Apple, Amazon to offer lossless audio at no extra cost


Listening to music on a streaming platform like Spotify means a trade-off. You gain the ability to easily listen to almost anything you want, wherever you want, but you lose the ability to listen in high sound quality.

For audio nerds who notice the difference, Apple Music has announced it will begin streaming with 3D audio and lossless formats from June onwards.

Amazon meanwhile has also announced its Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers would get access to lossless and 3D audio.

The most remarkable part of the announcement was not the timing together on the same day (May 17) but that both are offering high quality audio at no extra cost to subscribers.

Streaming service Tidal charges subscribers for HD audio, while Spotify had announced the offer of HD audio would come as part of a new “HiFi” pricing tier later this year.

Apple says in addition to lossless and surround sound, it will support Dolby Atmos technology, allowing for the arrangement of instruments to be accurately reproduced in playback over headphones, for example.

At the start, Apple says thousands of songs will be available in higher quality from various genres and artists. These songs will also be curated in their own playlists.

Dolby Atmos works with Apple headphones (Airpods, Airpods Pro and Airpods Max) and also with some Beats models, and an H1 or W1 connection chip is required. According to Apple, there are no additional costs due to the expanded offer.

Up to now, Apple, Amazon and most other streaming platforms have compressed songs for a lower bit rate to make them faster to stream on slower connections.

Apple’s AAC format used with 256 kbit/s then provides file sizes of just under 5 MB per song.

With the lossless audio format ALAC (Apple Lossles Audio Codec), this becomes important. Because: All 75 million songs in the Apple Music catalogue are to be made available in this lossless format by the end of the year.

The sound quality should then range from CD quality (16 bit, 44.1 kilohertz) to High-Resolution Lossless (24 bit and 192 kHz).

Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers, meanwhile, can now stream more than 70 million lossless songs with a bit depth of 16 bits and a sample rate of 44.1kHz (CD quality), a feature which previously meant paying extra.

However one side effect of the new lossless strategy is larger audio files.

To make sure your phone’s mobile data volume and storage space aren’t used up after just a few songs, users will be able to choose different quality levels for mobile data, wi-fi or downloads.

According to Apple, additional equipment such as a digital-to-analogue converter is needed for the highest sound quality.

Unfortunately Apple’s own top-end wireless headphones can’t handle lossless sound either, according to tech news website T3. The reason is that the Bluetooth AAC transmission technology can’t handle such high data volumes. It’s not yet clear if a solution will come as a software update or whether Apple fans will have to wait for a new generation of Airpods. – dpa

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