So what’s the deal?
Apple Music can now stream files as “lossless,” up to 24-bit resolution and a 48 KHz sampling rate (which is better than CD quality), or “hi-res lossless,” up to 24-bit resolution and a 192 KHz sampling rate.
Does that really make music sound better?
Depends on who you ask and what your equipment is. I feel like I can often hear a difference between CD quality and “lossy” encoding, but not reliably. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a difference between hi-res and CD quality that couldn’t be attributed to remastering, which gets into a whole different subject.
You said “feel.” Isn’t that very subjective?
Have you gone through scientifically sound ABX testing, ideally in a soundproofed room and conducted by qualified audio engineers?
I sense you are not interested in this argument.
You are correct.
Okay, so let’s talk about Apple Music specifically. Can I get lossless quality over any Apple AirPod?
No. There are no lossless Bluetooth codecs.
How about the HomePod?
Not yet, but it’s promised for later.
The Apple TV?
Yes, but not at hi-res, and it appears to be locked at a 48 KHz sample rate. (Some lossless music Apple has is likely at a 44.1 KHz sample rate, the same as CDs.)
Okay, so it’s best on the Mac.
Well, two caveats. One, you’ll probably need an external DAC (digital to analog converter) to get better than “lossless” quality. Two, Apple Music doesn’t do output bit rate switching.
What’s that mean?
The music files have sample rates they’re encoded with, and your computer sends data to either its internal or your external DAC at a specific sample rate. Ideally, those two rates should be the same, and most “audiophile” music players match them automatically. Apple Music on the Mac doesn’t. It uses whatever bit rate the output device happens to be set at when the Music app launches. If that bit rate doesn’t match the music it’s playing, the music will be resampled to match the output rate.
If it’s resampled, is it still lossless?
If it’s resampled down, say from 96 KHz to 44.1 KHz, then definitionally, no. If it’s resampled up, say from 44.1 KHz to 48 KHz, the answer is murkier; no data gets lost, but new data has to be synthesized.
How do I fix that?
A few approaches off the top of my head:
- Check what you want to play before playing it and set the output rate in Audio MIDI Setup. Music will only show you the sample rate for “hi-res” music, but anything that’s listed as an “Apple Digital Master” or whatever they’re calling it this week is probably 48 KHz. This is arguably bad advice.
- Enable “lossless” but not “hi-res” in Music, and use Audio MIDI Setup to set the output at the highest bit rate and sample rate your DAC has. This is arguably less bad advice, although it’s still not ideal.
- Subscribe to TIDAL.
- Listen on iOS.
Wait, are you saying that iOS does do sample rate switching?
Why doesn’t the Mac?
The Music app on the Mac is really still just iTunes. Internally, iTunes is, if you will forgive the technical jargon, a trash fire.
You mentioned TIDAL. Does it do sample rate switching on the Mac?
Yes. As much as TIDAL gets made fun of, it’s got a decent app, and TIDAL Connect, like Spotify Connect, is arguably better than Apple’s AirPlay for getting home audio devices to stream music. But its lossless tier is $20 a month and its radio stations and curated playlists are noticeably worse than Apple Music’s.
What about Spotify and Amazon HD Music?
I don’t know. Like Apple Music, though, they’re more “consumer-oriented.”
What about Qobuz?
So what are you personally doing?
For my desktop, I’m following #2 above. My computer speakers (Vanatoo Transparent One Encores) have a USB DAC built into them. For my living room system, I can use the Apple TV, but compared to Spotify or TIDAL Connect—both of which work natively on my A/V receiver—it’s a little fiddly.
I read on a website that the best music quality possible is from MQA, “Master Quality Authenticated,” files. Does Apple Music support that?
Please stop reading that website.
If I play Apple Lossless over $200 AudioQuest Carbon USB cables through a $10K Luxman L-509x amplifier connected to Wilson Audio’s $48K Alexia speakers via $4000 Cardas Clear speaker cables (terminated in spades), will it sound great?