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Hardware compatibility for Apple Music's newly announced features

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  • Apple Music’s new Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio will be rolled out in June, probably alongside iOS 14.6.
  • Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos will be compatible with all the AirPods models.
  • Lossless Audio as well as Hi-Res Lossless won’t be supported on any of the AirPods models.

Apple recently announced that Apple Music is bringing Lossless Audio tiers and Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos to the subscribers, starting June. These features will be available to the subscribers at no additional cost. However, there’s still confusion as to which all devices will support these features.

Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos is an industry-leading, revolutionary sound quality that creates an immersive audio experience for users, providing multidimensional audio and clarity. As stated by Apple, Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos will be supported on all earphones/headphones with an H1 or W1 chip. This means, all the AirPods models, AirPods 1, AirPods 2, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, will support this feature.

Not only will these wireless earphones support the feature, but many Beats headphones such as BeatsX, Beats Solo3 Wireless, Beats Studio3, Powerbeats3 Wireless, Beats Flex, Powerbeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro are also in-line.

By default, Apple Music will automatically play Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, as well as the built-in speakers in the latest versions of iPhone, iPad, and Mac -- Apple's Newsroom

As far as it goes for the Lossless Audio, these are less compressed audio files that offer more details in the music, thereby providing wider dynamic range to bring out the realism in music as it was intended to sound by the artist. The Hi-Res Lossless tier offers even more details with less compression. In order to listen to songs in lossless mode, the user will have to manually turn it on by going to Settings > Music > Audio Quality > select Lossless or Hi-Resolution Lossless. Apple did not specify as to which all earphones/headphones will be supporting Apple Music’s Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless. However, various sources such as T3, 9to5Mac, MacRumors and more have confirmed from Apple that none of the AirPod models including the AirPods Max will support Lossless Audio.

But why?

Normally, Apple Music songs are encoded in AAC with a bitrate of 256kbps, which are therefore considered good enough for listening through regular headphones/earphones. Lossless Audio in Apple Music, on the other hand, is encoded in ALAC (Apple Music Lossless Codec) Files. The bitrate of Apple Music’s Lossless Audio starts from 16-bit at 44.1KHz (known as CD quality) and goes up to 24-bits at 48KHz. When it comes to Hi-Res Lossless, the bitrate goes all the way up to 24-bits at 192 KHz.

The quality of Apple Music’s Lossless Audio files are hence, much higher than that of a regular Apple Music AAC file. When it comes to Apple Music Hi-Res Lossless, the quality becomes even higher, with the need of an even better equipment such as an external Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) to listen to that audio, perfectly. This is where the real struggle is and hence the feature is non-supportive on any of the AirPods models.

As confirmed to T3 by Apple, ‌AirPods ‌(1st & 2nd-gen), ‌AirPods Pro‌, and ‌AirPods Max‌ are limited to the Bluetooth AAC codec when paired with an iPhone and therefore, won't be able to stream ‌Apple Music‌ lossless files. Listening to Lossless Audio on an ‌iPhone‌ will require wired headphones and in case of Hi-Res, possibly an external DAC. Now the question might be, if it requires a wired headphone, then why not use the AirPods Max with the lightning cable?

Well, the answer; AirPods Max is bound to analog sources and will not support digital audio formats in wired mode. Apple told The Verge that when a 24-bit/48 kHz Apple Music lossless track is played to an iPhone into the ‌AirPods Max‌ using a Lightning cable and a Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle, the audio is converted to analog and then re-digitized to 24-bit/48 kHz. The re-digitization is not an identical match to the source and Apple is not able to say that it's Lossless Audio.

Although Apple didn’t mention about the listening devices, yet, the company confirmed that Lossless Audio can be listened on an iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV. There’s no mention of the HomePod, so it’s clear that the HomePod is also not compatible with the Lossless Audio feature. Additionally, the HomePod will support the Spatial Audio feature, since it has been confirmed by Apple themselves.

Lossless Audio and Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos will be added to ‌Apple Music‌ starting in June, probably alongside with the release of iOS 14.6. They’ll be added free of charge, so both new and current subscribers will be able to try out these features for the standard $9.99 per month (individual), $14.99 per month (family) or $4.99 per month (student) pricing.

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