Apple Music Classical’s best feature is lost on Apple’s headphones
Apple Music Classical is here, but if you want to hear it in the maximum quality the recording will allow, you can’t use Apple’s headphones wirelessly. Here’s why.
Apple Classical, a new branch of Apple Music, launched late Monday in a separate iPhone app. The service was created to offer classical music lovers a different, richer experience than listening to classical and similar styles of music on the regular Apple Music app.
The service has a new search engine specifically for finding specific classical performances, with additional search criteria — like “by conductor” — not found on regular Apple Music. There is no additional cost for existing Apple Music subscribers.
In addition to the music itself, Apple offers Classical Album walkthroughs through a feature called Track to Track. Another bonus feature is commentary between tracks when requested by experts, called “The Story of Classical” to help new listeners learn more about classical music in general.
Apple Classical also supports spatial audio and Dolby Atmos, as well as Apple Music’s existing high bitrate options and Apple’s own lossless technology known as ALAC – Apple Lossless Audio Codec. High-bitrate streaming audio, sometimes called “high definition” or “hi-rez,” ranges from 16-bit/44.1kHz – CD quality – to 24-bit/192kHz.
The problem with Bluetooth
However, listeners using one of Apple’s Bluetooth headphones can currently only hear the music in the high-quality, but compressed, lossy Advanced Audio codec — also known as AAC, which falls below CD quality when transmitted to wireless headphones. Barring a surprise future announcement from Apple of support for a codec that delivers lossless sound over Bluetooth, or actually doing something with Bluetooth 5.3 on newer devices, the Apple Classical is best heard through wired headphones.
The problem here lies directly with the Bluetooth audio codecs. Qualcomm recently released a so-called “Lossless over Bluetooth” audio codec called AptX Adaptive. While it’s possible to enable it on Macs, you can’t use it on any of Apple’s mobile devices.
AptX Adaptive is part of a bewildering array of similar codecs that promise lossless audio support to a point, and a handful of headphone manufacturers now support it. However, reviews of AptX Adaptive were inconclusive – most reviewers reported minor improvements over assisted communications at best.
All generations of AirPods, AirPods Pro and even AirPods Max use Bluetooth when listening wirelessly along with Beats wireless headphones. That means they can’t give you truly lossless audio.
AirPods Pro are great, but not for lossless listening.
According to Apple
AirPods max may Reproduce lossless audio when using them in wired mode, but only with the $9 Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter, but not with the $35 Lightning to 3.5mm audio cable. This is due to the quality of the analogue to digital converter in the latter cable.
We should note before proceeding that tests have shown that only a small percentage of people – mostly young people – can actually tell the difference between high bitrate AAC encoding and the same audio in lossless form. Almost all adults experience some degree of hearing loss before the age of 30, and it’s all downhill from there.
Here’s how to listen to lossless music on Apple Music or Apple Classical
While AAC is optimized enough that you’ll hardly notice a difference, it’s still not quite the same as truly high-bitrate lossless audio. Those with exceptionally sharp hearing and expensive, high-quality “audiophile” speakers — or high-end wired headphones — can tell the difference more reliably.
Since Apple Music’s entire catalog is lossless, it can be listened to by almost anyone without compression wired Headphones, including Apple’s wired earbuds. You should note that Apple uses two different terms for lossless music: “Lossless” meaning up to 24-bit/48kHz, and “Hi-Res Lossless” meaning up to 24-bit/192kHz.
Lossless lovers should also be aware that streaming lossless or high-bitrate music over a data connection is draining much more cellular data or Wi-Fi bandwidth than compressed audio files like MP3 and M4A files, which is why AAC is used by default for Apple Music. If that’s not a problem, you can enable Apple Music lossless delivery in Music app.
To do this on an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings -> Music, tap Audio Quality and enable Lossless Audio. You can use the built-in speakers, powered speakers or receivers, or the built-in speakers – up to 48kHz.
If you want to listen to Hi-Res Lossless music on an iPhone or iPad, you need an external analog-to-digital converter. You can also AirPlay lossless music from Apple Music to your HomePod or HomePod mini by tapping the Home button -> your name -> Apple Music and then turning on Lossless Audio.
For Macs, you need a wired connection to headphones, receivers, built-in speakers, or wired powered speakers. The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro support native playback at sample rates up to 96kHz, but other Macs require a digital-to-analog converter for anything above 48kHz.
Likewise, the Apple TV 4K only supports lossless audio up to 24-bit/48kHz. You can ensure this is enabled by going to Settings -> Apps, selecting Music, choosing Audio Quality and enabling lossless.
If you listen to Apple Music on an Android device, you can enable Lossless in the app by tapping the three-dot More -> Settings -> Audio Quality button. Again, you may need an analog-to-digital converter for more than 24-bit/48kHz.