The technology is there, but there is no base: AirPods Max, AirPods Pro and HomePod
The technology is there, but there is no base: AirPods Max, AirPods Pro and HomePod do not support Apple Music Lossless
Then why all this?
Yesterday, May 17, Apple announced major changes to its music streaming service Apple Music. In June, the service will have spatial sound and audio without loss of quality:
In the text where I talk about this technology, I wondered: how will all this "lossless" support be implemented on modern Apple devices, if they are not able to provide quality higher than AAC? The answer was not long in coming. The T3 edition asked which modern Apple headphones support Apple Lossless. The answer surprised everyone:
None at all.
That is, neither AirPods Max, nor AirPods Pro, nor any beats will play music without loss of quality. Not only that, neither the HomePod nor the HomePod mini support the mentioned lossless. Even if it all works over the wire.
At the same time, everyone accepted the information that Hi-Res Lossless works on the iPhone only through special devices:
This means that Hi-Res can only be listened to over the wire. But why were there no such clarifications about the usual lossless?
Now decipher it
Since the early noughties, Apple has supported two music codecs: AAC and ALAC. The first became an analog of mp3, it is called proprietary by many, although it has only one relation to Apple: the company chose it as the main codec for its music files. And the list of creators includes companies such as Dolby, Microsoft, Nokia, Sony and LG. Apple was not included in the list of creators.
AAC is relatively light and produces acceptable quality. Many people think that it is limited to 256 kbit/s, but in fact it is not: in stereo, the maximum AAC bitrate is 529 kbit/s — this is significantly higher than the aptX parameters, the maximum bitrate in stereo is 384 kbit / s. This codec is especially effective with VBR, i.e. with variable bitrate.
The second codec is ALAC. It is already directly related to Apple. This codec was developed in the bowels of the company since the beginning of the noughties. Despite the bitrate that is different from CD, it allows you to transmit the quality of music without loss. Here you can refer to the words of Apple itself: a track as 256 kbit / s weighing 6 MB in the lossless version weighs 36 MB. This means that the file will fit more information and will not be squeezed at the bottom and cut off at the top — this is how many audiophiles highlight the sound features of compressed formats.
Both codecs are packed into an identical container — .m4a. Despite this fact, these are different codecs that have nothing to do with each other. Different tools are required to play them or send them via Bluetooth. At the moment, the channel width of this wireless connection is not sufficient to play lossless formats.
Here we face the main problem.
Transfer files via Bluetooth
Apple doesn't have the technology to transfer its own lossless ALAC format to wireless headphones. And all the more strange that six months ago the company released a good-sounding, but very expensive AirPods Max.
All that Apple has is the AAC codec, which, as I said above, is only connected to ALAC by a container.
And with the company's comment, which was given to the T3 edition, I had a dissonance in my head: why then do we need this very lossless?
It's amazing that I ask this question while sitting at a table with a MacBook on it. A Motu M2 sound card is connected to this macbook. It includes PreSonus monitors.
Often, I connect my Line 6 Helix HX guitar processor to my MacBook, which is connected to the Audeze LCD-1 magnetoplanar headphones.
Then I decide to take a break and turn on the Apple TV connected to the TV. The sound from there comes from a good shelf acoustics on S/PDIF. Or I tell Siri to run my Flow in Deezer on HomePod — the music streaming service I subscribe to.
I go to work in the morning. Along the way, I listen to music through Huawei FreeBuds Pro. And in the studio, if no one is there, I turn on the music on the Sonos acoustics.
As you can see, my usage scenario doesn't involve much mobile listening to music. Here, of course, two newly acquired (read: taken from the studio) HomePods interfere. But in other cases, I listen to music through monitors and shelf acoustics.
If I were an Apple Music user, I could tie all my devices to this streaming service, being content with high-quality audio wherever possible.
On the other hand, ALAC support could somehow justify the expensive AirPods Max. And now we have very expensive headphones and some technology. In theory, AAC is capable of producing a bitrate of 529 kbit / s. And this will easily give a head start to aptX, aptX HD and even LDAC, which on most Android smartphones does not produce more than 330 kbit/s. And I assume that now the quality in Apple Music will be exactly the same for most tracks.
But still, the main feature of the current Apple Music update, apparently, is the spatial audio. Maybe soon Apple will roll out a new compression algorithm that will allow ALAC to work adequately with some of the company's products. But so far, this solution looks very strange, even considering that music streaming is not only used on the go.