None of Apple’s AirPods or HomePods support lossless audio

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Yesterday Apple Music announced that it will enable lossless audio streaming for all of its subscribers at no extra cost starting in June. But as it turns out, Apple doesn’t actually sell headphones or speakers that can play that lossless audio.

First off, Apple’s wireless headphones only support the lossy AAC codec (which is also used by Apple Music), so the AirPods and AirPods Pro are out. The AirPods Max do have the option of plugging in with a cable using a 3.5mm adapter, but that doesn’t work either.

As the company explains, this introduces an analog step, which is followed by digitizing the signal again and that is technically not lossless. The Apple HomePod and HomePod mini can’t play lossless audio either.

None of Apple's AirPods or HomePods support lossless audio

Apple Music will use the ALAC lossless format to deliver the new high quality content. That starts at 16-bit 44.1 kHz, aka CD quality. Bluetooth needs specially-designed codecs to handle this reliably. The Hi Res Lossless format bumps that up to 24-bit 48-192 kHz, forget about wireless, you will need a wired external DAC for this one.

Android makers have access to Sony’s LDAC, which has lossy and lossless modes with a peak bandwidth of 990 Kbps (or less if the Bluetooth connection is spotty), which can transfer 96/48 kHz audio.

But Apple has no wireless codec that can handle lossless transmission yet. That may or may not change with the nearing launch of the AirPods 3.

The other new format that is coming to Music, the spatial audio of Dolby Atmos, can be enjoyed on headphones using the Apple H1 and W1 chips, which includes the AirPods as well as several wireless Beats headphones, so there will be no issues with it.

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