AirPods to gain lossless streaming capabilities via software update, says leaker

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 2021
Apple is said to be working on a proprietary high-fidelity audio format that enables lossless Apple Music streaming to AirPods.

AirPods Max to gain lossless playback capabilities via an update
AirPods Max to gain lossless playback capabilities via an update


Apple says that AirPods cannot stream lossless Apple Music files "currently," and prolific leaker Jon Prosser says that could change with an update. The AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max use the lossy AAC format over Bluetooth to stream audio and have no way to stream lossless ALAC or FLAC files.

First reported by AppleTrack, Jon Prosser shared that Apple could reveal a new audio format for improved lossless streaming. If correct, the strategy seems to mimic Apple's move with AirTag and Find My -- introduce third-party compatibility first, then release the proprietary option.

Technically, it is impossible to broadcast a truly lossless audio file over the AAC Bluetooth connection that Apple uses. Furthermore, the limitations of a USB to Lightning cable for AirPods Max preclude it on that platform as well.

Unless the protocol is changed, AirPlay 2 can't be used for AirPods, as Apple's earbuds and headphones lack Wi-Fi -- and that can't be added by a firmware update. A new high-fidelity format built with Bluetooth 5.0 and AirPods would have to be implemented. WWDC starting in June seems like a likely place for an announcement, should the report be accurate.

Prosser previously hinted at the potential update on Twitter, telling his followers to "wait for it" regarding lossless support for AirPods.

Apple announced multiple new features coming to Apple Music via a press release. Not only is there lossless and Hi-Res audio coming to the service, but Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio as well. The new features will arrive alongside the iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, tvOS 14.6, or macOS 11.4 updates in June.

Stay on top of all Apple news right from your HomePod. Say, "Hey, Siri, play AppleInsider," and you'll get the latest AppleInsider Podcast. Or ask your HomePod mini for "AppleInsider Daily" instead and you'll hear a fast update direct from our news team. And, if you're interested in Apple-centric home automation, say "Hey, Siri, play HomeKit Insider," and you'll be listening to our newest specialized podcast in moments.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 26
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 10,557member
    The incongruity of streaming lossless over a Bluetooth connection was a prime topic on MacBreak Weekly yesterday. At present it’s laughable to even think of. The consensus was that a high end DAC with high end wired headphones is required for any real lossless experience.
  • Reply 2 of 26
    "Technically, it is impossible to broadcast a truly lossless audio file over the APTX Bluetooth connection that Apple uses. Furthermore, the limitations of a USB to Lightning cable for AirPods Max preclude it on that platform as well". oopsie, should say AAC
    ITGUYINSDgregoriusmspheric
  • Reply 3 of 26
    ITGUYINSDITGUYINSD Posts: 524member
    "Technically, it is impossible to broadcast a truly lossless audio file over the APTX Bluetooth connection that Apple uses. Furthermore, the limitations of a USB to Lightning cable for AirPods Max preclude it on that platform as well". oopsie, should say AAC
    When I saw that, I thought "since when does Apple support APTX"???  
    gregoriusm
  • Reply 4 of 26
    ciacia Posts: 262member
    C'mon.  The "speakers" built into AirPods are so crummy that even if they could somehow get full bandwidth audio into them, the audio output would be no where near the quality lossless can potentially provide.

    Complaining about this is such a non-issue when you have lousy headphones.

    It would be nice if they bumped the AAC quality up from 256 to 320 though.  That would basically make the audio indistinguishable from lossless on most headphones.
    hodarMplsP
  • Reply 5 of 26
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,073member
    If Apple could pull this off it would be a great accomplishment.

    cia said:
    C'mon.  The "speakers" built into AirPods are so crummy that even if they could somehow get full bandwidth audio into them, the audio output would be no where near the quality lossless can potentially provide.

    Complaining about this is such a non-issue when you have lousy headphones.

    It would be nice if they bumped the AAC quality up from 256 to 320 though.  That would basically make the audio indistinguishable from lossless on most headphones.

    That’s what I was thinking. AirPods Max users might hear a difference though.

    The way I see it is if Apple can increase audio quality by 1% via an update, then let them do it.
    edited May 2021 gregoriusmhodar
  • Reply 6 of 26
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 18,020member
    cia said:
    C'mon.  The "speakers" built into AirPods are so crummy that even if they could somehow get full bandwidth audio into them, the audio output would be no where near the quality lossless can potentially provide.

    Complaining about this is such a non-issue when you have lousy headphones.

    It would be nice if they bumped the AAC quality up from 256 to 320 though.  That would basically make the audio indistinguishable from lossless on most headphones.
    I think the bottleneck is definitely in the wireless connection, not the speakers.  Why do you claim the "speakers" are crappy?  They are very small, but they are hardly crappy.  That doesn't mean anyone will hear the difference with a  true lossless signal, of course.  

    I'll go a step further on your 256 to 320 bitrate comment.  It's doubtful most people will hear the difference between 256 and 320, or even 256 and lossless.  It's possible with high end equipment and good ear, I suppose.  

    uraharaseanj
  • Reply 7 of 26
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 18,020member
    lkrupp said:
    The incongruity of streaming lossless over a Bluetooth connection was a prime topic on MacBreak Weekly yesterday. At present it’s laughable to even think of. The consensus was that a high end DAC with high end wired headphones is required for any real lossless experience.
    That is what I've been trying to explain to certain people.  The response I'm getting is akin to "damn the torpedos!"  I'm not a HiFi person, but I am picky about audio quality, particularly with the instrumental and classical genres.  That said, I think conditions would have to be nearly ideal for me to hear the difference between 256/320kpbs AAC and lossless audio.  They would include:  

    --High end DAC
    --High end speakers or wired headphones
    --A quiet environment 
    --The correct genre of music
    --Great source recording (what is the quality of the original? 

    Basically, lossless is a waste on any equipment the vast majority of consumers use.  You can forget about earbuds, most headphones, car stereos, smart speakers, integrated A/V receivers, and speakers that cost less than $2500 a pop.  We're talking systems that cost at least $10,000.   All else being equal, one might hear the difference.  

    hodarlkruppMplsPdewmeseanj
  • Reply 8 of 26
    hodarhodar Posts: 359member
    Most of the music recorded in the past decade or so, simply doesn't have the recording artistry build into it, that was common in the 1970's.  There is a reason why artists like Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" was legendary, why people sought after SACD material from certain sources and not across the market.  Simply stated, while some bands worked for the "perfect sound" and recording engineers like Alan Parsons made great strides in this - there was a segment that said "who cares", groups like Hall and Oates for example believed that the regular person played their music on a cheap radio, or in a cheap car stereo - so they recorded their music to sound good for that segment.  It was fast, it was easier, it was cheaper; and it was the truth.  Not many people will spend thousands on their speakers, and thousands on an Amp/Pre-Amp, and then add in a DAC, power conditioner, and pay for Master Recordings.  And those recordings were both rare, and expensive.

    So, this becomes much ado about nothing.

    I would suggest that everyone at least visit a high end audio store, and listen to an expensive headset, or set of speakers, and audition a SACD or Master Recording of something in your taste, that has had the effort and love put into it that is unveiled with lossless audio.  There are many bands that made the effort, and once you experience what you have missed; you will never again be satisfied with what passed for "good" now.  For decades, the public has dealt with "good enough", but now the bandwidth and technology are allowing truly lossless music to again be available to the masses, at a cost that is comparable to what the regular recording costs.
    gregoriusmbikerdudeFileMakerFellerelijahg
  • Reply 9 of 26
    AppleishAppleish Posts: 701member
    I was annoyed at first when I read that my AirPods Max would not be able to benefit from (at least) their own ALAC format, much less hi-fi lossless.

    Later in the day, I remembered that thanks to their superior digital mastering, AAC 256k sounds better than MP3 320k, and that lossless is hardly noticeable to us mere humans anyway.

    Even later than that I thought, 'Wait a minute. At the very least, Apple is going to do something in firmware to be able to at least claim a better sound wirelessly.'

    And now this rumor. Sounds like a thing that will happen.
    edited May 2021 gregoriusm
  • Reply 10 of 26
    hucom2000hucom2000 Posts: 149member
    What I don’t understand is why Apple didn’t coordinate this information, if it’s true. It doesn’t make any sense from a marketing perspective
    charlesn
  • Reply 11 of 26
    gregoriusmgregoriusm Posts: 516member
    hucom2000 said:
    What I don’t understand is why Apple didn’t coordinate this information, if it’s true. It doesn’t make any sense from a marketing perspective
    Epic court case. Get the info out while the court case is on, even when the software, firmware, iOS, and lossy music isn’t yet available. 
    FileMakerFellerelijahg
  • Reply 12 of 26
    charlesncharlesn Posts: 949member
    This rumor makes so much sense, I can't imagine it won't turn out to be true. To announce new lossless quality for Apple Music that could not be heard on existing Apple devices made no sense. This seems like the necessary other shoe, although why both shoes weren't dropped at the same time is bizarre. How many headlines have already been written describing Apple Music Lossless as pointless?

    But let's be clear: the primary benefit of lossless over Bluetooth (or some great new Apple marketing name for a "near lossless" new codec) to AirPods or AirPods Pro will still be marketing as opposed to an improvement in the audio experience. Neither AirPods model has the resolving power to allow the lossless vs AAC 256 difference to be heard, to say nothing of the noisy environments in which AirPods are often used, which ANC can only mitigate to some degree. 

    The AirPods Max, however, could be a different story. What I've noticed most in the five months I've owned them is their ability to resolve subtle details in music--streamed over Bluetooth, no less--that my Sony XM4s miss. And the AirPods Max, by virtue of their size, weight and "Steal Me!" appearance, are more likely to be used at home in a quiet room and not in the midst of on-the-go noise. 

    This should be interesting... I wonder if the HomePod will also be getting lossless capability. 
  • Reply 13 of 26
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 1,338member
    hucom2000 said:
    What I don’t understand is why Apple didn’t coordinate this information, if it’s true. It doesn’t make any sense from a marketing perspective
    Its makes more sense if you see all what was said… He thinks Airpods will only use Bluetooth to pair and then will somehow use airplay as a the way to get then higher quality files to the headphones wirelessly. If Apple pulls this off and is the 1st to give us Lossless quality on wireless headphones it would be pretty huge. 

    https://youtu.be/oBJm1_Ctxg0

    If they can give me FLAC/ALAC quality wirelessly I may have to splurge on the AirPods Max. ߘmp;nbsp;
    edited May 2021
  • Reply 14 of 26
    thedbathedba Posts: 771member
    cia said:
    C'mon.  The "speakers" built into AirPods are so crummy that even if they could somehow get full bandwidth audio into them, the audio output would be no where near the quality lossless can potentially provide.

    Complaining about this is such a non-issue when you have lousy headphones.

    It would be nice if they bumped the AAC quality up from 256 to 320 though.  That would basically make the audio indistinguishable from lossless on most headphones.
    Some of us find that when Apple went from AAC 128 to 256 it pretty much became indistinguishable from CD quality 16/44.1 kHz. 
    Appleishuraharaseanj
  • Reply 15 of 26
    thedbathedba Posts: 771member

    Appleish said:
    I was annoyed at first when I read that my AirPods Max would not be able to benefit from (at least) their own ALAC format, much less hi-fi lossless.

    Later in the day, I remembered that thanks to their superior digital mastering, AAC 256k sounds better than MP3 320k, and that lossless is hardly noticeable to us mere humans anyway.

    Even later than that I thought, 'Wait a minute. At the very least, Apple is going to do something in firmware to be able to at least claim a better sound wirelessly.'

    And now this rumor. Sounds like a thing that will happen.
    I’m actually tempted to get myself a pair of AirPods  Max just to experience, not necessarily the lossless but the Dolby Atmos and/or Spatial Audio recordings. 
    In theory my cheap Beats Studio 3 are compatible but not too sure about the quality when compared to APM. I’ll just wait and see until June when all this will be made available.
  • Reply 16 of 26
    AppleishAppleish Posts: 701member
    thedba said:

    Appleish said:
    I was annoyed at first when I read that my AirPods Max would not be able to benefit from (at least) their own ALAC format, much less hi-fi lossless.

    Later in the day, I remembered that thanks to their superior digital mastering, AAC 256k sounds better than MP3 320k, and that lossless is hardly noticeable to us mere humans anyway.

    Even later than that I thought, 'Wait a minute. At the very least, Apple is going to do something in firmware to be able to at least claim a better sound wirelessly.'

    And now this rumor. Sounds like a thing that will happen.
    I’m actually tempted to get myself a pair of AirPods  Max just to experience, not necessarily the lossless but the Dolby Atmos and/or Spatial Audio recordings. 
    In theory my cheap Beats Studio 3 are compatible but not too sure about the quality when compared to APM. I’ll just wait and see until June when all this will be made available.
    That's fair. Hopefully whatever they are going to do, they will do in June, along with the enhanced service. As far as the Dolby Atmos part goes, it is startling to watch Dolby Atmos films with AirPods Max and even AirPods Pro on an iOS device. I'm guessing music will be equally, if not more impressive. This is coming from someone who has a 13 channel Dolby Atmos home theater. That's 2 main speakers, 5 surround speakers, 4 ceiling Atmos speakers, and 2 subwoofers. Listening to a Dolby Atmos film on my iPhone with the AirPods Max is not quite the same, but it is surprisingly immersive. Lossless aside, Dolby Atmos/Spatial Audio music is going to be worth the price of admission.
  • Reply 17 of 26
    jcs2305 said:
    hucom2000 said:
    What I don’t understand is why Apple didn’t coordinate this information, if it’s true. It doesn’t make any sense from a marketing perspective
    Its makes more sense if you see all what was said… He thinks Airpods will only use Bluetooth to pair and then will somehow use airplay as a the way to get then higher quality files to the headphones wirelessly. If Apple pulls this off and is the 1st to give us Lossless quality on wireless headphones it would be pretty huge. 

    https://youtu.be/oBJm1_Ctxg0

    If they can give me FLAC/ALAC quality wirelessly I may have to splurge on the AirPods Max. ߘmp;nbsp;
    I can't imagine being able to discern lossless audio on any earbuds, but it might be possible on APM.

    As was suggested by Prosser in that Youtube, Airplay is the likely scenario, since it is a lossless stream (IIRC, limited to 16-bit/44.1KHz, but that's still pretty good).

    I can see a software update enabling Airplay if the RF chip they are using in the headphones is one of those combo types, similar to this one:
    https://www.broadcom.com/products/wireless/wireless-lan-bluetooth/bcm4313

    (Probably no reason to enable Airplay at the outset since BT handles the compressed formats nicely).

    PS: A wired solution could possibly be Airplay over Ethernet via a lightning-lightning or a lightning-USB cable.
  • Reply 18 of 26
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,966member
    We’ll, I think the entire idea of lossless audio over AirPods Pro is pretty laughable. Some people may be able to hear the difference on AIrPod Maxes, but I’m sure that won’t stop people from gushing about the improvement in sound quality on their AirPod Pros. 

    What is the actual resolution of the DAC in AP Pro and AP Max? IIRC, the Maxes didn’t have a high enough quality converter and I’d be shocked if the pros have a better DAC than the maxes. If that’s the case then it’s about as useful as getting an HDMI port on a VGA monitor. 
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 19 of 26
    I bet if Apple used a standard 3.5mm audio in for the AirPod Max they would play lossless files.  But no, Apple had to use Lightning and cripple a pair of $550 headphones.  And the people that think AirPod Max can do AirPlay 2...nope, the headphones do not have Wi-Fi hardware.  Read the article next time.

    Still hilarious that Apple announces lossless music and they have no hardware to play it on.  They sure are changing the face of music.
    MplsPelijahg
  • Reply 20 of 26
    I bet if Apple used a standard 3.5mm audio in for the AirPod Max they would play lossless files.  But no, Apple had to use Lightning and cripple a pair of $550 headphones.  And the people that think AirPod Max can do AirPlay 2...nope, the headphones do not have Wi-Fi hardware.  Read the article next time.

    Still hilarious that Apple announces lossless music and they have no hardware to play it on.  They sure are changing the face of music.
    See my comment #17. The hardware might be there, but WiFi not enabled yet. After all, both BT and WiFi use 2.4GHz
    edited May 2021
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