Did you (literally) hear? Apple has finally rolled out new Lossless Audio and Spatial Audio technologies

In its striving towards more sophisticated audio, Apple Music brings studio-quality music to India users by finally rolling out its much-awaited Lossless Audio and Spatial Audio. We break down these technologies that also leverage Dolby Atmos

The global music streaming race has been on for more than a decade now and there are already a good number of gold standard names, such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal. While subscription rates and library diversity are key elements for people choosing their music service, another major factor is technology, specifically the sound tech around the listening experience.

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A few weeks ago, just before WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) 2021, Apple had the rumour mill buzzing – of course – when the HiFi music tier of ‘Lossless Audio’ was visible to some Apple Music users.

So far, the California-based global tech giant has its own implementation of AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) that delivers audio that is virtually indistinguishable from an original studio recording. The whole 75 million-plus library of tracks is currently encoded using ALAC in resolutions ranging from 16-bit/44.1 kilohertz (CD Quality) up to 24-bit/192 kilohertz. The company also introduced Apple Digital Masters to deliver the highest-quality recordings, and Apple Music users will be able to see this for some albums and tracks within the app.

But in the last 24 hours, Apple Music India users noticed, not one, but two new small badges under the album or track art: Lossless Audio and Dolby Atmos, available to users at no extra cost.

Let’s talk Lossless…

Lossless Audio refers to ‘lossless compression’, a means of preserving all the data in the original content file, with all the details just as the creator or artiste intended in the studio. According to a report on the Apple website published on June 10, 2021, streaming Lossless Audio over a cellular or Wi-Fi network consumes significantly more data, and downloading lossless audio uses significantly more space on your device. To clarify, higher resolutions use more data than lower ones.

Apple Music (India) UX with the new Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio badges

Apple Music (India) UX with the new Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio badges
| Photo Credit: Apple Inc

Apple Music’s Lossless tier starts at CD quality, which is 16 bit at 44.1 kilohertz, and goes up to 24 bit at 48 kilohertz and is playable natively on Apple devices. Apple Music also offers Hi-Resolution Lossless all the way up to 24 bit at 192 kilohertz for which users will need an external digital-to-analogue converter.

So what about streaming costs, a worry for many users? Apple Music users can manually enable and disable these features for each data connection on a granular level to keep a handle on data consumption in the new Audio Quality Setting section. Apple also provides clear data file sizes for all resolutions.

Inexorably, Apple has kept this as ecosystem exclusive as possible; AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and Beats wireless headphones use Apple AAC Bluetooth Codec to ensure excellent audio quality – while Bluetooth connections are not lossless. By default, Apple Music will automatically play Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, as well as the built-in speakers in the latest versions of iPhone, iPad, and Mac. So if you are worried about data costs and have one of the aforementioned default devices, it may be worth checking your Settings.

A special offering for India

  • Apple also has a special guide to Spatial Audio to help Apple Music users really hear the difference, featuring iconic songs from AR Rahman, Divine, Marvin Gaye and The Weeknd.

About Dolby Atmos tech

So we segue to Dolby Atmos, which many dub ‘the future of surround sound’ or ‘4K for your ears.’ Dolby Atmos is a proprietary audio format designed to bring immersive, 260-degree sound that one would get in a movie theatre. Atmos tech is particularly popular with filmmakers, musicians and broadcasters who want to place sound in specific places within a given soundscape to hear the action as intended.

The tech itself leverages a 9.1 bed channel – largely stationary sounds such as background score – as well as 128 tracks and up to 118 simultaneous sound objects (footsteps, wind blowing, doors creaking, traffic).

Unlike surround sound, Atmos has more positioning freedom. Atmos does not use the channels we know surround sound to use and actually assigns sound objects to a place. This can easily be integrated into headphones and earphones.

That said, Apple’s Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos is not just for listeners but musicians too.

This new rollout from Apple Music is expected to finish in the next 12-18 hours. But thankfully, Apple Music on Android will be rolling out Spatial and Lossless Audio soon, but no confirmation of when Apple’s CarPlay feature will come under this rollout just yet.

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