Rumors had it that Apple would soon launch hifi audio streaming for Apple Music—and they were true. Today, Apple announced it’s bringing both spatial audio with Dolby Atmos and lossless audio to its music streaming service in June.
Apple adding this to Apple Music isn’t exactly surprising. Apple’s been leaning into spatial audio for a while now, with both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max supporting the format. For the uninitiated, Dolby Atmos is a format that allows creatives to mix music in a more immersive way. It’s sort of like creating a sound bubble around you. The nice thing is that so long as you have Apple headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, you’re good to go. So long as a track is recorded in Atmos, and you have the hardware to support spatial audio, Apple Music will automatically play the highest-level quality. This goes for the built-in speakers on the latest iPhones, iPad, and Macs as well.
The auto-switching sounds a lot like what Apple already does for the Apple TV. As in, if you plug a Dolby Atmos-compatible soundbar, the streaming box will autoplay in Atmos wherever possible. That doesn’t mean every track you listen to will have spatial audio at launch, however. Apple doesn’t specify the exact amount, but it says “thousands of tracks” will be available, with “more added regularly.” Albums that do support Dolby Atmos will have a badge on the detail page.
Meanwhile, Apple’s hifi streaming will feature 16-bit at 44.1 kHz, or standard CD-quality audio. That can also go up to 24 bit at 48 kHz on Apple devices. It’s also offering hi-resolution lossless audio that maxes out at 24 bit at 192 kHz. Interestingly, Apple is also using ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), which it made open source back in 2011. Once it launches, you can enable it by going to Settings > Music > Audio Quality. It’s not exactly clear when in June spatial audio and lossless audio will arrive, but Apple Music subscribers can currently see a trailer teasing the feature in the Browse section.
The big thing here is that all this is coming at no additional cost for Apple Music subscribers. Previously, it was speculated that hifi streaming would be a feature of an additional subscription tier costing an extra $9.99. This is major as other services definitely tack on an extra charge for lossless audio, including Spotify’s upcoming hifi tier. Most other hifi streaming services—Qobuz, Deezer, Amazon Music HD—also cost more and have spottier catalogs, with the majority priced at $15 a month and Tidal Masters costing $20 per month. (Though, Amazon announced this morning that Amazon Music HD will now be available to Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers at no extra cost at $7.99 for Prime members, and $9.99 for everyone else. Coincidence? Methinks not.)
Hifi music streaming is having a moment. Previously it was one of the main reasons you’d opt for Tidal, which offers 16-bit audio on its cheapest tier and 24-bit at 192 kHz for its more premium tier. There are now several other niche services, while other well-known brands in this space are also beefing up their hifi audio options. As mentioned earlier, Spotify Hifi is coming later this year—though concrete details like pricing and quality remain a mystery. Sonos also recently debuted a paid hifi streaming tier for its Sonos Radio service, on top of adding support for Qobuz users on its platform.
Apple Music’s version is intriguing as it once again reinforces its ecosystem of products. If you already have compatible AirPods, this might entice you to make the switch to Apple Music if you haven’t already—as it’ll be one of the cheapest services to offer hifi music streaming at $9.99 per month for an individual plan. That in turn might get you to try and get hooked on Apple’s other services, making the Apple One bundle a hell of a lot more attractive. It’s as evil as it is genius.
Update, 5/17/2021, 11:15 a.m.: Added Amazon’s announcement giving hifi audio to Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers at no extra cost.
Update, 5/17/2021, 11:37 a.m.: Clarified that ALAC has been open-source since 2011.