Apple Music formally introduces Spatial Audio

On day one of WWDC, Apple previewed a series of products and services as well as announced some changes to Apple Music.

The first was the formal launch of Apple Spatial Music, which is a new encoding that allows for an immersive 3D music listening experience. Select albums are now available can be enjoyed using AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max and Beats headphones containing either the H1 or W1 chip. Maroon 5, Kacey Musgraves, and Ariana Grande are all part of this launch using Dolby ATMOS technology to power everything.

For me, the more important announcement had to do with Apple’s promise to bring lossless music files to Apple Music. This means music files that have been compressed without stripping away any information. This is unlike MP3s, which makes digital files smaller by removing up to 90% of the information the ear cannot hear. But the brain can’t be fooled, which is why MP3s can sound bad.

In Apple’s case, “lossless” comes in different flavors. There’s basic lossless, which refers to audio sampled at up to 48 kHz, which is roughly equal to CD quality. Then there’s “Hi-Res Lossless,” which involves audio sampled from 48 kHz all the way to 192 kHz. The clarity of that kind of audio is stunning.

A couple of caveats, though. First, lossless requires far more bandwidth than a wireless Bluetooth connection can handle. This means Apple’s lossless codec won’t work with any of the company’s earbuds. You’ll need a wired connection to a good set of headphones to experience anything resembling the codec’s potential.

Second, lossless files take up a lot more space than Apple’s standard AAC files. Based on calculations by 9to5Mac, 10 gigs of storage can hold about 3,000 songs encoded in AAC (which tend to be slightly larger than standard MP3.) If we move to Lossless, that falls to about 1,000 songs per 10 GB. And then if you step up to Hi-Resolution Lossless, you’ll be able to fit 200 songs on that 10 GB drive.

Things chance with data, too. If you’re downloading Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless, you’ll need to tap into your data plan more.

There are 20 million songs with Lossless available now on Apple Music. By the end of the year, that number will increase to 75 million.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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