple Music. Here’s how to do it.
- Tap Settings, then scroll to Music.
- To select Audio quality.
- Tap lossless and select on or off.
- You can customize the sample rate for audio streaming and downloading.
Lossless for a maximum resolution of 24 bits / 48 kHz. Hi-res lossless for a maximum resolution of 24 bits / 192 kHz.
Can AirPods Max be used to listen to lossless audio?
The short answer is yes. Lighting to 3.5mm audio cable is required; you cannot listen to lossless audio using bluetooth. AirPods Max can be connected to devices with the cable. Apple notes, however, that “given the analog-to-digital conversion in the cable, playback will not be completely lossless.”
Content that is not available losslessly on Apple Music includes broadcast radio, live radio, and on-demand content from Apple Music 1, Apple Music Hits, and Apple Music Country. Video clips are also not supported at this time.