Today Apple announced a big expansion of Apple Music: The company is adding spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos Music, and lossless music in up to 24-bit/192KHz for all of its subscribers at no extra cost, starting in June 2021. When the new catalog launches, by default, Apple Music will automatically play 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. It will also work with non-Apple wired and wireless headphones, though Apple’s products may not recognize these third-party headphones for automatic Dolby Atmos playback.
“Listening to a song in Dolby Atmos is like magic,” said Oliver Schusser, Apple’s vice president of Apple Music and Beats. “The music comes from all around you and sounds incredible. Now we are bringing this truly innovative and immersive experience to our listeners with music from their favorite artists like J Balvin, Gustavo Dudamel, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Kacey Musgraves, The Weeknd, and so many more.”
Dolby Atmos differs from the standard two-channel stereo in that it creates a 3D, immersive sound field, in which the placement of musical instruments and vocals can be in front, behind, or above the listener, as opposed to just left and right placement.
Apple hasn’t indicated how many tracks will be available in Dolby Atmos at launch, but it did say that more than 75 million songs will be available in lossless audio, using the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) codec. For Apple Music, lossless audio starts at CD quality, which is 16-bit at 44.1kHz and goes up to 24 bit at 48kHz. These tracks are playable natively on Apple devices.
Because Apple devices do not support high-quality Bluetooth codecs like aptX HD, LDHC, or LDAC, to listen to these lossless tracks at full quality, you will need a wired set of headphones with a lightning connector or a regular set of wired headphones and a lightning-to-3.5mm adapter.
However, Apple is also going to offer lossless audio at a resolution that qualifies it as hi-res audio, up to 24-bit/192KHz. Apple’s wireless headphones like the AirPods and AirPods Pro do not natively support these higher resolution tracks and Apple hasn’t said how its customers will be able to listen to them.
Typically, fans of hi-res audio either use an Android phone with a built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that can support 24-bit/192KHz, or they buy an external DAC that works with hi-res formats.
To start listening to lossless audio, you’ll need the latest version of Apple Music. Within the app, go to Settings > Music > Audio Quality. From that screen, you can choose different resolutions for different connections such as cellular, Wi-Fi, or for download.