Apple is upgrading the entire Apple Music library to higher quality lossless audio, and many songs will soon support surround sound with Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio, all at no additional cost.
According to 9to5Mac, these upgrades will come to Apple Music in June 2021, with iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, macOS 11.4, and tvOS 14.6. 20 million songs will be available in lossless at first, with the entire library using the Apple Lossless Audio Codec by the end of the year. Apple didn’t give specifics on how many songs will be remixed to support Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio, but Apple Music will offer Dolby Atmos playlists so you can easily find surround-sound content.
Apple Music will automatically play Dolby Atmos audio on all AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, and built-in speakers in the latest iPhones, iPads, and Macs—at least the MacBook Pro, since Apple doesn’t say anything about other models. While Apple also failed to mention the HomePod in the announcement, the Apple Music page explicitly calls out support for the HomePod and the Apple TV 4K with compatible speakers. Absent from the list is the HomePod mini. Dolby Atmos will work with third-party headphones and speakers as well, but you’ll have to enable it manually.
Sadly, the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max won’t support lossless audio (even over the Lightning cable for the AirPods Max), despite being able to handle Dolby Atmos and spatial audio. Also, lossless tracks will be exclusive to Apple Music and won’t be available to purchase in the iTunes Store. Nor will they be available to iTunes Match subscribers.
Apple says that Apple Music lossless audio starts at “CD quality” 16 bit at 44.1 kHz and tops out at 24 bit at 192 kHz. To take advantage of the highest quality setting, you’ll need a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The higher the quality, the more bandwidth will be required to stream and store the music, so you can have different settings for cellular, Wi-Fi, and downloaded music.
Competing services are already feeling the heat. Amazon has announced that lossless streaming is now a free upgrade on Amazon Music. The service probably the most threatened is Tidal, which has made audio quality its distinguishing feature. Tidal has rolled out Tidal Masters, which boasts super-duper-ultra-high-quality audio, but is it enough better to keep subscribers from Apple Music?