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(Pocket-lint) - Apple Music now offers Lossless Audio - improved audio tracks and a better listening experience.

Here we explain everything about Apple Music Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless. You can also check out our Spatial Audio feature to find out more about other enhancements that Apple has also rolled out.

What is Apple Music Lossless Audio?

Apple Music Lossless Audio is the tag given to music tracks on the service that are in a higher-resolution format than normal. That means you can listen to music that hasn't been compressed and therefore retains all the detail and nuance of the original recordings.

When a track is compressed for a smaller file size, such as an MP3 or Apple's own AAC, some of the audio information can be lost. A compressed file can be up to 90 per cent smaller than a lossless file, but is generally rendered at a lower bitrate and frequency. Most streaming services default to these formats to save on streaming bandwidth or device storage space.

Lossless Audio is rendered at much higher bitrates and frequencies, so will take up more space or bandwidth. However, the audio quality benefits as a result. Compare the same track played from a CD to one on a standard streaming service and you should be able to pick out deviations in clarity - even hear sounds in the background you might have previously missed.

Apple Music's Lossless Audio therefore offers users the option to listen to higher bitrate music tracks, with a couple of "lossless" options. It uses the ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) file type and offers different types:

  • Lossless Audio (up to 24-bit at 48kHz)
  • Hi-Res Lossless Audio (up to 24 bit at 192kHz)

You will need specialist audio equipment to play Hi-Res Lossless back.

Apple will eventually offer its entire catalogue of music - over 75 million tracks - in Lossless Audio. At present, there are about 20 million.

How do you get Lossless Audio and how much does it cost?

Apple provides Lossless Audio at no extra cost as part of an Apple Music subscription.

An Apple Music subscription costs £9.99 / $9.99 per month (£4.99 / $4.99 for students). A family plan is available for £14.99 / $14.95 per month.

Alternatively, you can get Apple Music as part of the Apple One bundle, which also includes Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and iCloud storage for £14.95 / $14.95 per month (£19.95 / $19.95 per month for family access). News+ and Fitness+ can also be added, plus an increase in iCloud storage (to 2TB) for £29.95 / $29.95 per month.

Both Apple Music and Apple One plans come with a free trial period for newcomers.

Lossless Audio is available on Apple Music on devices running iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, tvOS 14.6 or macOS 11.4 and above.

How to switch on Lossless Audio in Apple Music

Lossless Audio is not switched on by default. That's to save you accidentally using up your mobile data, for example, as lossless tracks can be bandwidth hungry.

Instead, you need to switch it on by heading to Settings on your iPhone or iPad, scroll down to Music, then select Audio Quality. There, you will be able to choose between the different resolutions.

To turn on lossless on your Apple TV 4K follow similar steps, although Apple TV doesn't currently support the Hi-Res Lossless option.

You can find out more detailed steps on how to access Lossless Audio on your device here: How to turn on Apple Music Lossless Audio and get it working.

What devices support Lossless Audio?

Lossless Audio tracks can only currently be heard through wired headphones connected to an iPhone, iPad or Mac, they cannot currently be streamed to wireless headphones, including AirPods. Even if you select Lossless Audio in Apple Music, when you listen via Bluetooth, you'll be listening to a compressed version instead.

Apple's AirPods Max also don't support Lossless Audio, even when using the cable.

However, there is support for up to 24 bit 48kHz lossless via a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter, but you'll still have to connect a good pair of wired headphones. It's worth remembering that this isn't the highest quality that Apple is offering, but it would be a solution for some users.

Apple has confirmed that lossless will be supported on the HomePod and HomePod mini in the future after a software update.

If you want to listen to lossless audio via the Apple TV 4K, you'll have to send the audio to an AV receiver via HDMI and the receiver will need to be capable of decoding the stream. It will then play through the receiver's connected speakers, but this method only supports up to 48kHz.

We've had it confirmed that AirPlay 2 will also support Apple lossless up to 48kHz. Naim has confirmed that you'll be able to send Apple Lossless Audio to devices like the Naim Mu-so 2 to enjoy higher quality music.

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To listen to Hi-Res Lossless Audio tracks, you will need external equipment too, such as a USB DAC (digital to analogue converter) that sits between the device and the headphones.

Devices like the Chord Mojo will allow you to take the Hi-Res Lossless Audio from Apple and connect your wired headphones, with the Mojo doing the heavy lifting to decode the audio for your headphones. In this case you could connect it to your Mac via USB, or use a Lightning to USB adapter for an iPhone or iPad.

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Is Apple Music the only service with lossless audio?

Apple Music is actually somewhat late to the party when it comes to lossless and Hi-Res music playback.

Other streaming services, including Tidal, Qoboz and Amazon Music, have offered plans with Master Quality or HD music streaming and downloads for some time.

Where Apple is different is it is adding the enhanced offering on top of its existing service for free. Others have traditionally charged more the higher the quality.

It has prompted Amazon to remove the premium fee for its Amazon Music HD service. It too is now free to Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers.

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Writing by Rik Henderson.