Why the new AirPods Pro 2 are needed for Apple Vision Pro lossless audio

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in iPhone

Alongside adding USB-C charging to the AirPods Pro, Apple also updated them to provide lossless audio, and now explains exactly what was needed to achieve that.

AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro



To distinguish between the old and new charging cases for the AirPods Pro, you just have to look underneath at the USB-C port. But there's been another substantial change to AirPods Pro that is impossible to see.

Apple calls it lossless audio, and also says that it is required for the forthcoming Apple Vision Pro. As noted by AppleInsider, though, lossless audio in the AirPods Pro means 20 bits at 48 kilohertz with lower latency than now, which is less than Apple's previous lossless 24 bits at up to 192 kilohertz.

Now, Apple executives Ron Huang, vice president of Sensing and Connectivity, and Eric Treski, director of Product Marketing, have been speaking about the update. On Brian Tong's YouTube channel, they've revealed how what it took to get lossless working, and how it fits into the future of audio at Apple.


"To bring in lossless and ultra low latency audio to Vision Pro, many things have to work," said Huang. "[Shorter] latency lossless means bigger bandwidth. So you need a much more pristine wireless pipe to communicate between the two."

"And with the new AirPods Pro, we are able to run it at 5 gigahertz," he continued. "If you think back, Bluetooth typically runs at 2.4 gigahertz, which is quite a messy and noisy airspace."

"And so, Apple Vision Pro and AirPods Pro are now able to communicate at 5 gigahertz, in addition to H2, allowing us to build a new audio protocol," said Huang, "but it's also the cleaner airspace that allows us to to do that and USB-C AirPods are now 5-gig capable."

Huang also says that this increased Bluetooth bandwidth means auto-switching between, say, the iPhone and iPad "connects way faster and switches way faster than it used to before."

Eric Treski also spoke about the current advantages that the new AirPods Pro provides, and says it's the overall experience that Apple has been working toward.

"I would say that obviously making music and podcasts more listening to more enjoyable [is key]... also to what's in your surrounding environment and interacting with that in a more unique and beneficial way," said Treski. "And really just being this more and more continual companion throughout your day to actually just help you and be something that's truly important for you, which is great to see AirPods Pro doing that today."

The updated AirPods Pro cost $249, and went on sale in Apple Stores alongside the iPhone 15 today.

Read on AppleInsider

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    20-bits? Where did that come from? I’d get 24-bits as that’s what most major artists release their lossless tracks in, but 20-bits? That’s a weird downscale. They’d be better off running with 16-bits. I could see them doing 24-bit/48Khz as most content is either 24/44.1 or 24/48. But nothing is 20/48. Is that a typo?

    There is no 5Ghz Bluetooth. It has to be something else, e.g. Wi-Fi or something entirely proprietary. They’ve cleared added a 5Ghz radio to the revised H2 but it can’t be Bluetooth unless they’ve got a world exclusive on a future version of Bluetooth… and that would be huge news. Anything they do with any radio frequency must be publicly declared. 5Ghz is primarily reserved for Wi-Fi. I’d need to research to discover if any other protocols are approved to use it. They appeared to hint at some new protocol. I still suspect it has to be piggybacking on an existing standard or they’d have to have declared it to the FCC and other similar authorities before shipping. They could be using some sort of ah-hoc peer-to-peer 5Ghz Wi-Fi.

    It depends what they’re doing… saying the H2 specialises in audio and somehow that prevents the tech in the current iPhone from also doing it, doesn’t make sense. Digital Audio is still 1’s and 0’s. I can’t believe they’d only deliver lossless on the Vision Pro. That’s too niche. We’re crying out for it on everything else.
    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 22
    thttht Posts: 5,499member
    Probably a typo regarding the 20 bit.

    For the wireless connection, Huang didn't specifically say they are running Bluetooth at 5 GHz. What he said was the H2 chip in the Vision Pro and the AirPods Pro USBC are able to communicate at 5 GHz. The rationale for 5 GHz is there are less devices using 5 GHz as compared to a 2.4 GHz, so it represented a cleaner connection. Ie, bandwidth is much more guaranteed.

    Latency will be much more important for the Vision Pro than lossless, especially low latency that is spatially aware.

    Also interesting that they are running a machine learning model on-device, in the AirPods Pros, for adaptive audio.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 22
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,422member
    Are the first release AirPods Pro 2 getting a firmware update to bring them up to the same level as the ones that come with the USB-C case?

    If the originals are not being updated, Apple should have designated the new ones AirPods Pro 2C or AirPods Pro 2+.
    Mcnaugha2watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 22
    chasmchasm Posts: 3,342member
    I’m still confused about why this was needed specifically for the Apple Vision Pro. As noted in the demo, there are speakers built right into the device that are meant to direct audio into the ear, featuring two drivers on each side — exactly so you don’t have to further block ambient sound by wearing earphones under the band that goes around your head.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 22
    chasm said:
    I’m still confused about why this was needed specifically for the Apple Vision Pro. As noted in the demo, there are speakers built right into the device that are meant to direct audio into the ear, featuring two drivers on each side — exactly so you don’t have to further block ambient sound by wearing earphones under the band that goes around your head.
    Just spitballing here: TVs come with speakers, but people still spend $$$ to add sound bars and better speakers.  Maybe to get the best experience you need the AirPods in ear rather than the built in headband speakers…
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 22
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 7,757member
    bageljoey said:
    chasm said:
    I’m still confused about why this was needed specifically for the Apple Vision Pro. As noted in the demo, there are speakers built right into the device that are meant to direct audio into the ear, featuring two drivers on each side — exactly so you don’t have to further block ambient sound by wearing earphones under the band that goes around your head.
    Just spitballing here: TVs come with speakers, but people still spend $$$ to add sound bars and better speakers.  Maybe to get the best experience you need the AirPods in ear rather than the built in headband speakers…
    That's definitely a possibility seeing as the Vision Pro is designed as more as a stationary usage device where isolation will sometimes be ideal for the experience

    Sitting on your sofa, you often won't need to be aware of what's happening around you and no doubt at some point in the future the chips will be able to identify specific sounds which will be white-listed and let through to the user (the voices of house residents, doorbells, alarms, fixed lines phones etc). 

    From the video, I'd say bone conduction is coming. 

  • Reply 7 of 22
    chasm said:
    I’m still confused about why this was needed specifically for the Apple Vision Pro. As noted in the demo, there are speakers built right into the device that are meant to direct audio into the ear, featuring two drivers on each side — exactly so you don’t have to further block ambient sound by wearing earphones under the band that goes around your head.
    Perhaps it’s to share audio with someone who doesn’t have a Vision Pro.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 22
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 15,358moderator
    Mcnaugha2 said:
    20-bits? Where did that come from? I’d get 24-bits as that’s what most major artists release their lossless tracks in, but 20-bits? That’s a weird downscale. They’d be better off running with 16-bits. I could see them doing 24-bit/48Khz as most content is either 24/44.1 or 24/48. But nothing is 20/48. Is that a typo?
    It says 20-bit on Apple's site too:

    https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2023/09/apple-upgrades-airpods-pro-2nd-generation-with-usb-c-charging/

    "AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with MagSafe Charging Case (USB‑C) will enable Lossless Audio with ultra-low latency to deliver the perfect true wireless solution with Apple Vision Pro. The H2 chip in the latest AirPods Pro and Apple Vision Pro, combined with a groundbreaking wireless audio protocol, unlocks powerful 20-bit, 48 kHz Lossless Audio with a massive reduction in audio latency."

    The bit depth can be whatever size, it's just a data encoding same with color. 16-bit = 65536, 20-bit = 1.04m, 24-bit = 16.7m, each increase is 16x more info.

    The lossless wireless method doesn't need to be compatible with Bluetooth, both the Vision Pro and Airpods will have special chips that can send this kind of data and other devices with revert to Bluetooth without lossless.
    Xedmuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 22
    XedXed Posts: 2,622member
    Marvin said:
    Mcnaugha2 said:
    20-bits? Where did that come from? I’d get 24-bits as that’s what most major artists release their lossless tracks in, but 20-bits? That’s a weird downscale. They’d be better off running with 16-bits. I could see them doing 24-bit/48Khz as most content is either 24/44.1 or 24/48. But nothing is 20/48. Is that a typo?
    It says 20-bit on Apple's site too:

    https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2023/09/apple-upgrades-airpods-pro-2nd-generation-with-usb-c-charging/

    "AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with MagSafe Charging Case (USB‑C) will enable Lossless Audio with ultra-low latency to deliver the perfect true wireless solution with Apple Vision Pro. The H2 chip in the latest AirPods Pro and Apple Vision Pro, combined with a groundbreaking wireless audio protocol, unlocks powerful 20-bit, 48 kHz Lossless Audio with a massive reduction in audio latency."

    The bit depth can be whatever size, it's just a data encoding same with color. 16-bit = 65536, 20-bit = 1.04m, 24-bit = 16.7m, each increase is 16x more info.

    The lossless wireless method doesn't need to be compatible with Bluetooth, both the Vision Pro and Airpods will have special chips that can send this kind of data and other devices with revert to Bluetooth without lossless.
    I was wondering if they had considered multiple BT channels (MIMO) to get 24 bit audio, but looking at your numbers they'd need 16 too achieve the same bit depth, and then you'd have to reassemble the data which means that LL could be problematic, and that's before you even consider the size, power, and financial cost to have extra radios and antennas working in unison between two devices.

    Well, I'm glad some forward progress is being made in this area. Hopefully we'll see this improve for the short range needed between AirPods and Vision Pro (i.e.: minimal obstacles and distance). I wonder if a very low power WiFi could be used here for better audio quality, but I'm guessing that 20 bits / 48 kHz will appeal to the most for a long time to come.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 22
    danoxdanox Posts: 2,976member
    chasm said:
    I’m still confused about why this was needed specifically for the Apple Vision Pro. As noted in the demo, there are speakers built right into the device that are meant to direct audio into the ear, featuring two drivers on each side — exactly so you don’t have to further block ambient sound by wearing earphones under the band that goes around your head.
    Why did Apple start putting satellite/Lidar and in their smartphones? And why does the new 15 Pro smartphone have spatial recording capabilities, and beyond that, there’s many more things that Apple has changed in the background over the last four years to get into alignment with the release of the Apple Vision Pro next year. 

    And all that modem work at Apple has been doing for the last four or five years. I’m sure Apple intent was to use it in more things than just the smartphone, but that’s another long range project in progress.
    edited September 2023 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 22
    dewme said:
    Are the first release AirPods Pro 2 getting a firmware update to bring them up to the same level as the ones that come with the USB-C case?

    If the originals are not being updated, Apple should have designated the new ones AirPods Pro 2C or AirPods Pro 2+.
    Yes and no. A firmware update will bring Adaptive Audio to the first gen Airpods Pro as long as your iPhone is running iOS 17. But you obviously won't get the new H2 chip that's in the 2nd gen Pros, nor the USB-C case that can be charged from your iPhone, nor the design tweak to make the pods themselves more dust-resistant. I have to agree that with these differences, it's confusing for Apple to have kept the identical name and an iterative name update to something like Pro 2+ would have solved that. Apple should also be offering just the USB-C case for sale to the first gen buyers. 
    edited September 2023 watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 22
    But they still can’t do lossless on an iPhone, even a 15 pro max?  Seems strange….
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 22
    The Vision Pro is centimetres from your ears.  If ever a device didn't needed wireless audio, this is it.  Just put a freaking headphone jack on there.
    blurpbleepbloop
  • Reply 14 of 22
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 7,757member
    Honkers said:
    The Vision Pro is centimetres from your ears.  If ever a device didn't needed wireless audio, this is it.  Just put a freaking headphone jack on there.
    But looking at things from the other direction, if all your users already have wireless buds (probably the case for future Vision Pro users), a headphone jack doesn't make much sense. 
  • Reply 15 of 22
    avon b7 said:
    Honkers said:
    The Vision Pro is centimetres from your ears.  If ever a device didn't needed wireless audio, this is it.  Just put a freaking headphone jack on there.
    But looking at things from the other direction, if all your users already have wireless buds (probably the case for future Vision Pro users), a headphone jack doesn't make much sense. 
    All of them don't.
  • Reply 16 of 22
    tht said:
    For the wireless connection, Huang didn't specifically say they are running Bluetooth at 5 GHz.
    To quote the article: "Huang also says that this increased Bluetooth bandwidth". It was the article I was criticising. I haven't checked the video to see if he does say this.

    Marvin said:
    The bit depth can be whatever size, it's just a data encoding same with color. 16-bit = 65536, 20-bit = 1.04m, 24-bit = 16.7m, each increase is 16x more info.

    The lossless wireless method doesn't need to be compatible with Bluetooth, both the Vision Pro and Airpods will have special chips that can send this kind of data and other devices with revert to Bluetooth without lossless.
    If you understand currently popular audio formats and codecs, it's a moot point to say that bit depth can be whatever size because this isn't the concern. When you choose a format which is not matching the source then you have to transcode. Transcoding costs time/latency, energy and generates heat. Either the transcoding cost isn't a major concern to them or they intend to have everyone, making audio for the Vision Pro, make it to this specification. This could also include adding a 20-bit/48kHz prepared file of every track in Apple Music. All to avoid the additional transcoding cost. It is not a common audio format today and most audio software will not currently include this configuration in its standard UI. I want to know the rational behind this decision they've made. Why didn't they just opt for 16-bit/44.1kHz, if 24-bit/44.1kHz (most common lossless format on streaming platforms) was too big. It's like some kind of middle ground. Everything needs transcoded but it's less work to get from each of the common formats to this middle ground. That's all I can think of right now.

    I certainly didn't say it needed to be compatible with Bluetooth. As per above, the article associated the reference to 5Ghz with Bluetooth. As I said, Apple can't just transmit whatever it likes over 5Ghz. It must be registered with many authorities worldwide, if it is not an existing standard.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 22
    Agreed on how nonsensical this all is. I imagine it is to build more hype and interest about the “amazing experiences” yet to come with AV but it rings so hollow.
    As another commenter rightly points out, the device is mounted to your head already and the band wraps around near the ear. Why would we need a wireless earbud for this? I like the idea of a jack so you could choose between over the ear or in-ear buds assuming they would be offered as options.

    Also, if the quotes from the article are accurate, is it just me that finds Eric Treski‘a comments complete fluff and nonsense? I mean, he’s Director of marketing? Marketing is generally bs but there are gradations: AAA to to weak AF. This was closer to the later - not too good at his job.

    Also, they are saying that 2.4 band is too noisy and crowded so the move to 5gig will improve the situation? How’s that? All modern WiFi is typically 5ghz though you have the legacy (ie 10 years ago) when 2.4 was the standard). 5GHz certainly would give them more bandwidth but shorter range and probably uses more power. Also, since this is supposedly being done as as some prelude to the VisionPro do people really have so many 2.4 gHz devices in there immediate vicinity to cause a problem? Doubt it.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 22
    XedXed Posts: 2,622member
    Agreed on how nonsensical this all is. I imagine it is to build more hype and interest about the “amazing experiences” yet to come with AV but it rings so hollow.
    As another commenter rightly points out, the device is mounted to your head already and the band wraps around near the ear. Why would we need a wireless earbud for this? I like the idea of a jack so you could choose between over the ear or in-ear buds assuming they would be offered as options.

    Also, if the quotes from the article are accurate, is it just me that finds Eric Treski‘a comments complete fluff and nonsense? I mean, he’s Director of marketing? Marketing is generally bs but there are gradations: AAA to to weak AF. This was closer to the later - not too good at his job.

    Also, they are saying that 2.4 band is too noisy and crowded so the move to 5gig will improve the situation? How’s that? All modern WiFi is typically 5ghz though you have the legacy (ie 10 years ago) when 2.4 was the standard). 5GHz certainly would give them more bandwidth but shorter range and probably uses more power. Also, since this is supposedly being done as as some prelude to the VisionPro do people really have so many 2.4 gHz devices in there immediate vicinity to cause a problem? Doubt it.
    1) Adding a jack just makes it seem more kludgy. Maybe they'll offer that on the non-Pro Vision, but I doubt it. 

    2) 2.4 GHz has considerably more interference. Just because newer WiFi is using 5GHz doesn't change that fact. Even there was saturation parity (there isn't) a use of a higher frequency would lower the chances of interference because the higher frequencies are going to penetrate walls and other objects as well as a lower frequency.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 22
    thttht Posts: 5,499member
    Mcnaugha2 said:
    tht said:
    For the wireless connection, Huang didn't specifically say they are running Bluetooth at 5 GHz.
    To quote the article: "Huang also says that this increased Bluetooth bandwidth". It was the article I was criticising. I haven't checked the video to see if he does say this.
    Look at the video. It starts at 26:30 into the video. 

    Huang never says this custom Apple protocol uses Bluetooth. It’s the H2 and support of 5 GHz, of which only the USBC AirPods Pro and Vision Pro support. 
    edited September 2023 watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 22
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 15,358moderator
    Mcnaugha2 said:
    When you choose a format which is not matching the source then you have to transcode. Transcoding costs time/latency, energy and generates heat. Either the transcoding cost isn't a major concern to them or they intend to have everyone, making audio for the Vision Pro, make it to this specification. This could also include adding a 20-bit/48kHz prepared file of every track in Apple Music. All to avoid the additional transcoding cost. It is not a common audio format today and most audio software will not currently include this configuration in its standard UI. I want to know the rational behind this decision they've made. Why didn't they just opt for 16-bit/44.1kHz, if 24-bit/44.1kHz (most common lossless format on streaming platforms) was too big. It's like some kind of middle ground. Everything needs transcoded but it's less work to get from each of the common formats to this middle ground. That's all I can think of right now.
    The source data can be in the common formats. AptX is described as being able to do the real-time encoding in < 2ms. Apple's page mentions their audio setup will have 'ultra-low latency'. They could cache a pre-encoded version but I doubt the transcoding will cost much power with hardware encoders and encoding latency < 2ms is negligible.

    The extra bandwidth will be useful if they have more channels, this will support lossless Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio:

    https://blog.son-video.com/en/2023/09/airpods-pro-2-lossless-and-wireless-dolby-atmos/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolby_Atmos
    watto_cobra
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