Apple Takes Apple Music Sound Quality to the Next Level

Originally published at: Apple Takes Apple Music Sound Quality to the Next Level - TidBITS

Apple Music will provide free upgrades to lossless audio, Dolby Atmos, and Spatial Audio starting next month.

The last thing that kept me looking at other services, this is fantastic.

In listing which Apple devices are able to take advantage of Spatial Audio, Apple lists only recent MacBook Pros:

" Works with iPhone 7 or later with the latest version of iOS; iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation or later), iPad Pro 11-inch, iPad (6th generation or later), iPad Air (3rd generation or later), and iPad mini (5th generation) with the latest version of iPadOS; and MacBook Pro (2018 model or later)."

The audio system in the 2020 iMac is substantially improved over earlier models (enough that I am no longer using separate desktop speakers) and is much better than my 2018 MacBook Pro or my iPhone or iPad Pro. I find it strange that iMacs are not listed.

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(could be coming tomorrow)

Apple Music has started teasing a special announcement coming soon, on the main Browse tab in the Music application. The teaser comes as Apple is rumored to announce a new lossless audio tier for its music subscription service,

The beta Android version of Apple Music somewhat tipped the hat on the news, with the app readying support for 24-bit/48kHz and 24-bit/192kHz lossless music streaming.

Press release:

I did not see this in the announcement, but I am assuming that anything you bought from Apple may eventually be available in lossless to redownload. There is nothing in their press release but does anyone know if this will apply to Apple Match?

The article says the feature is only available for (streamed) Apple Music. Store purchases and iTunes Match will not work.
It would be nice to have a sample to test with my (big) stereo Homepods. Could Let it Be Naked by the Beatles get any better for the illusion of being in the recording studio?

The irony is that it won’t work with AirPods regular/Pro/Max. Apple suggests using wired headphones instead. Well guys, that would be great if you hadn’t removed the industry standard port to do that on iPhone. Sure we can go through Lightning, but without yet another special adapter that means it’s either charging or music. Not particularly elegant.

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For me the important question is whether Air Play 2 will support 24 bit at 192 kHz. Many of us will be watching for that from compatible speakers like Sonos. I hope they will be able to offer that feature without waiting for an Air Play 3 when v2 is relatively recent and there are many devices with that certification on the market.

our ATV 4K is hooked up to an Atmos system, so I am interested to hear the final result in June. The rest of our Apple kit is getting old (2013 iMac, 2015 MBP, iPad Air 2’s) & in the current financial situation unlikely to get upgraded any time soon. Also, the rest of our through-the-apartment speakers are Mono Airplay 1 devices, so don’t expect any perceivable change elsewhere.

A little unclear as to actual outcomes still. Could use a set of scenarios a la Glenn’s recent post in AirTags.

I just use a DAC in the studio where my wired Sony headphones meet my iMac.

We also listen to music via a HomePod pair in the living room.

That HomePod pair are linked to our AppleTV 4K and a projector for movie night.

We have a HomePod mini in the kitchen which also delivers music.

Then there’s the various phones and AirPod Pros on the go.

I set my music settings, eh, where?

I guess I’ll have to see whether the difference in real world use merits walking around tethered via wire to an iPhone plus DAC.

It’s disappointing that lossless audio won’t be available on the iTunes Store. The lack of it is the only reason I never buy through iTunes. I use Qobuz which is great, so no real loss, but the convenience of buying through iTunes would have been nice. I’m not particularly worried about the audio quality – modern AAC compression is more than good enough for my audio setups and ears. But I like to have lossless ‘masters’ so that I can re-encode them in the future with no quality loss, if a new or more efficient compression format comes along.

It’s also disappointing to see that Apple is buying into/propagating the 24-bit ‘high quality’ myth. It would have been much better if they stuck to using 16-bit/48kHz for everything. I’m not getting into an audiophile debate about the quality of equipment and whether some people can hear subtle differences that others cannot, I’m simply talking about the physics of audio waves and how encoding works. If anyone is interested in the details, there are a couple of very good posts about how encoding works and why going above 16-bit/48kHz can’t offer any benefit, and might result in worse sound quality. They’re both quite long, so I’ve given a few key points before each link:

Unfortunately, there is no point to distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space.
[…]
192kHz digital music files offer no benefits. They’re not quite neutral either; practical fidelity is slightly worse. The ultrasonics are a liability during playback.

Neither audio transducers nor power amplifiers are free of distortion, and distortion tends to increase rapidly at the lowest and highest frequencies. If the same transducer reproduces ultrasonics along with audible content, any nonlinearity will shift some of the ultrasonic content down into the audible range as an uncontrolled spray of intermodulation distortion products covering the entire audible spectrum. Nonlinearity in a power amplifier will produce the same effect. The effect is very slight, but listening tests have confirmed that both effects can be audible.

24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed

It’s easy to see in a photograph the difference between a low bit depth image and one with a higher bit depth, so it’s logical to suppose that higher bit depths in audio also means better quality. This supposition is further enforced by the fact that the term ‘resolution’ is often applied to bit depth and obviously more resolution means higher quality. So 24bit is Hi-Rez audio and 24bit contains more data, therefore higher resolution and better quality. All completely logical supposition but I’m afraid this supposition is not entirely in line with the actual facts of how digital audio works.
[…]
So, 24bit does add more ‘resolution’ compared to 16bit but this added resolution doesn’t mean higher quality, it just means we can encode a larger dynamic range. This is the misunderstanding made by many. There are no extra magical properties, nothing which the science does not understand or cannot measure. The only difference between 16bit and 24bit is 48dB of dynamic range (8bits x 6dB = 48dB) and nothing else . This is not a question for interpretation or opinion, it is the provable, undisputed logical mathematics which underpins the very existence of digital audio.

So, can you actually hear any benefits of the larger (48dB) dynamic range offered by 24bit? Unfortunately, no you can’t. […]

So if the average noise floor for a sitting room is say 50dB (or 30dB for cans) then the dynamic range of the CD starts at this point and is capable of 96dB (at least) above the room noise floor. If the full dynamic range of a CD was actually used (on top of the noise floor), the home listener (if they had the equipment) would almost certainly cause themselves severe pain and permanent hearing damage. If this is the case with CD, what about 24bit Hi-Rez. If we were to use the full dynamic range of 24bit and a listener had the equipment to reproduce it all, there is a fair chance, depending on age and general health, that the listener would die instantly.

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Sigh … there goes more of the Internet’s aggregate bandwidth so that wannabe audiophiles can attempt to perceive the imperceptible.

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Here’s a helpful Apple support document with more details about what works and what doesn’t (and what will in the future).

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT212183

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Thanks Adam, that clarified a lot.

Good post Jolin. I’m still waiting for the monied perpetrators, like Apple, to conduct the listening tests that prove the purported benefits of HD audio. Perhaps they’ve been trying but all their subjects became traumatized from apparent sonic attacks.

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Original Homepods that are linked to an ATV 4K should work for Dolby Atmos music. The Apple Support article states:

How to listen to Dolby Atmos on your Apple TV 4K​

Update your Apple TV 4K to tvOS 14.6. Then make sure that you have one of the following connections:

  • HomePod speakers set up as the default speakers

( About spatial audio with Dolby Atmos in Apple Music - Apple Support )

Just found out that the ATV Music app “Browse” function now has a Spacial Audio category. Now listening to Abbey Road on stereo Homepods - brilliant!
Make sure the ATV Audio Format is set to “Auto”. Mine reports “Auto, Atmos Available” which I guess means it knows Homepods are the audio output.

Just been trying out some of the “Made for Spatial” playlists and the difference is significant - a marked improvement. I have a AppleTV 4K connected to a Denon receiver, with 5.1 surround set up. Can’t wait to have more material available in this format.

I am curious to know how older material (such as Bob Marley’s “Exodus”) has been post-processed to Atmos…. I find it difficult to believe that someone has gone back to the original multitrack recording and re-mastered it.

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After a week or two checking this out, I disabled lossless, no difference to these ears on whatever system I try them on. Glad that it’s there for those who, eh, need it but for me best I can say is I’ve no FOMO in play.

Loving Dolby Atmos/Spatial Audio though, particularly with over ear headphones.

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Fifteen years ago my bat-eared teenaged daughter took part in the Meyer/Moran study of high resolution v. CD recordings. Neither she nor anyone else could tell the difference.

As for me, in the day I could tell the difference between an MP3 and a CD (lossless or otherwise) of the same track played either through good headphones or my dearly-departed DBX 1As, but I’m not sure I still could.