Apple Music is about to receive a huge sound quality boost. Beginning June 2021, Apple’s entire music library (more than 75 million songs!) will be available in the lossless audio format — a much higher audio quality file than that used by most streaming services like Spotify. Best of all: it’s free for Apple Music subscribers.
Along with this higher quality audio format, Apple is also bringing Spatial Audio to a portion of the Apple Music library, along with support for Dolby Atmos. That will be a huge pull for those heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem; AirPods already support Dolby Atmos’ immersive audio experience (for certain content within apps like Apple’s own TV app or Disney+) as do the built-in speakers on the latest versions of the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Lossless audio for Apple Music subscribers, especially as Apple isn’t planning to increase the subscription price from $9.99/month for access to lossless audio. That will be a huge blow to Spotify, which is planning to charge extra for access to its hi-fidelity streaming tier.
AirPods are incompatible — But what’s maybe most insulting is that AirPods — Apple’s own earbuds and headphones solution — don’t support lossless audio, only Spatial Audio. Apple confirmed to T3 that AirPods’ Bluetooth AAC codec is not compatible with ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec.) Imagine spending $549 on AirPods Max or $249 on AirPods Pro and not being able to get the hi-res lossless music. For AirPods Pro Max, you’ll need a DAC and also a wired cable. Can you see my face right now? It’s the totally confused emoji and then disgusted emoji and then the annoyed emoji.
Next-gen audio experience — Starting next month, Apple will make its Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) files available for every subscriber. This starts at CD quality — 16-bit at 44.1 kHz — and runs up to 24-bit at 48 kHz on Apple devices. There is a 24-bit at 192 kHz option, but subscribers will also need external equipment like a DAC to enjoy that tier. Users will be able to toggle various resolution options for streaming over Wi-Fi, cellular data, and downloads.
The addition of Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio is just as (if not more) exciting for Apple Music subscribers. Both are aimed at creating a truly immersive listening experience, and both are natively available on AirPods and Beats headphones that use the W1 or H1 chips. Even the Apple TV 4K can play Dolby Atmos.
“Hearing myself and my music in Dolby Atmos for the first time, it was just crazy, it blew my mind, it’s indescribable,” said singer J Balvin in a press release. “I think fans will really love this new experience.”
Bad news for Spotify (and Tidal) — Apple’s jump to full lossless immediately blows Spotify’s plans to bits. Spotify Premium subscribers will need to pay an as-of-yet-undisclosed upgrade fee to enjoy its forthcoming HiFi tier whereas Apple’s is completely free. Spotify has said HiFi will only deliver music in CD quality, whereas Apple is offering native support for 24-bit at 48 kHz, far above CD quality. And Spotify doesn’t offer Spatial Audio at all.
This move will certainly hurt Tidal, too. The company’s Masters program still delivers at a higher quality (24-bit at 192 kHz), but current Apple Music subscribers are less likely to make the switch to Tidal now.
The entirety of Apple Music’s library will be available at lossless quality beginning next month; Apple says “thousands” of songs will be available with Spatial Audio at launch, with more to come in the near future.