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Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been hearing a few rumours of Apple’s plans to launch a new “HiFi” tier for its Apple Music service, and now it looks like it’s official — and even better than we hoped it would be.
From the very first rumours, music industry sources were pretty emphatic that the new so-called “high-fidelity audio streaming tier” would be offered at the same $9.99 per-user price as its standard plan. In other words, it was hard to see how the was really a new “tier” so much as a wholesale upgrade of Apple Music across the board.
That said, since these same sources suggested that the new high-fidelity streaming would coincide with the launch of the third-generation AirPods, the idea that this would somehow be a different level of service led to some speculation that Apple might only offer on specific audio devices, like its AirPods.
The rumours were also backed up by code found in iOS 14.6 by MacRumors’ Steve Moser, which found Apple laying all the necessary foundations for the new service. Over the weekend, this became even more apparent as 9to5Google discovered similar changes in an update to the Android version of the Apple Music app.
Apple then tipped its hand more directly with a brief teaser video in the Apple Music app’s Browse section with the tagline: “Get ready — music is about to change forever.”
At that point, it was all but guaranteed that we’d see an announcement right around the corner, and while a dubious rumour last week had pegged May 18 as the date for its release, it seems Apple came through with the news a day sooner.
Apple Music: The Next Generation
According to Apple’s official announcement, the service is not a new tier of Apple Music at all, but rather a direct enhancement of the service for ALL Apple Music users.
Apple describes it as “the next generation of sound on Apple Music,” and adds that it’s coming next month for every Apple Music user at no additional cost.
As we hoped, it also goes beyond just adding a new “HiFi” quality level to the music. While Apple Music will gain Lossless Audio for its entire catalog, it’s also adding Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos.
What’s even more interesting here is that it seems that Spatial Audio with Support for Dolby Atmos will not be limited only to the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, which are currently the only headphones that support Spatial Audio for video. Instead, Apple says it will be supported on all of its headphones that include not only the more modern H1 chip, but also the original W1 chip. This means support goes all the way back to the 2016 first-generation AirPods, plus almost all wireless Beats headphones sold in the past few years.
As it stands right now, the information is a bit confusing, as Apple’s official announcement only makes mention of “Spatial Audio with Support for Dolby Atmos” while the main Apple Music page refers only to Dolby Atmos but makes no mention of Spatial Audio.
However, from that page, it appears that straight Dolby Atmos (presumably without Spatial Audio) will be available on any set of headphones, or even using the built-in speakers on the iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, or HomePod, or via an Apple TV 4K connected to a Dolby Atmos compatible TV or receiver.
All Apple Music subscribers using the latest version of Apple Music on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV can listen to thousands of Dolby Atmos music tracks using any headphones. You can also hear Dolby Atmos music using the built‑in speakers on a compatible iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, or HomePod, or by connecting your Apple TV 4K to a compatible TV or audiovisual receiver.
Apple does note that Dolby Atmos will be played back automatically — when available — using compatible Apple or Beats headphones, while users of other headphones will have to toggle the Dolby Atmos option to “Always On” under Settings, Music, Audio on their iPhone or iPad.
What’s even more confusing, however, is that Apple describes Dolby Atmos as “a revolutionary, immersive audio experience that enables artists to mix music, so the sound comes from all around and from above,” which sounds a lot like Spatial Audio to us.
It’s also worth noting that although the entire Apple Music catalog — 75 million tracks — will eventually be available in Lossless Audio, Apple is only launching with around 20 million songs next month, with the full library expected to Lossless by the end of the year.
On the other hand, Dolby Atmos will be considerably more limited, since tracks will need to be specifically remixed by artists to take advantage of the feature. Apple will be curating a special set of Dolby Atmos playlists to surface these tracks, and albums that are available in Dolby Atmos will be tagged with a special badge on the detail page. Apple promises thousands of tracks with Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos will be available at launch.
Further, it looks like Apple Lossless Audio will be available at two levels, starting at “CD quality” — 16-bit at 44.1kHz up to 24-bit at 48KHz — and going all the way up to “Hi-Resolution Lossless” at 24 bit at 192KHz “for the true audiophile.” Apple notes that “Lossless” refers to audio “up to 48kHz” while “Hi-Res Lossless” denotes those between 48kHz to 192kHz.
What You’ll Need
It appears that Lossless Audio will be available to any device capable of running iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, macOS 11.4, or tvOS 14.6, using any set of headphones or speakers, although of course your mileage will vary depending on the connection and speaker quality. In other words, while Apple will stream Lossless Audio to any device, whether you’ll actually get that quality on the other end is going to depend entirely on what you’re using to listen — and the connection being used.
For Dolby Atmos, on the other hand, the requirements are a bit more complicated. It looks like all iOS 14.6 devices will be capable of delivering Dolby Atmos to compatible headphones, but if you want to listen to Dolby Atmos Music using the built-in speakers, you’ll need one of the following devices:
- iPhone 7 or later
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd-generation or later)
- iPad Pro 11-inch
- iPad (6th generation or later)
- iPad Air (3rd generation or later)
- iPad mini (5th generation or later)
- MacBook Pro (2018 model or later)
- HomePod or HomePod mini
- Apple TV 4K, when using a Dolby Atmos compatible TV or receiver
Also keep in mind that even though Apple is not restricting which headphones can be used for Dolby Atmos, you’ll still likely get the best experience when using any of the following AirPods or Beats headphones:
- AirPods (1st or 2nd generation)
- AirPods Pro
- AirPods Max
- Beats Solo3 Wireless
- Beats Studio3
- Powerbeats3 Wireless
- Beats Flex
- Powerbeats Pro
- Beats Solo Pro.
Apple notes that all the above headphones will have Dolby Atmos music playback enabled by default, with Spatial Audio. Users will have to toggle the setting on manually to use Dolby Atmos for third-party headphones, which makes sense considering the wide variety of headphones out there.