Apple is updating Apple Music with lossless audio, promising a huge upgrade to the sound quality on offer, and without increasing the price of the monthly subscription. In addition, Apple Music is adding Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos support, for a more immersive experience – though you’ll need to be listening via the right hardware in order to actually enjoy it.
Spatial Audio promises to be for music what surround sound is for movies and TV shows. It allows artists and producers to mix their tracks in a way that takes into account directionality, so that different elements in the music can be perceived as coming from different places in the room.
In order to listen, though, you’ll have to be using a compatible device. By default, Apple says, Apple Music will automatically play Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones, as long as they use an H1 or W1 chip. It’ll also play via the built-in speakers in the latest versions of iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
To begin with, there’ll be “thousands of songs” that support the format, Apple says. They’ll span genres from hip-hop, country, Latin, pop, and classical, and there’ll be curated Dolby Atmos playlists to make actually finding compatible songs more straightforward. More of the content will be added progressively, Apple promises, and it’s apparently working to make Dolby Atmos studios more accessible to artists.
As for lossless audio, that will be a far bigger change, at least for the time being. Every track in the Apple Music catalog – which means more than 75 million currently, the company says – will be upgraded to use Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC); effectively the same thing, Apple says, as artists actually recorded in their studios.
Update: Apple says that it will have “20 million songs in lossless audio at launch with the full 75 million songs available by the end of the year.”
Since the bandwidth required for lossless tracks can be significantly higher than is needed for more compressed music, switching to the most potent files will be optional. There’ll also be the option to set different defaults depending on your current connection: whether you’re on cellular, when you might want smaller files so as to avoid burning through your data allowance rapidly, on WiFi, when bandwidth may not be such a constraint, and for download when you may just want to grab the highest possible quality file from the get-go.
Lossless tracks will start at CD quality, or 16 bit at 44.1 kHz, and run through to 24 bit at 48 kHz. There’s also Apple Music Hi-Resolution Lossless, which takes it to 24 bit at 192 kHz, though you’ll need more hardware for that such as a USB digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
What makes all this an even bigger deal is that Apple isn’t changing its prices. Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos support, and Lossless Audio, will both be included in a regular Apple Music subscription, whether individual or family. Apple will enable the new functionality from June 2021.