Apple Music now supports lossless playback, but it comes with a few caveats. The good news is that lossless playback is available to all existing subscribers at no extra cost.
You can stream most music in lossless format except for broadcast radio, live and on-demand content, and music videos. Here’s how.
What Is Lossless Playback?
Music is compressed to save on space, particularly when it comes to streaming. The bitrate of a particular file or stream determines the quality of the music, with more bits generally meaning better quality. When you choose a higher bitrate, you will also consume more bandwidth (streaming) or space on your device (downloading).
Until recently, Apple Music could only be streamed using “lossy” AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) compression. While Apple claims that “the difference between AAC and lossless audio is virtually indistinguishable,” the company now offers lossless compression that uses ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) instead.
ALAC is an open-source format that uses around 50% of the space of uncompressed audio. Support ranges from 16-bit/44.1 kHz CD quality to more modern 24-bit/192kHz recordings. Enabling lossless audio playback for Apple Music is easy and comes at no extra financial cost, but there’s more to lossless than simply flipping a switch.
How to Enable Lossless Playback
On an iPhone or iPad, you can enable lossless playback under the Settings app. First, launch Settings, and then tap on “Music.”
Under “Audio Quality,” toggle “Lossless” on or off, and choose between a 48kHz sample rate or a 192kHz sample rate (known as “Hi-Res Lossless”). If you don’t see the option, you might need to update your device.
To do this on a Mac, open the Apple Music app, and then click on Music > Preferences in the menu bar. On the “Playback” tab, select “Audio Quality,” and then toggle Lossless on or off, choosing between 48kHz and 192kHz sample rates. If you don’t see the option, update macOS.
You can also use an Apple TV 4K to stream Apple Music in lossless quality. Launch Settings > Music, and then select “Audio Quality” to toggle Lossless on or off. You’ll be limited to a sample rate of 48kHz on the Apple TV 4K. If you don’t see the option for lossless audio, try updating your Apple TV.
AirPods Aren’t Enough for Lossless Playback
Wireless headphones and earphones use compression to stream music from your iPhone to your ears. This includes Apple’s AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and the Beats range of earphones and headphones. Since audio must be compressed for use with wireless Bluetooth audio, lossless audio offers no benefits.
This is true whether you’re listening via iPhone, Mac, or Apple TV.
To enjoy lossless audio, you’ll need to use a wired pair of headphones or speakers or the built-in speakers on your iPhone (Yes, really.).
Furthermore, the iPhone cannot output the higher sample rate of 192kHz (Hi-Res Lossless) without an external digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The DAC in the iPhone is limited to 48kHz output.
Can You Tell the Difference?
If you’re a bit annoyed that your expensive AirPods Max won’t support lossless audio, consider for a minute that most people can’t tell the difference. The best that you can do is to make sure that high-quality streaming is enabled under Settings > Music on your iPhone or iPad so that you’re getting the best possible quality that’s available to you.
Wondering why your HomePod can’t do lossless? Apple says that this feature is on the way.