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This article was published on May 18, 2021


Here’s why the AirPods Max don’t support Apple Music’s lossless audio

Only AAC allowed

Here’s why the AirPods Max don’t support Apple Music’s lossless audio
Ivan Mehta
Story by

Ivan Mehta

Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh." Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh."

Apple took the music world by storm last night with its new lossless tier announcement. The company is offering high-fidelity music streaming for all Apple Music subscribers for free.

The iPhone maker will offer lossless quality in three tiers. CD-quality (16-bit depth/44.1KHz sampling rate), 24-bit depth/48KHz, 24-bit depth/192KHz sampling rate.

[Read: What’s bit depth? And how does it impact music?]

If you’re an Apple fan, you’d expect that its $550 headphones, the AirPods Max, will support hi-fi music streaming out of the box — at least the CD-quality tier. But that’s not the case.

Apple said that its expensive cans only support the AAC coded for streaming music when it’s connected via Bluetooth to your iPhone. For the lossless tier, the company plans to use a proprietary ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) format to stream music. 

What about the time when you plug these headphones in? The company told The Verge that the AirPods Max’s quality tops out at 24-bit/48KHz, even when you use the Lightning connector-to-headphone-jack dongle on the iPhone. So, you can’t enjoy the highest quality lossless audio. Bummer.

[Read: Before you pay for Spotify HiFi, try to pass this lossless audio test]

If you plan to extensively use Apple Music’s lossless service, you’ll need to buy external hardware including new headphones and a Digital to Analog Converter (DAC).

IFI Hip DAC

 

Apple did confirm that the AirPods Max — and other versions of the AirPods — will support spatial audio. So Dolby Atmos compatible tracks will sound more *atmospheric*, if you care about that sorta thing.

The company’s expensive headphones were released last year. While we don’t expect a major upgrade, it might not be out of the line to expect the next version to support lossless audio.

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