Apple Music Adding Support for Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio in June at No Extra Cost to Subscribers

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Apple has today announced that Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio are coming to Apple Music subscribers beginning June 2021 at no additional cost.

Apple describes Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos as a “revolutionary, immersive audio experience that enables artists to mix music so the sound comes from all around and from above,” with the resulting listening experience sounding “like magic.”

At launch, Spatial Audio will be available on thousands of songs from some of the world’s biggest artists, including J Balvin, Gustavo Dudamel, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Kacey Musgraves, and The Weeknd.

Apple says that it “will be adding new Dolby Atmos tracks constantly and will be curating a special set of Dolby Atmos playlists to help listeners find the music they love.” In addition, albums that are available in Dolby Atmos will have a badge on the detail page for easy discovery.

Apple Music will also make its catalog available in Lossless Audio. 20 million songs will be available at launch, with Apple saying that its full 75 million catalog of songs will be available by the end of the year.

Apple uses ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), which the company says preserves “every single bit of the original audio file” and ensures that you hear “the exact same thing that the artists created in the studio.”

By default, Apple Music will automatically play Dolby Atmos tracks when listening on any AirPod and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip. You will also be able to hear Dolby Atmos music using the built‑in speakers on a compatible iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, or HomePod.

Because of its higher bandwidth usage, Lossless Audio will not be enabled by default:

To start listening to Lossless Audio, subscribers using the latest version of Apple Music can turn it on in Settings > Music > Audio Quality. Here, they can choose different resolutions for different connections such as cellular, Wi-Fi, or for download. Apple Music’s Lossless tier starts at CD quality, which is 16 bit at 44.1 kHz (kilohertz), and goes up to 24 bit at 48 kHz and is playable natively on Apple devices. For the true audiophile, Apple Music also offers Hi-Resolution Lossless all the way up to 24 bit at 192 kHz.

What Apple didn't make clear in its announcement, was which devices are needed to play Lossless Audio. They have, however, now confirmed to 9to5Mac that Lossless Audio will not be supported when using any bluetooth headphone. This means that if you use AirPods or AirPod Pro, you are out of luck. Apple also confirmed that “AirPods Max currently does not support digital audio formats in wired mode.”

The HomePod and HomePod mini are also on the list of Apple devices which won't support Lossless Audio.

Note that Hi-Res Lossless requires external equipment such as a USB digital to analog converter.

9to5Mac offers the following Simple guide to the hardware needed for each new Apple Music feature:

  • Lossless: a wired headphone (except for AirPods Max with Lightning/3.5mm cable).
  • Hi Res Lossless: a wired headphone connected to an external DAC.
  • Spatial Audio: any AirPods or Beats model with Apple’s W1 or H1 chip (Apple says that users can manually enable this option for other headphones). Spatial Audio will also be available on compatible Macs.

Apple hasn't said when in June the new features will become available, but has said that they will require iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, macOS 11.4, or tvOS 14.6.

Post a comment below to let us know your opinions and expectations for what the changes will mean for Apple Music and the listening experience.

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Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Monday, May 17, 2021

It's been so long since I've listened to CD quality on crappy headphones that I'm not sure what to expect. I've got the AirPods max and they already sound pretty amazing, I do wonder how much more fidelity I'll notice especially as the H1 chips are already doing some clever stuff to improve the sound.

Great that it's no more expensive too. I await with great interest.

Submitted by Blee Blat on Monday, May 17, 2021

I subscribe to Apple Music already, and I've just ordered a new hifi system, so I'll see what difference it makes. I didn't order anything compatible with dolby atmos because I don't care about spatial audio or other weird processing, just the music. But hopefully it'll sound really good through the stuff I just ordered. The only other option Canada has for CD quality streams seems to be tidal, and the last time I tried them, they had a very poor search engine. I think Apple can do better than that, though we'll see. It'd be better probably if you could get Apple music from your streamer directly, but so far as I know Blusound only supports airplay, so we'll see what we get. But someone's hifi service is in my future since the new rig will surely be more revealing, it's just a question of who gets the money. It'll depend on how easily Apple plays nice with my setup. I hope they have a good selection of classical and jazz at launch as that's what I've designed the system for, so I can really test it out.

Submitted by LaBoheme on Monday, May 17, 2021

listen to lady gaga on iphone speakers in lossless, and you find the sound quality becomes amazing, really? it doesn't cost extra, so there is nothing to complain. till one can download the lossless files and play them with proper equipment, there is zero benefit for the consumers.

Submitted by Bruce Harrell on Monday, May 17, 2021

I intend to airplay from my phone or iMac to my home theatre via airplay. May I assume airplay offers no limitation to fidelity or atmos/surround sound channel functionality? and yes, I have a 7.1.4 surround sound system on my home theatre set up. smile. I love it!

Submitted by Blee Blat on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

I believe that Airplay should be fine, but I'm not sure as I won't be able to test it until the streamer gets here. I'll have more info as soon as the hifi shop lets me know when the amp is here, then I'll run this through my setup. I hope airplay is enough, and that VoiceOver doesn't get accidentally routed through the music system. That's my project is figuring out how to get high quality sound over bluetooth. I believe I should be able to make it work though. Either way the main speakers and the streamer will go over ethernet, so no trouble there. I'll have more details in a few days when the shop tells me my order is in and I've had a chance to fiddle with it. I hope Apple does a good job as my only other CD quality alternative seems to be Tidal, and the one time I tried the free trial, their search function was absolutely useless.

Submitted by JC on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Hi, question: will this work for downloaded music as well? I'm not a subscriber to apple music, however, I have lots of music downloaded from the iTunes store, as well as the beats flex earphones with apple w1 chip.

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Hi,

Just to clarify, lossless won't work on any AirPods including the max, even when wired, which as an owner is disappointing. I'm hoping they'll enable digital connectivity over hard wire at some point, but considering they were the ones who killed the cable in the first place, I'm not holding my breath.

It's an irony that competing headphones that allow for a direct connection will actually be able to use lossless whilst apples own headphones can't. Pretty dumb I'd say.

Fingers crossed for airplay supporting Atmos. I know that it is limited to 1080 on the video front and 5.1 from an iOS device currently. If that changes in the future, who knows. Might be worth checking out how tidal handles it over airplay with their lossless.

Submitted by Cobbler on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

I am far less excited than I was having now read that Lossless Audio will only work with wired headphones.

As already mentioned above, isn't it Apple that's at the forefront of killing off all wired connections?

Now they go and add support for something that won't work with any of my flavours of AirPod or my HomePod minis.

Go figure.

Makes this news sound awfully like something intended to make for good headlines and make people think that they are getting something new and extra for free, but in practice only a small percentage of Apple Music subscribers will ever actually be able to take advantage of it.

Thanks for nothing as far as I am concerned.

And, yes, I know that it's mostly about the underlying technology here, and bluetooth simply isn't capable of whatever is necessary for processing Lossless Audio, but it still feels mighty like Apple has sole me a pup here.

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

I wish they'd included wifi on the AirPods max, this would have allowed direct connection to the device with big bandwidth. They have the technology to let you airplay to Apple TV and HomePod without being on the same network, so the same should apply here.

I'm really hoping they do some update in the future. The fact that it has two H1 chips which I think means two bluetooth chips, could maybe mean they could have a pair of connections instead. Still, mighty stupid and terribly disappointing.

Saying that, I'm looking forward to listening to it on my Sonos setup, still, I doubt I'll hear any difference that way. True hifi is always through headphones in my opinion.

Submitted by Bruce Harrell on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Headphones are superior in some ways, but the bass wave needs a lot of feet (30 or more) from source to ear to fully develop. For the audiophile, nothing can compare to high end speakers carefully placed inside a large, acoustically treated studio. Shrug. Smile. My opinion.

Submitted by Ekaj on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

I'm hopeful that I can someday take advantage of this and that it is expanded. Something's currently wrong with my hard drive, but I hope to get that fixed. This seems like it will be neat.

Submitted by Macky on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

As I'm not an apple music subscriber, it would be great if itunes match is supported for access to the atmos content then I could play it through my apple tv on my Sonos Arc and surrounds. Here's hoping...

Submitted by Jo Billard on Wednesday, May 19, 2021

I unsubscribed from Apple Music last month, but it looks like they want me to try again. I think I'll give it another shot. I have the wired headphones and the sound sucks when it comes to music. Now if only I could figure out navigating the app!