Apple Music adds support for hi-res audio and Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos – and at no extra cost

Apple Music adds lossless support and Spatial audio with Dolby Atmos at no extra cost
(Image credit: Apple Music)

As has been rumoured for the past week or so, Apple Music is adding support for lossless audio, as well as and Dolby Atmos-powered 3D audio (aka Apple's Spatial Audio). 

The service's 75 million-strong catalogue will be available in CD quality (16-bit/44.1kHz) or hi-res (24-bit/48-192kHz). There will be 20 million songs in lossless audio at launch, with the full 75 million available by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, "thousands" of tracks will be available in Apple's Spatial Audio tech (as previously featured in its AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones). Spatial Audio adds "multidimensional sound and clarity", making the audio sound much more immersive.

Both features will launch in June and won't cost Apple Music subscribers any extra money. The monthly subscription cost remains £10 ($10, AU$11.99).

Apple has described the new features as Apple Music's "biggest advancement ever in sound quality" – which we'd have to agree with.

It's not the first streaming service to support lossless, of course – Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer and Amazon Music HD all offer lossless listening. But it has pipped Spotify to the post, with the green giant not launching its own lossless tier, Spotify HiFi, until later in the year. 

As expected, Apple's lossless streams use ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) to offer more detail and informationion in a recording. That should mean higher audio quality, albeit also bigger file sizes – estimates put it at around 36MB of data for a three-minute track.

There are three tiers of lossless audio to accommodate different files sizes and situations in which you can play them: CD quality (16-bit/44.1kHz), 24-bit/48kHz, and 24-bit/192kHz. You can choose which quality you would to stream or download in through the Settings > Music > Audio Quality section of Apple Music. While music up to 24-bit/48kHz can be played natively on Apple devices, playing anything above that – 24-bit/96kHz or 24-bit/192kHz streams, for example – requires connecting an external DAC. Apple is calling these highest-quality streams 'Hi-Resolution Lossless'.

Apple's Spatial Audio, meanwhile, is enabled by Dolby Atmos for Apple Music. By default, Apple Music will automatically play Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip*, as well as the built-in speakers in the latest versions of the iPhone, iPad and Mac. Compatible devices, therefore, include the iPhone 12 family, AirPods 2 and Beats Powerbeats Pro. Playing from an Apple TV 4K into a Dolby Atmos device will work too.

What's more, Apple's Buddy Judge has now confirmed to us that Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos will also work with all headphones. If you're using non-Apple headphones you'll simply have to switch the new Dolby Atmos setting to 'Always On' rather than the default 'Automatic'.

At launch, there will be "thousands" of tracks available in Spatial Audio, and Apple says it will be adding new tracks "constantly". It will also put together a set of Atmos playlists so you can easily find something to listen to. Albums available in Dolby Atmos will sport a badge on the detail page to make them easy to spot.

Apple says it's working with artists and levels to produce more songs in Spatial Audio.

Now all we need is the heavily rumoured, suspiciously imminent AirPods 3 to drop this week...

*Compatible headphones: AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, BeatsX, Beats Solo3 Wireless, Beats Studio3, Powerbeats3 Wireless, Beats Flex, Powerbeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro.


With Apple and Amazon offering lossless streaming for no extra charge, what now for their rivals?

Try 30 Apple Music tips, tricks and features

Need new music? 10 Apple Music playlists to listen to right now

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  • bristollinnet
    Lots of unanswered questions this evening about which current Apple products will support the (ALAC?) hi-res 24/48 and 24/192 formats, and whether/when third-party hardware support might materialise.

    The first significant/serious HiFi manufacturer I can remember getting cosy with Apple was B&W with their Zeppelin, which for a time was sold in Apple stores. Their relative success then led onto a mini-craze of myriad similar speaker docks with Airplay. It will be interesting which (if any) HiFi companies get on board with Apple again or hold back for fear of getting their fingers burnt.

    Having hedged my bets this evening, my annual renewal to Qobuz is definitely at risk.
  • Niallivm
    I currently have an annual Qobuz sub and and an ongoing Apple Music Family sub. The former is up for renewal next month so I’ll postpone signing up again and just use Apple.