Today Apple announced that a new music service will be coming to the Apple ecosystem in June, one that provides a couple of new features. These features are Spatial Audio and Lossless encoding.
Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos
The way that recorded audio sounds is dependent on a number of factors. For most of the last century the primary factor has been the source of the audio. Typically, the more speakers, the better sound can be handled between all of the speakers and the more immersive and realistic it can sound. However, Apple developed a feature called "Spatial Audio". Spatial Audio can computationally change the audio coming out of an iOS device so that it seems more life-like.
According to Apple, "By default, Apple Music will automatically play Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, as well as the built-in speakers in the latest versions of iPhone, iPad, and Mac."
This means that if you have some modern Apple headphones, you will be able to take advantage of Spatial Audio, when it is available. In terms of availability, not all tracks in Apple Music will support Spatial Audio. Initially, "[t] housands of tracks will be available in Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos at launch, with more added regularly."
Apple has announced some of the artists that will have Spatial Audio. Some of the artists include:
- J Balvin
- Gustavo Dudamel
- Ariana Grande
- Maroon 5
- Kacey Musgraves
- The Weeknd
Apple will be curating a set of playlists that include tracks that support Spatial Audio so people can know which tracks will support the feature. Spatial Audio is not the only thing being added, there is also a new Hi-Resolution Lossless audio option coming.
Most music that you listen to is compressed. This means that not all of the fidelity of the audio is within the file. This is generally needed to preserve space, this was particularly true in the early days of the modern internet when bandwidth was limited to 56kbps, or in most cases, less. In order to be able to get your music, you would need to wait to download the song. At the time it could easily take 5 or 10 minutes to download a song. In order to make the downloads as quick as possible, compression was needed.
Imagine having to download a 100 megabyte file at 56 kilobits per second. It would easily take days to finish downloading the entire fire. For many, internet speeds have improved and we can now download 100 megabyte in a matter of moments, even while connected only to cellular data.
All audio needs a codec, and Apple will be using the Apple Lossless Audio Codec, or ALAC. Lossless audio will come to all 75 million songs on Apple Music. You will be able to specify the quality of music that is streamed, or downloaded, separately for Wi-Fi and Cellular. You will have a few options. These will be:
- CD Quality - 16 bit at 44.1 kHz (kilohertz)
- High Quality - 24 bit at 48 kHz
- Lossless - 24 bit at 192 kHz.
This will all be customizable within by going to Settings > Music > Audio Quality on your iOS devices. Per Apple's press release:
Due to the large file sizes and bandwidth needed for Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless Audio, subscribers will need to opt in to the experience. Hi-Res Lossless also requires external equipment, such as a USB digital-to-analog converter (DAC)."
The requirement for a digital-to-analog converter will mean that not everyone will be able to listen to the Hi-Res lossless audio, but for those who will invest in the equipment, it should be a good upgrade to their audio fidelity.
You might be curious as to the price for this service. It would not be unreasonable to expect an additional tier of music to be created. However, the price remains the same at $9.99 for an individual subscription, and $14.99 for a family subscription. This will also apply to those who have an Apple One subscription. So, if you subscribe to Apple Music today, you will get this new service for free.
The new higher quality Apple Music service, including both Spatial Audio and Lossless, will be released in June with iOS 14.6.
Overall, I think both of these will be a great addition. More people will be able to hear the Spatial Audio tracks as compared to the number of people who will be listening to the Hi-Res lossless tracks. The best part is that it is not going to cost any extra to get these features.