How to enable lossless audio on Apple Music
We’ll show you how to get the highest quality audio.
One thing that gives Apple Music an edge against its competition is its huge library of lossless music. In fact, every single track in its library has a lossless audio option. That’s over 75 million tracks.
That’s ridiculous, and it’s all encoded with the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) to keep all those tiny details from the source recordings. That should make every Apple Music lossless track sound exactly how it did in the studio, as the artist intended.
That’s important because streaming apps have taken over as the de facto standard for how we get our music. It comes at a cost to quality though. Mostly they’re not serving high-quality music files to our devices, in order to limit how much data is being sent.
It’s simple math, CD Audio takes up a large amount of data, and unlimited data plans weren’t exactly a thing when streaming services started. Even now, most streamed audio is “lossy,” or encoded at a lower quality than your CD collection.
Thankfully, due to better recording and mastering techniques, that lossy encoding isn’t as noticeable as it could be – most of the time. For those tracks that are more noticeable, music streaming services started to add “lossless” audio, which increases the quality of the recording, while destroying your data plan.
About a year ago, Apple Music started adding lossless quality tracks to its library. Now, every one of the more than 75 million tracks has a lossless option, but it’s not enabled by default.
What exactly is ‘lossless’ audio in Apple Music?
All digital audio creation uses a process called sampling to create digital files from analog recordings. That process is usually “lossy“, where it drops information from the original file to create a smaller recorded file.
Lossless audio tries to preserve as much of the original analog recording as possible. That makes the digital version sound as close to the original as it can, but it comes at a cost. That’s a cost to the amount of storage it needs to take up, and how much data it will use up if you’re streaming it.
Unlike some streaming services, Apple Music gives every subscriber the lossless audio option without an additional cost. That’s added to the existing higher resolution audio stream of CD quality, or 16-bit/44.1 kHz.
It comes in two variants:
- Lossless: Stream at a maximum resolution of 24-bit/48 kHz
- Hi-Res Lossless: Stream at a maximum resolution of 24-bit/192 kHz
The entire Apple Music catalog has been encoded using Apple’s lossless codec, Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC). That means every single track has a lossless version, which ranges from 16-bit/44.1 kHz (CD quality) to 24-bit/192 kHz.
What else do I need to use lossless audio in Apple Music?
If you want to listen at sample rates above 48 kHz, you’ll also need an external digital-to-analog converter (DAC). You can use a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter, but that’s limited to 24-bit/48 kHz at a maximum bit rate, the same as the internal speakers.
Lossless audio needs a lot of bandwidth. You can also use it with WiFi-enabled wireless speakers, like the HomePod, which supports lossless streaming.
Can I use lossless audio over Bluetooth?
The short answer here is no, Bluetooth doesn’t have the bandwidth to handle the high bitrate of lossless audio from Apple Music.
That means your AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods (3rd gen) or Beats wireless headphones won’t give you lossless audio quality, even if you have it set up on your device.
What you will get is the Apple AAC Bluetooth codec, which is one of the higher quality offerings for Bluetooth audio. Maybe a future pair of Apple wireless headphones will offer lossless support.
How to enable lossless audio on Apple Music (iPhone and iPad)
All Apple Music subscribers have the lossless audio option as part of their subscription. Here’s how to set it up.
- Open Settings app on your iPad or iPhone
- Scroll down to Music and tap on it
- Tap on Music Quality
- Tap on Lossless Audio to turn it on or off
- Change the quality you want to stream at on Cellular, 5G & Wi-Fi Streaming, and for Downloads
Choosing Lossless gets you streamed audio at a maximum quality of 24-bit/48 kHz. Choosing Hi-Res Lossless gets you a maximum quality of 24-bit/192 kHz.
Remember that unless you’re on an unlimited data plan, your cellular or 5G data will get used up quickly. Hi-Res Lossless works out at a max data use of 9,216 kbps. That’s a huge jump up from the 320 kb maximum bit rate of high-quality MP3s you’re used to streaming.
HighSpeedInternet says you should have at least 20 Mbps broadband to use Hi-Res Lossless. That works out to roughly double the bitrate of the files being transferred. With that logic, Lossless would require 5 Mbps, which could be handled by almost any broadband connection.
How to enable lossless audio on Apple Music (Android)
The latest version of the Apple Music app for Android supports lossless audio. The same restrictions apply, namely a wired connection to headphones, receivers or powered speakers, the inbuilt speakers, or a DAC if you want to listen to over 48 kHz.
Some Android devices support sample rates over 48 kHz without needing an external DAC, so check with your device manufacturer.
To turn Lossless on or off:
- Open the Apple Music app
- Tap the More button (the three-dot menu)
- Then, tap on Settings
- Tap on Audio Quality
- Tap on Lossless to turn it on or off
You also have the same options for maximum quality as iPhone or iPad users. Choosing Lossless gets you streamed audio at a maximum quality of 24-bit/48 kHz. Choosing Hi-Res Lossless gets you a maximum quality of 24-bit/192 kHz.
Again, this will chew through your data plan if you’re going to be using it on cellular or 5G data.
Anything else I need to know about Apple Music lossless audio?
While Apple’s official support pages say that “all the Apple Music apps” feature lossless audio, one doesn’t.
That’s not entirely unsurprising. The Apple Music app on PS5 doesn’t mention lossless audio, and the Apple TV 4K only supports up to 48 kHz sample rates.
Now you know how to listen to the best quality audio through Apple Music, lossless (or more specifically, Hi-Res Lossless).
It’s a shame that you need to buy additional hardware to enjoy the highest tier of audio quality. Future Apple devices might support the Hi-Res Lossless tier on their own, and Apple could simply be future-proofing its services here.
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