Apple Changes Its Mind, Says HomePod and HomePod Mini Will Support Lossless Audio With Software Update

Apple Changes Its Mind, Says HomePod and HomePod Mini Will Support Lossless Audio With Software Update
An Apple HomePod speaker. (Photo: Noah Berger/AFP, Getty Images)

Apple’s recent hifi audio streaming launch for Apple Music was received with enthusiasm, but also all sorts of confusion when it comes to lossless audio. Today, Apple tried to clear up user questions about lossless audio and also announced that the HomePod and HomePod mini would support the feature.

In a support page dedicated to lossless audio published on Saturday, Apple said that it would be providing support for lossless audio for the HomePod and HomePod mini in a future software update. This is a reversal of what Apple said earlier this week, when it told various outlets that the HomePod and HomePod mini would not support lossless audio. The company did not specify when the update would be rolled out to the devices.

At the moment, both HomePods can stream spatial audio with Dolby Atmos, Apple’s other announced hifi offering, according to the Verge. Spatial audio is more immersive than stereo or virtual surround mixes.

Meanwhile, lossless audio compression is a form of compression that preserves all the original data in the original source file, Apple explained, as most audio compression techniques lose some amount of data.

Apple has used its own lossless audio compression technology, called Apple Lossless Audio Codec, or ALAC, to support lossless audio at 16-bit/44.1 kHz, or CD-quality audio, and 24-bit/48 kHz on Apple devices. It is also offering a high-resolution lossless audio at 24-bit/192 kHz.

In addition, Apple sought to clear up the confusion around lossless audio after its announcement, which raised questions over which devices would actually support it. According to Apple, AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and Beats wireless headphones will not be able to support lossless audio because Bluetooth connections don’t support lossless audio. This means that lossless audio will play back normally on Bluetooth speakers and headphones.

Apple also said that the AirPods Max, its most expensive headphones, will not be able to support pure lossless audio even if they are connected to devices using the lightning to 3.5mm audio cable. The company told the Verge that when you play a 24-bit/48 kHz lossless track from an iPhone via the AirPods Max using the audio cable and lightning dongle, the audio converted to analogue and re-digitised to 24-bit/48 kHz. Because it is re-digitised, it is not an identical match to the original audio file.

This move has been criticised by some, which found it strange that the company’s best headphones would not be able to access the best quality offered by Apple Music. Nonetheless, Apple’s new spatial audio feature will work on all models of AirPods.

Finally, Apple noted that users would be able to use its 3.5 mm headphone jack adaptor to listen to lossless audio on their iPhones (if they’re not using the AirPods Max, that is). The company said that the adaptor has a digital-to-analogue converter that supports lossless audio at up to 24-bit/48 kHz.

As far as iTunes purchases go, Apple clarified that songs purchased on iTunes can’t be downloaded in lossless because the feature is only available for Apple Music subscribers. Broadcast radio, live radio, on-demand content from Apple Music 1, Apple Music Hits, Apple Music Country, and music videos will not be available in lossless audio formats.

Hifi streaming is free for Apple Music subscribers and will debut in June.