Apple has announced that it is adding some new features to its music streaming service Apple Music. Starting next month, users will find some new options, such as spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos and lossless audio files.
Spotify recently announced a new high-end subscription tier with CD-quality, lossless audio files. But Spotify HiFi isn’t included in Spotify Premium by itself. You’ll have to pay a bit more money to stream lossless audio. Pricing hasn’t been disclosed yet.
Apple’s move is a bit different, as lossless audio will be included in the basic Apple Music subscription tier. For $9.99 per month, you’ll be able to choose between various audio quality settings. By default, Apple and other streaming services compress audio files to not require a lot of bandwidth.
You can also choose CD-quality, lossless streaming — 16 bit at 44.1 kHz. In that case, you’ll receive lossless audio files. Behind the scenes, Apple uses its own lossless audio format (ALAC, Apple Lossless Audio Codec). But that shouldn’t have an impact as FLAC, WAV, or ALAC files sound precisely the same — it’s lossless audio.
If you have a truly unlimited mobile plan, you can even choose 24 bit at 48 kHz or 24 bit at 192 kHz. In that case, the average weight of a song should be around 250MB — yep, that’s a lot of bytes. Apple says you have to use an external, USB digital-to-analog converter to utilize the hi-resolution lossless tier. Plugging in a pair of headphones with your iPhone won’t cut it.
The entire Apple Music catalog of 75 million songs will support lossless audio. Music distributors already upload lossless audio files when they submit a piece to streaming services. Adding lossless audio is all about surfacing those files with the end-users.
As for spatial audio, it’ll be enabled by default on hardware that supports Dolby Atmos, such as AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip. The most recent iPhone, iPad, and Mac models also support Dolby Atmos. But it sounds like songs have to be remastered for Dolby Atmos specifically. At first, only “thousands of songs” will support spatial audio. Artists include J Balvin, Gustavo Dudamel, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Kacey Musgraves, and The Weeknd. You’ll be able to identify those tracks with a badge in the user interface.