You’ve probably heard the rumor, but in case you haven’t, here’s the meat of it. Apple Music might soon receive a “lossless” tier, where it will offer higher-quality audio as part of the streaming service.
Apple currently streams music at a bitrate of 256kbps, which is lower than Spotify’s 320kbps, but Apple is using its own AAC audio codec where it is able to deliver higher quality audio at a lower bitrate.
256kbps currently in use is more than enough for most people, and, by most, I mean figures above 90 percent. So why exactly shouldn’t you care about Apple Music going lossless?
The weakest link
Just like many other things in life, your audio experience will be as good as the weakest component of your entire audio system.
For many (and we can easily say the majority), it’s the headphones. If you’re using earbuds of any sort, they are limited by their frequency response, which is a physical limitation due to the miniature size.
You fall in this category if you use the bundled earbuds, or even if you go higher-end, like the AirPods Pro or FreeBuds Pro.
Even the AirPods Max won’t be able to benefit from a lossless format, as it, too, has its limitation, and, as a rule of thumb, anything connected via Bluetooth will likely bottleneck the experience.
Now, let’s talk about those who did invest in a pair of high-quality earphones. Due to their large size, they can accommodate larger drivers, hence their frequency response range could go much lower, and much higher. You could see some improvements if you’re in this category, but, to the untrained ear, it will likely go unnoticed.
The final weak link is your ear. Human ears, depending on age, can typically pick up sounds in the range of 20Hz to 20kHz. And, while this frequency range is normally enough for a great listening experience, it comes down to “knowing” what to listen to in order to actually perceive the difference.
Who will benefit in the end?
Let’s talk about those who might benefit from a lossless streaming experience. I believe that hooking up your Apple Music to your headphone amp and listening to the pre-amped output, with a pair of planar magnetics or other high-end pair of headphones is the only way to really tell the difference. I still use the OPPO PM-1 hooked up to its own headphone amp.
Going from Apple’s current 256kbps (or Spotify’s 320kbps) to lossless is a much smaller difference than going from 128kbps to 320kbps, to make the analogy.
If you’ve followed my logic you will likely agree that you are not part of the “elite” audiophile. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do love my music to sound great, and generally, I tend to buy audio gear that’s in the higher-end, but that doesn’t make me an audiophile or an audio fanatic. I myself, count myself out, and I personally couldn’t care less about going lossless. I’m more than satisfied with the current streaming quality on Apple Music.
The price factor
…and then, the elephant in the room: the price. Though rumor has it that Apple won’t charge an extra for the elevated audio experience, we’re talking Apple here, and when the company can make a buck, make no mistake, it will make everything in its power to cash in that extra buck.
If lossless comes at no cost, there’s one solid reason to not care, because, simply put, you’re not losing anything. But, depending on your setup, you won’t gain anything either.
However, if there will be a premium tax on the new quality stream, that’s where you (yes, you in the majority I described above) shouldn’t care about it, as it will be a buck not well spent. Don’t believe me? Sign up for the trial (here’s hoping there will be one so that anyone can decide for themselves).