AirPods Max don't support Apple Music's lossless songs, Apple says

Apple Music Lyrics Airpods Max
Apple Music Lyrics Airpods Max (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan)

What you need to know

  • Apple Music announced lossless music earlier today.
  • The company told T3 that even AirPods Max won't support lossless audio.
  • There will still be a big jump using a cable, but it won't technically be "lossless".

Earlier today we saw Apple Music announce lossless audio at the same $9.99 price point of the existing tier. That was great news, and while we didn't expect AirPods Max to be able to play the high-res lossless tracks also offered, we did hope the standard lossless would work. Apple says that isn't the case.

According to a T3 report, Apple has confirmed that even the impressive $549 AirPods Max can't play back any of the lossless loveliness that was announced today. Let alone the in-ear AirPods Pro. And it's all down to codecs.

Apple has confirmed to T3 that this equipment, sadly, does not include AirPods Pro or AirPods Max. Both of Apple's elite headphone models only use the Bluetooth AAC codec when connected to an iPhone, which means they can't receive the full quality of the Apple Music 'Lossless' files, which will be encoded as ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) files.

That's something that I'd seen fluttering across Twitter earlier today but I had hoped that there was some special Apple Bluetooth magic going on somewhere, especially since the required iOS 14.6 isn't yet here. With WWDC around the corner, I'd hoped we could see something announced there, too. Unless Apple is just keeping its cards very close to its chest, that just isn't going to happen.

Apple had already pointed out that the high-res lossless audio would require special USB hardware to work, but it doesn't mention any special requirements for the standard lossless quality.

You can listen to lossless audio using the latest Apple Music app on an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. Turn on lossless audio in Settings > Music > Audio Quality. You can choose between Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless for cellular or Wi-Fi connections. Note that Hi-Res Lossless requires external equipment such as a USB digital to analog converter.

Maybe we'll all need that Lightning to 3.5mm cable after all. In an update, Apple has confirmed to The Verge that users will still get a big audio upgrade on AirPods Max when using a cable, but it won't technically be fully-fledged lossless audio. Here are the best headphone jack adapters you can buy.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.