What is Apple Lossless Audio?

What is Apple Lossless Audio?
After numerous leaks and speculations, Apple decided to spill the beans and officially announced two major upgrades to its Apple Music service. Apple Lossless Audio and Spatial Audio are the new audio weapons that are supposed to challenge Spotify and other platforms that offer hi-resolution audio streaming.

The upgrade is coming to all subscribers in June at no extra cost, and some pending questions just beg to be answered. What is Apple Lossless Audio? Is it better than MP3? Can you listen to lossless audio using your AirPods? Read on to find out!

What is lossless audio?



Let’s first lay some foundations without being overly technical. The idea behind sound digitalization dates back to the early 19th century when the French mathematician Joseph Fourier devised some mathematical equations that can be used to describe any waveform as a sequence of numbers.

Sound is analog in its nature and every digital music format is not lossless, at least in theory. Let’s take the Compact Disc sound quality as it’s the widely adopted standard for lossless audio.

On many compact discs, you can see something like 16 bit/ 44.1 kHz written somewhere. This means that the recording uses “snapshots” of the original sound 44,100 times per second. The 16-bit number just shows the sound palette that the system can distinguish.


When this information is converted back to sound, it’s believed that the human ear cannot distinguish the result from the original. So far, so good. Music files encoded this way tend to be quite large, though - not practical for streaming purposes, wireless transmission, etc.

Lossy formats like MP3 remove unnecessary information such as silent passages, frequencies that the human ear just can’t hear, etc. Whether or not you can really hear the difference, it’s rather subjective. You can take this test and see if you can spot the lossless sample.

Is Apple Lossless better than MP3?



Apple has developed its own lossless audio compression technology called Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) and it supports 16-bit/44.1 kHz (CD Quality) and even encoding up to 24-bit/192 kHz (even more information is kept during the encoding process).

So the answer to this question is “Yes”. On paper, this new ALAC technology is superior to MP3, when it comes to sound information that is preserved in the music file.

Is Apple Lossless as good as FLAC?


FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is another encoding technology that became popular among audiophiles in the past 20 or so years. It offers sound resolutions from 16-bit/44.1kHz up to 24-bit/192 kHz, so it’s very similar to Apple’s own lossless format.

However, the algorithms behind Apple Lossless Audio aren’t as efficient as those used by FLAC, resulting in larger files overall. With that being said, the sound quality should be pretty similar, so another “Yes” on this one.

Can you listen to Apple Lossless Audio using AirPods, AirPods Pro, or AirPods Max?



Surprisingly, the answer to this question is a hard “No”. AirPods use Bluetooth connectivity and sadly, Bluetooth just can’t cope with the energy and bandwidth requirements of lossless audio formats.

How can you listen to Apple Lossless Audio?



You can listen to lossless on an iPhone or iPad updated to iOS or iPadOS 14.6 using their built-in speakers or by connecting to wired headphones/speakers. The same goes for your Mac, assuming it’s updated to macOS 11.4.

Support for lossless is coming to Apple HomePod and HomePod mini in a future software update, so if you own one of these, sit tight.
 

You can also enjoy Apple Lossless on an Apple TV 4K by connecting it to an AV receiver using an HDMI cable. Just make sure your system is updated to tvOS 14.6.

Another thing worth mentioning is that you need to delete your music files and redownload them from the Apple Music catalog in order to get them in lossless audio.
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