Apple Engineer Explains Why AirPods Pro Don't Support Lossless Audio

Apple's AirPods are not exactly the cheapest TWS earbuds out there, but they have won acclaim for their excellent sound quality and noise cancellation. But it comes as somewhat of a surprise that despite Apple Music offering support for lossless audio streaming, you can't actually enjoy the perks of high-fidelity high-resolution audio on the AirPods Pro over Bluetooth. One might blame it on the limitations of wireless audio codec, but that's not really the case, according to an Apple engineer.

Publication "What Hi-Fi?" sat down with Esge Andersen from Apple's acoustics team for an interview and gave insight into Apple's audio tuning and hardware design process. When asked about the absence of lossless music streaming capability on a pricey gadget like the AirPods Pro 2, Andersen made it clear that it doesn't have to do with any Bluetooth codec limitation. Instead, the codec — which happens to be AAC in Apple's case — is focused more on offering a reliable experience rather than raw acoustic detail.

"It is important to understand that we can still make big strides without changing the codec," Andersen said. The Apple engineer pointed out that progress towards offering a more immersive listening experience can be made without necessarily having to fiddle with the codec. "We don't think that the codec currently is the limitation of audio quality on Bluetooth products," Andersen added.

So, how did Apple make improvements?

The AirPods Pro 2 sound better than the first-gen Apple Pro earbuds, and their noise cancellation has also been refined. 

So, how did Apple improve things on the audio output side if it didn't make optimizations on the audio data packet transmission? According to Andersen, Apple's engineers fine-tuned the engineering. Specifically, the team tweaked the airflow channel inside the AirPods Pro 2 to boost the audio clarity at all levels, while streaming audio at the same resolution over the same AAC codec as the first-gen AirPods 2.

Will Apple tweak its approach to codecs and delivering lossless audio over Bluetooth down the road? Andersen didn't offer a concrete answer, except to tease that "Apple is always open to change." To recall, Apple added Lossless capability to the entire Apple Music catalog by developing its own lossless audio compression technology called Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC), which delivers an output ranging between 16-bit/44.1 kHz (CD Quality) and 24-bit/192 kHz.

Unfortunately, Lossless Audio can't be enjoyed over Bluetooth. The iPhone or iPad's built-in speakers can deliver that experience, or via wired earphones. But to really enjoy music over the 44kHz range, you'll need a digital-to-analog converter or DAC. Qualcomm made significant strides with its aptX Lossless Audio codec, which promises CD-quality sound over Bluetooth wireless connection by streaming 16-bit/44.1kHz audio over a peak 1,200kbps bitrate.