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A new Apple support doc explains what does, and doesn't get lossless Apple Music

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

What you need to know

  • Apple has published a new support document to explain what will get support for Apple Music's new lossless audio.
  • The document confirms what we'd suspected – AirPods Max are out of luck, even with the Lightning to 3.5 mm Audio Cable.

Apple has published a new support document (opens in new tab) that answers all the questions we had about what devices and accessories support Apple Music's new lossless format. And as suspected, AirPods Max owners are out of luck.

The document, which for some reason was made available days after lossless audio was announced, explains everything we'd wanted to know including which combination of headlines and cables will get lossless support.

As suspected, no Bluetooth earbuds or headphones will support lossless audio thanks to the lossy nature of the connection being used.

AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and Beats wireless headphones use Apple's AAC Bluetooth Codec to ensure excellent audio quality. Bluetooth connections don't support lossless audio.

Apple goes on to explain that users listening via traditional headphones and a Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphones Jack Adapter will also get the lossless experience, too.

The Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter is designed to transmit audio from the iPhone's Lightning connector. It contains a digital-to-analog converter that supports up to 24-bit/48 kHz lossless audio.

But the news isn't so good for AirPods Max owners because, again as suspected, that Lightning to 3.5 mm Audio Cable isn't up to the job. Sort of, at least. That's because Apple does make it sound like we'll get some benefit from the lossless files – but it won't be true lossless because of the audio conversion going on.

The Lightning to 3.5 mm Audio Cable was designed to allow AirPods Max to connect to analog sources for listening to movies and music. AirPods Max can be connected to devices playing Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless recordings with exceptional audio quality. However, given the analog to digital conversion in the cable, the playback will not be completely lossless.

Apple also confirmed that the only way to listen to lossless music is via Apple Music. Tracks bought via iTunes, broadcast via radio, and part of a video won't support the new format.

Still keen to bag a pair of AirPods Max? be sure to check out our AirPods Max deals before you do!

Oliver Haslam
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.

3 Comments
  • According to Apple, you can redownload music purchased on iTunes with lossless via the Apple Music Catalog. My question is what all can Music subscribers who use 3rd party headphones expect to get? Pretty sure won't get Spatial Audio. And it looks like they get lossless at the 48hz, using the lightning to 3.5 cable. But what about Dolby Atmos? Some articles say most headphones should get Dolby Atmos. There's a lot of Music subscribers who don't have any Apple listening devices at all. So, what's the scoop on all this?
  • I meant 48kHz.
  • It’s clear to me from the Apple Support document that no Apple headphones or earphones are needed to enjoy the Dolby Atmos experience. What you need
    You can listen to lossless on an iPhone or iPad updated to iOS or iPadOS 14.6 using:
    A wired connection to headphones, receivers, or powered speakers
    The built-in speakers
    To listen to songs at sample rates higher than 48 kHz, you need an external digital-to-analog converter. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT212183 That means I can connect a Schiit Modi to my iPhone and pipe the output to an amp and listen to Dolby Atmos.