AirPods Max and AirPods Pro don't support Apple Music Lossless, Apple confirms

Apple Music is getting higher-quality streaming tiers, but Apple's best headphones can't make full use of them

Apple AirPods Max Apple Music
(Image credit: Future)

Apple has announced that it's adding 'Lossless' and 'Hi-Resolution Lossless' streaming options to Apple Music in June 2021 for no extra charge, as well as offering Dolby Atmos 'Spatial Audio' 3D music, too.

In Apple's new terminology, 'Lossless' is CD quality, from 16-bit 44.1kHz playback up to 24-bit 48kHz, while 'Hi-Res Lossless' delivers up to 24-bit 192kHz. Don't worry if you don't know what that means – it means music comes in larger files with much less compression, meaning more realistic results, provided you've got good enough equipment to actually hear the difference.

Apple has confirmed to T3 that this equipment, sadly, does not include AirPods Pro or AirPods Max. Both of Apple's elite headphone models only use the Bluetooth AAC codec when connected to an iPhone, which means they can't receive the full quality of the Apple Music 'Lossless' files, which will be encoded as ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) files.

What both of these devices will be able to receive is the new Dolby Atmos 'Spatial Audio' versions of songs, which will add more of a surrounding 3D effect in tracks. These aren't the only headphones that support this feature – anything powered by Apple's H1 or W1 wireless chips will, and that includes (deep breath): AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, BeatsX, Beats Solo3 Wireless, Beats Studio3, Powerbeats3 Wireless, Beats Flex, Powerbeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro.

We had hoped that Apple could enable some kind of Bluetooth secret sauce to allow for higher-quality audio over Bluetooth to its top-tier headphones, since the iPhone 12 and AirPods Max all support Bluetooth 5.0, which is theoretically capable of CD-quality audio transmission. But alas, it proved to be wishful thinking. And we presume the forthcoming AirPods 3 will be the same story.

It raises questions over what the best options for listening to the higher-quality music will be – Apple has already noted that listening to the 'Hi-Res Lossless' tracks will definitely require wired hardware such as an external DAC, but with no aptX Bluetooth support on iPhone, that means some kind of wired headphones and likely a dongle for 'Lossless' listening listening from an iPhone too.

Apple has also confirmed support on Apple TV and HomePod, which may make it easier to hear the high-quality tracks. And if you have a Mac plugged into great speakers, that'll be an easy source, potentially.

But these days, our phones tend to be the centre of our music listening lives, so we'll dig in to find out what the best solutions for listening are. We'll hopefully have more information from Apple as we get closer to launch, too.

Matthew Bolton

Matt is T3's former AV and Smart Home Editor (UK), master of all things audiovisual, overseeing our TV, speakers and headphones coverage. He also covered smart home products and large appliances, as well as our toys and games articles. He's can explain both what Dolby Vision IQ is and why the Lego you're building doesn't fit together the way the instructions say, so is truly invaluable. Matt has worked for tech publications for over 10 years, in print and online, including running T3's print magazine and launching its most recent redesign. He's also contributed to a huge number of tech and gaming titles over the years. Say hello if you see him roaming the halls at CES, IFA or Toy Fair. Matt now works for our sister title TechRadar.