How Apple Music Lossless Audio Will Work With AirPods

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Apple did one thing decidedly un-Applish this week. Simply because it launched lossless audio variations of each single monitor in its 75-million-plus-song Apple Music library, it additionally acknowledged that none of its wi-fi headphones — together with the insanely costly $550 AirPods Max — are presently appropriate with these lossless variations. That’s a reasonably surprising admission from an organization that usually introduces new merchandise and options with the tagline: “It simply works.”

Proper now, lossless audio works with simply two wi-fi requirements, and Apple’s headphones don’t provide both of them. Is there a way to Apple’s seeming insanity? Prolific Apple leaker Jon Prosser believes that we’re merely in a fastidiously deliberate resting interval between Apple bulletins and that we’ll simply have to attend for the opposite shoe to drop.

However what’s that plan, and when will we discover out what that plan entails? How does Apple intend to get round a thorny (and deeply technical) barrier imposed by its selection of wi-fi audio applied sciences?

I believe the solutions lie in a significant makeover of Apple’s trusty AirPlay know-how to work over Bluetooth, and I believe it’s coming June 7 at Apple’s Worldwide Builders Convention (WWDC) 2021. We’ll seemingly discover out all the main points then, however right here’s the way it may work, why Apple wouldn’t simply take the straightforward highway, and what Apple followers would stand to realize from this leap ahead in wi-fi audio constancy.

How will Apple do lossless audio wirelessly?

In the case of streaming media wirelessly between units, there are two main applied sciences: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Bluetooth has been the popular selection for sending audio to wi-fi headphones as a result of, regardless of the slim measurement of its “pipe,” it makes use of much less power, which helps with battery life.

Wi-Fi, with its a lot wider pipe, has been most popular for sending video and high-quality audio, however solely when the receiving machine has a secure supply of energy, like a wall plug, due to Wi-Fi’s increased power calls for.

Wi-Fi would look like the logical selection for sending lossless audio. It’s already getting used to do that in properties — wi-fi audio system from Sonos, Denon, and Apple all use Wi-Fi. However in relation to wi-fi headphones, none use Wi-Fi.

So it’s again to Bluetooth. Are you able to match lossless audio by way of Bluetooth’s comparatively slim pipe? Firms like Qualcomm and Sony have created high-quality audio codecs like aptX HD and LDAC which purpose to do exactly that — and have largely succeeded. LDAC’s efficiency is nice sufficient that the Japan Audio Society, which oversees the “Hello-Res Audio” designation, considers it certainly one of two codecs that meet its commonplace for sound high quality.

However each aptX HD and LDAC are proprietary applied sciences that should be licensed if you wish to embody them in your merchandise. Traditionally, Apple has confirmed immune to licensing any know-how that it thinks it could keep away from. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously expressed disdain on the notion of Macs sporting HDMI ports for precisely this motive (Apple finally added HDMI to its machines).

If the one Bluetooth codecs which have a confirmed monitor document of supporting high-quality audio should be licensed, and if Apple refuses to license them, that leaves just one possibility.

AirPlay over Bluetooth

Apple already owns a really spectacular wi-fi media platform that it has been creating for years referred to as AirPlay, which creates seamless wi-fi hyperlinks between Apple units (like an iPhone and an Apple TV) for the transmission of each audio and video.

There are a whole lot of wi-fi audio system, streaming media units, and sensible TVs which are appropriate with AirPlay.

AirPlay can ship lossless audio at as much as 24-bit/48kHz, which is Apple Music’s center tier for lossless music. AirPlay sends this audio utilizing Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC), which is the format that Apple Music will use for its lossless music tracks.

However AirPlay makes use of Wi-Fi as its wi-fi networking supply system, not Bluetooth.

So what are we to make of Prosser’s assertion that, “with a easy replace at any time,” Apple’s wi-fi headphones could be made to work with AirPlay? The W1 and H1 chips in Apple and Beats wi-fi headphones are highly effective Bluetooth units, however they don’t do Wi-Fi.

My guess is that at WWDC 2021, Apple will announce an extension to its AirPlay know-how that lets it run over Bluetooth to ship lossless audio in as much as 24-bit/48kHz.

Such a transfer could be in step with Apple’s strategy to wi-fi media supply and its want to raise its personal merchandise over the competitors in a method that isn’t seen as anticompetitive.

AirPlay, from a transmission standpoint, is an Apple unique. Solely Apple units are capable of transmit AirPlay. The receiving aspect of the AirPlay equation is open to any third get together that needs to license the know-how and, as we’ve seen, loads of firms have already availed themselves of this chance.

AirPlay over Bluetooth would proceed this. Any third-party producer may construct “Made for AirPlay” Bluetooth headphones or audio system, and they might be assured to work with lossless audio from Apple Music. However not simply Apple Music. AirPlay over Bluetooth, identical to AirPlay over Wi-Fi, will work with any media app that chooses to assist it.

May it work?

It’s affordable to be skeptical in regards to the notion of a Wi-Fi-based know-how being efficiently tailored for Bluetooth, however AirPlay has a bonus that different Bluetooth codecs don’t: When streaming media is shipped over AirPlay, all the computational heavy lifting is finished on the sending machine’s aspect.

By the point it reaches the receiving machine, there’s no work left to be performed however play the audio. In concept, this might really scale back the quantity of energy wanted by the wi-fi headphones or speaker.

What about Android?

If AirPlay can solely be used to ship media wirelessly from Apple units, what about Apple Music subscribers who use Android?

If their chosen cellphone helps one of many different high-quality Bluetooth codecs like aptX HD or LDAC, they’re free to purchase a set of appropriate wi-fi headphones. The standard will seemingly be glorious and Apple gained’t need to pay a cent in licensing charges for Android clients to take pleasure in it.

Whether or not Apple finally ends up pursuing AirPlay over Bluetooth, or one thing else, we gained’t have lengthy to attend — WWDC 2021 is sort of right here and it’ll seemingly give us the solutions.

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