If you’ve read, seen, or heard the news in the past month, you already know that Apple Music is now streaming lossless and high-resolution music for both Apple and Android users. The term “lossless” means, in this context, a minimum of CD-quality sound (16-bit/44.1kHz) — which is a dramatic improvement over “lossy” music files such as MP3s, which cleverly throw away up to 90% of music’s data (via, as Thomas Dolby would bellow, science!) in the interest of saving Internet and cellular bandwidth (and, of course, money).
Apple is late to the game, but better late than never. This huge development will introduce millions to high-quality music for the very first time — and Apple has kept the pricing the same, spurring at least one competitor to lower its prices as well.
This being Apple, the new Apple Music Lossless streaming is the epitome of “Think Different™.” Audiophiles in particular will find the service, uh, how do we say this delicately…FUBAR.
Read on for answers to your most commonly asked questions…
For CD-quality music (16-bit/44.1kHz resolution) and the lowest tier of high-resolution music (24-bit/48kHz):
You’ll need one of the following, with a wired connection to either headphones, powered speakers, or an audio system:
For what most audiophiles consider high-resolution music (24-bit/88kHz up to 24-bit/192kHz):
You’ll need one of the following, with a wired connection to a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), then another wired connection from the DAC to either headphones, powered speakers, or an audio system:
Apple reports that 20 million of their 75 million tracks are lossless at launch (which was June 7, 2021), and that the remainder will be lossless by the end of 2021. Lossless tracks will be labeled as such in the Apple Music player.
Go into Settings, Music, Audio and switch on Lossless Streaming and Lossless Downloads. Apple makes you opt-in because they want you to know that lossless streaming uses a lot of cellular data, and lossless downloads use a lot of storage space.
There is no price increase for the additional fidelity. Prices remain at $9.99/month for an individual subscription, $4.99/month for students, and a $14.99/month Family Plan for up to six members. You can also get Apple Music as part of an Apple One bundle that includes other services such as Apple TV+, Apple News+, and Apple Fitness+.
No, the lower-resolution MP3-quality music will play instead. Bluetooth, even the higher-fidelity Apt-X Bluetooth version, simply doesn’t possess the bandwidth to carry the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) at CD quality and above. Even Apple’s own $549 AirPods Max Bluetooth headphones must be wired to listen losslessly.
Yes, up to CD-quality (16-bit/44.1kHz) — but not true high-resolution audio (24-bit/48kHz, 24-bit/88kHz, 24-bit/96kHz, or 24-bit/192kHz).
Not at this time. Apple announced a future update that will allow this.
Not at this time, but our guess is someday, because Sonos certainly has the capability. According to Sonos staff member James L., “Apple Music currently streams 256kbps AAC as standard [on Sonos].” (That’s roughly equivalent to a 320kbps MP3 file.) Additionally, Sonos tops out at 24-bit/48kHz resolution, so the Sonos system, while technically capable of being lossless with Apple Music at some point, isn’t a full Hi-Res Audio player in the audiophile sense. (Hi-Res Audio files go up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution.)
According to Apple: “You can listen to lossless audio with CarPlay using a USB connection.” Apple made no mention of Hi-Res Audio, but we’re guessing that’s a no, because of the lack of an external DAC.
It seems anti-audiophile and cumbersome to wire an iPhone or iPad to a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), then run a long analog cable from the DAC to your hi-fi. But that’s what you’re stuck with if you want true high-resolution music on the big rig from Apple Music streaming.
Mac users enjoy a separate Apple Music app. PC users aren’t so lucky. You have two ways to listen, but there’s currently no indication that either one is lossless:
First: Apple Music recently launched a web app that runs in any browser. The user interface is bright and clean, but the app moves glacially from track to track. It also doesn’t support gapless playback, which means your favorite Pink Floyd album is going to be chopped up (again, glacially) instead of songs flowing continuously into each other as designed.
Secondly: The ancient and bloated iTunes serves as the Apple Music PC desktop player. While iTunes supports gapless playback, there’s no indication as of June 2021 that it supports Apple Music Lossless or high-resolution streaming. iTunes also doesn’t support Windows Exclusive Mode, meaning that Hi-Res Audio signals (if they actually were available) would be degraded by routing through the Windows audio system instead of playing direct from the sound card.
At this time, we emphatically do not. While it is commendable that Apple Music now streams losslessly at a great price, there are far too many dead ends and performance bottlenecks for audiophiles. Qobuz, Tidal, and Amazon Music HD all boast extensive high-resolution ecosystems of home audio partners (for example: Auralic, Bluesound, Denon, Marantz, Linn, Bose, Sony, McIntosh, etc.). Qobuz and Tidal also boast Roon software music player integration, adding Roon’s breathtaking user interface and an additional ecosystem of high-resolution home audio partners. Apple has none of the above.
Even streaming Apple Music on the PC is a chore, with your choice of sonically compromised, user-unfriendly apps.
Your choices for streaming high-end Hi-Res Audio from Apple are limited to comical Rube Goldberg contraptions (requiring additional purchases of a DAC and adapter cables) snaking from a compatible Mac, iPad, or smartphone to a hi-fi system or wired headphones. (And is a smartphone/tablet-based hi-fi system truly high-end? Debatable.)
Our high-resolution/lossless streaming recommendation continues to be Qobuz, currently the best-sounding music streaming service in the world. 100% of Qobuz streams are lossless. You can stream Qobuz through their elegant, top-shelf apps, with up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution on Mac or PC, on iOS or Android, on the Roon and Audirvana Hi-Res Audio software players, on Sonos (up to 24-bit/48kHz), and on an impressive assortment of home audio components. Apple Music Lossless is just getting started, and we hope we can similarly recommend it soon.