AirPods Max won't support Apple Music's lossless audio over the Lightning cable either [Update]

Airpods Max Side
Airpods Max Side (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

What you need to know

  • AirPods Max will not support Apple Music lossless audio over Lightning.
  • It is still unclear if you can use an analog to digital converter.

Update, May 17 (7:40 pm ET): Apple Music lossless will KIND of work with AirPods Max over Bluetooth.

It's sounding like AirPods Max, in any state, will not support the upcoming lossless audio feature on Apple Music.

Earlier today, Apple announced that it was bringing lossless audio as well as spatial audio with Dolby Atmos support to Apple Music.

At that time it was also revealed that AirPods Max would not support lossless audio over Bluetooth due to its limitations and the fact that the headphones do not support Apple's new ALAC audio format. At the time, we hoped that perhaps AirPods Max would at least support lossless if you plugged in the Lightning to 3.5mm cable.

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. And another adapter at the other end, too!

Unfortunately, it sounds like even THAT won't be an option. According to a new report from MacRumors, the Lightning port on AirPods Max are limited to analog output sources and does not support digital audio formats which Apple's new ALAC format is. The company has not, however, confirmed if a digital to analog convertor could work.

Earlier today, we confirmed that AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max will not support lossless audio over Bluetooth because of Bluetooth limitations, and it turns out there's no direct wired lossless option for the AirPods Max either.Apple's AirPods Max headphones are equipped with a Lightning port, but it is limited to analog output sources and will not natively support digital audio formats in wired mode. Apple has not yet said whether the AirPods Max support lossless audio over Lightning with a digital to analog converter.

Thankfully, AirPods Max will support spatial audio and Dolby Atmos when the new features roll out to Apple Music in June.

Update, May 17 (7:40 pm ET) — Apple Music lossless will KIND of work with AirPods Max over a wired connection.

While Apple Music lossless audio in its "full" quality will not work with AirPods Max, Apple has clarified that it will KIND OF work with the headphones at a lesser quality of lossless, specifically 24-bit / 48 kHz. According to The Verge, the audio goes through a conversion process between analog and digital that is the reason Apple can't say it is true lossless audio.

So the natural question becomes... well, what are you hearing in that scenario? Apple tells The Verge that when you play a 24-bit / 48 kHz Apple Music lossless track from an iPhone into the AirPods Max using both the cable and Lightning dongle, the audio is converted to analog and then re-digitized to 24-bit / 48 kHz. That re-digitization step is the reason that Apple can't say you're hearing pure lossless audio; it's not an identical match to the source.

However, it is still an upgrade from the current quality you get with the service and a thankful note to know that AirPods Max isn't left completely out in the cold with the new feature.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.