Lossless Audio and Dolby Atmos are Coming to Apple Music for Free

Posted on May 17, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Music + Videos with 74 Comments

With news of the new capabilities leaking everywhere, Apple announced today that it is bringing lossless and spatial audio to Apple Music at no additional cost.

“Apple Music is making its biggest advancement ever in sound quality,” Apple vice president Oliver Schusser says. “Listening to a song in Dolby Atmos is like magic. The music comes from all around you and sounds incredible. Now we are bringing this truly innovative and immersive experience to our listeners with music from their favorite artists like J Balvin, Gustavo Dudamel, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Kacey Musgraves, The Weeknd, and so many more. Subscribers will also be able to listen to their music in the highest audio quality with Lossless Audio. Apple Music as we know it is about to change forever.”

So that’s a lot to digest. Here’s how I understand it.

Lossless audio will be available across the entire Apple Music catalog of 75 million tracks and to all subscribers at no additional cost. Dolby Atmos, however, will only be made available to a limited selection of music in the catalog and only via certain Apple devices that H1 or W1 chip—including AirPods and Beats headphones—and through the built-in speakers in the latest iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Apple says that albums that support Dolby Atmos will display a badge so you can easily find them, and it will of course add new music continually over time.

Here’s what I also understand. Spotify plans to charge extra for lossless/HD audio capabilities, where Apple will not. And that should raise new antitrust concerns, complaints, and investigations from regulators around the globe. Apple, as always, is taking advantage of its ability to subsidize its subscription services with its incredible hardware sales to lower prices and disadvantage competitors.

(Amazon had been charging for lossless and HD audio, but dropped that extra fee after the Apple announcement.)

It’s hard to imagine that this addition won’t drive further Apple Music subscription growth. Indeed, as a consumer, this is a very compelling option.

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Comments (74)

74 responses to “Lossless Audio and Dolby Atmos are Coming to Apple Music for Free”

    • jbinaz

      If anyone wants to read the Billboard article, it requires a subscription. But, if you know how to use your browser's dev tools, find that <article> tag and remove the class="infinite-feed-item article--restricted" tag.

      • TBarney

        You could also use the immersive reader in Edge. Press F9. It works to get past a few pay walls I've tried.

    • prebengh

      One might wonder how Amazon suddenly can cut 5 USD on their subscription for HD music. Have they charged too much previously?

      • Paul Thurrott

        Companies charge what the market will bear. I think it's fair to say that Amazon is walking away from money it could have made otherwise because of Apple. And that, unlike Spotify, it can afford to do so.
      • Truffles

        Heresy! We all know it's only Apple that charges too much and/or too little.

        Often at the same time.

  1. prebengh

    If you think that Services should be the new cash cow for Apple, then I find it hard to believe that they subsidize their music subscriptions from their hardware sales.

    Do you think that Amazon will be investigated for antitrust too now they have lowered the price on HD music as well?

    • IanYates82

      Amazon, as a Spotify competitor, doesn't take a cut of the money you, as a Spotify customer, send to Spotify.

      It's that conflict of interest that is going to cause headaches for Apple.

      • rbgaynor

        Less than 1% of Spotfy's customers are subscribed through Apple (and that is no longer possible for new customers). It's not like Apple is making any significant money off of Spotify subscribers.

  2. Scsekaran

    Dolby Atmos is not lossless

    None of the apples Bluetooth wireless headphones can play/support lossless music

    Does that mean lossless music is limited to wired headphones, built-in speakers and external DACs?

    • jgraebner

      Any playback devices can play lossless and high-res music. In the case of standard "HD" lossless, it's basically the same audio quality as a CD. For high-res, you would need a high end playback device, likely wired with an external DAC, to actually notice any difference.

      • Scsekaran

        I don't think any of the current apple bluetooth headphones can deliver lossless audio including Airpod Max due to bluetooth bandwidth limitation.

        • jimchamplin

          AirPlay isn’t a Bluetooth based system. It’s used for pairing, but WiFi is also involved, and Apple’s earbuds and headphones have custom silicon that supplants bog standard BT.

          • Scsekaran

            None of the apple headphones use airplay. They use bog standard Bluetooth spec with AAC codec for music streaming. Their custom silicon is used for connectivity/pairing purposes.

            Airplay can carry lossless Audio over wi-fi or ethernet. So Mac/ Windows computer, Airplay streaming to Amplifiers and speakers will benefit from lossless audio. But none of the Apple Bluetooth headphones available currently.

        • jgraebner

          Again, keep in mind that lossless and high-resolution are not the same thing. Lossless just means that the music is compressed using an algorithm that does not result in any loss of information. The original source material can be of varying quality and the most common lossless audio files are CD quality, which Bluetooth most certainly can handle without too much difficulty. It is when you get into higher bitrate (basically "better than CD" quality) that Bluetooth bandwidth starts to become more of a problem.

          From what I have read, Apple's plan is to officially say that lossless over Bluetooth is unsupported, but there will be an option in the app that can still toggle it on.

          • Scsekaran

            'The original source material can be of varying quality and the most common lossless audio files are CD quality, which Bluetooth most certainly can handle without too much difficulty'

            Bluetooth cannot handle CD-quality lossless audio. CD quality lossless audio needs 1400 kbps(1.4mbps). AAC codec only supports 256kbps. Even Sony's LDAC codec supports only up to 960kbps-cannot support lossless audio over bluetooth. So unless apple develop a codec which consistently deliver 1400kbps over bluetooth, all the current codecs over bluetooth are lossy

            • jgraebner

              Oh yeah, I forgot that Apple doesn't support aptX or aptX HD. Yes, there is room for debate about whether those (or Sony's LDAC) can be said to truly be transmitting the full quality since some mild lossy compression is still in the mix, but any difference is largely academic and largely undetectable to most people.

              Admittedly, the difference between a high bitrate MP3 or AAC file and an HD or even high resolution lossless is not going to be noticeable to most listeners on most common consumer equipment. It's really more about future-proofing and eliminating the potential for multiple-levels of lossy compression in low bandwidth situations. And, yes, to some extent it's about marketing...

    • retcable

      The Bluetooth standard cannot handle the data rates required to transmit true lossless audio to devices.

  3. ebraiter

    Except for the real audio fanatics, In can't see the typical individual noticing the difference between listening Metallica's Nothing Else Matters in regular audio and in HD.

    However, you could see a huge jump in what you're using for your data plan which could cause phone providers to jack up prices or reduce data quality. Same thing last year when everyone climbed on board to streaming TV/movie services.

    • Lauren Glenn

      Yeah, but Nothing Else Matters and the Black Album was recorded at 48kHz/24-bit audio... if that. I used to have the DVD-Audio disc of it (think I still do)... I ripped it to my hard drive years ago when someone made a program for that.

      Anything above that level is just upsampling and not improved. But this is true of all songs of the late 80s into the early 90s. STP's Core.... albums that were all digitally recorded are just like this.

      If it was originally recorded in analog, then it would be better... or could be if remixed properly.

      I'm not a huge fan of Bob Rock with Metallica, but he used to be an engineer, so it sounded good.

      Still, when you record all digital, making it 192kHz when it was recorded at 48kHz doesn't improve much.

      Now, listen to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac at 96kHz/24-bit... or any new release now in 24-bit/48kHz... or anything in DSD (especially Boston's 1st album). World of difference. Especially in areas of multiple tracks playing different instruments.... and also drums sound like actual drums and not sounding fake.. cymbals especially.

    • Cardch

      Especially as the production on Nothing Else Matters is geared towards lo-fi kit. It sounds terrible on real Hi-Fi, lossless or otherwise. Great album though.

  4. Lauren Glenn

    I want iTunes Match HD... but they're not offering even purchasing music in hi-res lossless either.

    The ultimate nail in everyone else would be to use iTunes Match HD and convert all my old songs to HD lossless.... even if I had to pay $200 for that... it would be nice. Yes, $200 is a bit... but I still enjoy my offline music library and even some tracks that iTunes doesn't sell locally.

  5. waethorn

    Does this include accounts bundled in Apple One, or just full-priced accounts?

  6. lvthunder

    Apple already has Atmos movies. Does anyone know if on the Apple TV it uses that audio to send out to a 5.1 system or does it use a different audio stream? I guess what I'm really wondering is will the Atmos music get converted to 5.1.

    • Paul Thurrott

      I suspect the way this really works is that each movie offers some number of audio stream choices, and that Atmos and 5.1 (and others) are different choices, typically configured once on the device rather than per-movie.
  7. interloper

    That’ll be the end of TIDAL, then.

    • j5

      Oh wow, I completely forgot about Tidal. I remember tying it when it first came out and the UI was aweful! It was very frustrating trying to navigate it. Then a few years later they made some improvements but it was still bad compared to just basic Pandora.

      Yeah, I wonder what will happen to Tidal now?

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yep. Which, by the way, was inevitable.
  8. north of 49th

    Back-up for a moment…  Companies originally compressed music (i.e. a WAV file or the like) into a lossy file because storage was so expensive that they would never sell digital music any other way to their target market.  Yes lossless formats were developed (like FLAC) but arguably the weak link was always the storage capacity from a sheer cost perspective for the time.

    Fast forward to streaming and something similar was true – the internet bandwidth and data caps of streaming company’s target markets were not going to support a business model of unlimited streaming without making the file size smaller.  For a certain class of consumer, some businesses choose to inflate the price of lossless music because they felt there was a market that would support this. I would argue that the actual cost to support lossless was no where near the cost charged to that niche of consumers – the cost charged was based on what those companies thought they could get away with.

    From an actual cost perspective in 2021, the cost differential to any company streaming lossless music is less affected by bandwidth or data caps of their target market because Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/Disney are streaming 4K HDR surround sound movies and the internet providers have built out an infrastructure to support this.

    I see the move to lossless streaming as an overdue reality of the current state of internet bandwidth and data caps.  Any niche companies that are relying on lossless streaming as their sole claim to fame have had years to modify their business to branch out. I have no sympathy for any company that sits in their niche for years thinking they are untouchable.  For this reason, I don’t view what Apple and Amazon are doing as being wrong from a pricing perspective given the state of the internet.

  9. randallcorn

    So when Neil Young introduced the Pink player with lossless Audi it was no big deal. Now let Apple rip it off and it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Yay Apple! Remember when the were....nevermind.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Well, yeah. Apple stole the GUI from Xerox and introduced it to the public on the Mac. But it was used by few people. Microsoft popularized the GUI with Windows 3+, taking it mainstream. So yeah, what Microsoft accomplished there is the bigger deal. The other stuff is just historical anecdote at this point. You know, just like Pink and Tidal.
      • pecosbob04

        "Well, yeah. Apple stole the GUI from Xerox and introduced it to the public on the Mac. But it was used by few people. Microsoft popularized the GUI with Windows 3+, taking it mainstream. So yeah, what Microsoft accomplished there is the bigger deal." 

        Sorry I can't allow you to continue to spread this misinformation. Apple stole nothing from Xerox PARC Xerox acquired Apple stock at a discount in exchange for the technology Apple saw at PARC. Also the GUI that Apple came to market with was vastly improved over what was basically a very innovative 'proof of concept'.

        "But it was used by few people." Now that is just revisionist history at its core.


        • Paul Thurrott

          Thanks, but what I wrote is accurate. As Bill Gates said to Steve Jobs when the latter complained about Windows, "I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”
          • pecosbob04

            Offhand I would guess from that Gates quote your source is a screenplay (POSV perhaps?). My source is a face to face account from a long time Xerox employee who was 'in the room' and a participant in subsequent negotiations. "Further affiant sayeth naught" (archaic).

            • Paul Thurrott

              Sorry, but the history here is well understood.
            • pecosbob04

              As a side note there was a huge divergence of opinion at PARC as to whether Apple folks should be allowed to even see the technology let alone get a demonstration. The split was pretty evenly divided and the deciding factor apparently was that the engineers knew what they had but feared that there was no place in the Xerox product mix for the technology. They feared it might never see the light of day, at least not in a timely manner.

    • ebraiter

      Lossless audio has been around for a long time. Streaming wasn't because of the bandwidth required. Now they feel most people will use it while your suck up your data plan.

      BTW, nothing beats Blu-ray audio if you have the proper equipment.

  10. nbplopes

    Don’t think there is any anti trust here. Others could already provide lossless and 3D audio like Sony does.

  11. anthonye1778

    You are right about anti-trust, but this is great news for consumers. I'm just not sure if it is good news for creators, since with no price increase there will likely be no payout increase for artists, which is a shame since payout is already dismally low.

    • Truffles

      It's not as if the artist is doing any additional work to churn out a higher fidelity tune.

    • lvthunder

      Are you sure that with the other services that offer this as an add-on that the artists get more money out of it? I doubt it.

  12. jchampeau

    Well isn't that spatial.

  13. darrellprichard

    Although I'm glad to hear that Apple is (finally) going lossless, I'm more excited about the spatial audio support. I've become spoiled after watching movies on my iPad thru my AirPods Pro and Max.

    • Nic

      Got some bad news for you. The AirPods Max and AirProds pro don't support the codec allowing you to listen to the losless audio per https://www.macrumors.com/2021/05/17/airpods-apple-music-lossless-audio/?scrolla=5eb6d68b7fedc32c19ef33b4

  14. j5

    Lol looks like the music services are already racing to meet Apple’s lead!

    This Apple Music news make interested in subscribing to it. But man, I really don’t like it’s integrate compared to Spotify. Spotify in my opinion has the best UI for navigating music on a mobile device. With Apple Music you have two or 3 steps to like a song. You can’t follow an artist. You have to hit the back and forward buttons, minor sure but when mowing the yard it’s nice to just swipe anywhere on the album cover left or right BUT of course I’m going to try it out anyways :).

  15. yoshi

    Amazon announced this morning that HD will no longer cost more and it will be a part of the regular Music Unlimited plan.

    • schooner

      be aware that you have to go into settings in the Amazon music app and change it to HD.

  16. lvthunder

    This is like what Apple did with 4k. If you bought the HD version you get the 4k version as well.

  17. JH_Radio

    I don't see how its antitrust. What will happen is that everybody else who is lossless will now have to offer it at $9.99 or nobody will flock to them. How is that so bad? I sure wish I didn't pay for a full year of amazon HD now lol.

  18. crunchyfrog

    If Apple really wanted to help its users, I would like to see the interfaces for CarPlay and mobile phones streamlined and be much more intuitive. iTunes and Google's terrible YouTube Music is just awful, especially in my car while driving. It used to be better, I don't know what went wrong with these companies.

  19. lezmaka

    So Microsoft can use their app store to subsidize their consoles, but Apple can't use the money they make from hardware to subsidize their software service?

    • Paul Thurrott

      Exactly right. Consoles are sold at a loss, and the market for consoles is tiny compared to that for iPhones, iPads, and Apple's overall services business. That's the business model, and Xbox has never really been profitable overall, certainly not over the entirety of the business lifecycle. It has admitted that it has never once made a profit on consoles. With Apple, their incredible margins, unique in the hardware world, allow them to subsidize their services and make incredible profits across the board. What they're doing here is very similar to what Microsoft did when it bundled IE with Windows: It took something that others were charging for and made it free. That sounds great on the face of things, but the long-term impact is negative because it artificially limits competition and innovation. Only companies with monopoly power can do this.
    • toukale

      And there lies the problem in people making that kind of argument. It is not my problem as a user to care that spotify business model is not sustainable and can't compete with others if they decide to lower their prices. And its also not the government job to try and support them keep that business going. Whatever happen to free market, if we are talking about infrastructures and things of that nature I could support that argument, but I am not going to support it for things such as this.

      • jgraebner

        So you are opposed to all anti-trust laws? That's basically what you are saying when you say that it is not the government's job to get involved.

    • ebraiter

      Everybody subsidize [like your cell phone - I'm not paying $1500 for my phone. Instead charging maybe $700 over 24 months]. What Apple is doing is throwing it in for free. You are still paying for a console.

  20. thalter

    Hopefully lossless and Atmos playback is not just limited to Apple headphones. I'd like to listen through my home theater setup via my Apple TV.

    • Lauren Glenn

      It supposedly is available on Android as well. Although most apps in Android (except for certain ones like PowerAmp) are limited to 48kHz/24... PowerAmp supposedly can do 384kHz/32-bit at least it tells me as much when I turn on my Quad DAC.

      They probably have a requirement that you use an external DAC to get anything above 48kHz anyway.

  21. toukale

    Paul I don't understand your stand on this. You have an issue with Apple doing this, but were in favor of Amazon doing the same with books that basically drove its competitors out of the market? You need to be more consistent on your stands.

    • jgraebner

      Are you talking about the anti-trust judgment against Apple over eBooks? That decision really had nothing to do with Amazon's business practices. It was due to the fact that Apple engaged in the blatantly illegal practice of conspiring with all the major book publishers to fix prices on books.

      Personally, I'd really like to see a solid competitor to Amazon in the eBook market and I do think that some of their tactics have been at least ethically suspect. That doesn't mean that the right way to address that is with other illegal activity.

  22. Jester

    Another article mentioned you need a external DAC to take full advantage of the lossless format.

    • Lauren Glenn

      That's because Apple has been locked to about 48kHz forever and everyone using Apple was just fine with this... including Apple. Maybe, maybe.... they'll make a phone with a higher DAC... but then they don't have a headphone jack anyway....

  23. Cdorf

    Apple just fired the Death Star.... help us Antitrust you are our only hope

    • lvthunder

      Unless you are a Tidal employee you don't need to be saved.

      • Cdorf

        its more Apple is so anti-competitive that they will run out the likes of Tidal and Spotify, who have to overcome the Apple VIG while Apple doesn't.

        • lvthunder

          So instead of the customer giving Apple whatever percentage (30 or 15) they give them 100%. How do you know Apple isn't keeping that same percentage and it runs the service with the rest?

        • rbgaynor

          Less than 1% of Spotify subscribers subscribe through Apple.

  24. bluvg

    Audiophiles have long had mixed (mostly negative) responses towards surround sound (wave cancellation issues both in and between recording and playback, etc.), but I would really love to hear the antiphonal section of a pipe organ from behind, Tallis's 8x5 voice masterpiece spread about an auditorium/cathedral, etc. Realistically, this probably was not going to happen with physical media. I'm cautiously optimistic.

  25. nbplopes

    “Dolby Atmos, however, will only be made available to a limited selection of music in the catalog and only via certain Apple devices that H1 or W1 chip”

    Not correct. It will be available to all headphones. Music will not support Apple spatial audio.