Apple Music is getting lossless audio and Dolby Atmos – here’s how it’ll work

Apple made a pretty big announcement today with the unveiling of lossless audio quality support arriving for Apple Music subscribers this June. What’s more, both Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos support will also be arriving for thousands of tracks.

All of these features will arrive for Apple Music customers at no additional cost. That means whatever monthly fee you pay for Apple Music will still give you access to higher-quality streaming options, something competitors like Amazon Music and Tidal have historically charged extra for.

But there’s a lot of questions surrounding what quality options are available on which devices. A lot of people are curious as to what headphones are support, what speakers work, and how they can enable these new features as soon as possible. I’ve done my best to break down each feature below so you can take full advantage of them when they roll out next month.

Lossless audio

Off the bat, the most rumored and spoken-about feature heading to Apple Music is lossless hi-fi audio support. According to Apple, over 20 million lossless tracks will be ready by launch, and the company expects over 75 million will be available by the end of the year.

To enable lossless audio, you’ll need to be running iOS 14.6. (Currently, the beta version of the update doesn’t support the feature). You’ll then go to Settings > Music > Audio Quality and opt in to lossless quality. You’ll have three different quality options: CD quality at 16-bit/44.1kHz, 24 bit/48kHz, and hi-fi 24-bit/192kHz.

The middle option will play natively on Apple devices, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a bit higher definition out of your music if that’s all you want. However, the latter option dubbed “Hi-Resolution Lossless” will require an external DAC. I imagine the DACs built into most LG phones will work, so long as you own one.

Lossless audio will, by far, be the most accessible at launch since so many tracks will be available. However, it will be the most limited in terms of adoption since you need custom hardware to get the most out of it.

Notably, Apple’s own HomePod won’t support lossless audio.

Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos

The other two new features were a bit of a surprise from Apple, but they’re definitely more interesting.

Spatial Audio is powered by Dolby Atmos and provides a more immersive experience for songs. It works nearly identically to how Spatial Audio functions on the most recent line of AirPods headphones. You’ll be able to hear sounds from all around you as if you’re in a room filled with surround-sound speakers.

For the feature to work automatically, you’ll need to own a pair of AirPods or Beats with an H1 or W1 chip in them. Here’s a list of those devices.

  • AirPods
  • AirPods Pro
  • AirPods Max
  • Beats Solo Pro
  • Beats Solo3 Wireless
  • Beats Studio3
  • BeatsX
  • Powerbeats3 Wireless
  • Beats Flex
  • Powerbeats Pro

Spatial Audio will also automatically play on the speakers on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, and HomePod. Apple TV users will also be able to take advantage of the feature so long as you pair headphones or have a compatible TV or audiovisual receiver.

For everyone else, you’ll need to enable Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos manually through Settings > Music > Audio. It should sound identical to the experience you’d get on Apple devices.

As far as song availability, Apple says “thousands” of songs will be available at launch with Dolby Atmos support. The company will highlight those tracks in playlists and sections of Apple Music to make them easier to discover. In addition, a badge will be shown on album listings to make it easy to identify which songs offer the enhanced experience.

It’s interesting that Apple won’t be charging extra for lossless and Spatial Audio. They definitely have a serious leg up on Tidal in this case. Of course, Spotify is getting ready to introduce hi-fi audio as well, so the audio streaming wars will be pretty heated over the next year or two, as they have been for the past 5+ years.