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When Apple launched its new Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio on Apple Music in June, it also promised that its entire catalogue of 90 million tracks would be available in the new Lossless formats by the end of this year.
With December 31 fast approaching, it appears that Apple has reached that goal. Although the company hasn’t made a formal announcement to this effect, both ourselves and the folks at 9to5Mac have scoured the Apple Music catalogue in search of a non-lossless track, and haven’t been able to find a single one.
Of course, it’s impossible to check all 90 million songs, so we can’t rule out that there could be something really obscure that still hasn’t gotten the Apple Lossless treatment, but we think it’s pretty safe to assume that Apple has met its goal.
Leaving Spotify in the Dust
It’s actually quite an accomplishment, and a feather in Apple’s cap, considering that Spotify announced a new “Hi-Fi” tier in February — a full three months before Apple announces its Lossless initiative — and yet ten months later the new Spotify service remains conspicuously missing in action.
In fact, after Apple made its announcement in May, Spotify got very quiet on the subject of its higher-quality tier, going so far as to decline comment whenever The Verge and other publications asked about its status.
This has led to some speculation that Spotify was completely blindsided by Apple’s announcement. When Spotify Hi-Fi was first announced, there was every indication that the company planned to offer it as a higher-priced premium tier, which made sense considering that competitors like Amazon and Tidal had already been doing this for some time.
Then, of course, Apple came along and announced that not only would Apple Music be offering its entire catalogue in Lossless, but it would also be adding Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos tracks, and doing all of this at no extra charge.
This was such a bold move on Apple’s part that it prompted Amazon to drop its higher-priced Amazon Music HD tier the very same day that Apple made its announcement.
Apple has effectively turned high-quality audio streaming into table stakes.
So, it’s not hard to imagine Spotify’s executives suddenly realizing that they weren’t going to get away with charging more money for a “Hi-Fi” tier, which likely led to rethinking the whole plan. After all, knowing how the music industry rolls, it’s unlikely that anybody is getting lossless audio tracks for free across the board, and even if the cost is incremental, Spotify still has to put its energy into upgrading and converting its entire library.
Spotify seems to have decided that’s not worth the trouble for now, since there’s no obvious payoff. It’s still the biggest player in the streaming game, so Hi-Fi tracks aren’t likely to attract or win back any significant numbers of customers. Plus, Spotify has already shown it doesn’t particularly care about losing customers if supporting their needs is more trouble than its worth, as evidenced by its continued lack of support for the HomePod, or even arguably basic technologies like AirPlay 2.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Spotify has abandoned its plans for a Hi-Fi tier. There have been bits and pieces of evidence this year that the company is still working on it, but like support for Apple features and technologies, it’s clear that the new offering has become a much lower priority for the streaming giant, and may even be sitting entirely on the back burner for now.
Apple Music Lossless
When Apple rolled out Lossless support in June, it began with a catalogue of 20 million songs, with the promise that more would be added throughout the year, reaching the full catalogue by the end of 2021. Note, however, that this just includes the baseline “CD quality” Lossless audio format — 16-bit at 44.1kHz up to 24-bit at 48KHz; Hi-Resolution Lossless, which is 24 bit at 192KHz, is likely only available on a fraction of those tracks, but that’s fair as you can’t hear those anyway without an external DAC or specialized wired headphones.
Hi-Res Lossless audio is for “the true audiophile,” and it’s reasonable to say that the average person is not going to hear the difference between Apple’s two Lossless formats — at least not in a blind test. The audio placebo effect is a very real thing, however.
Lossless audio can’t be heard through most headphones anyway. Apple’s own AirPods don’t support it — not even the AirPods Max, although you can get close enough by plugging them in with the 3.5mm to Lightning cable.
There are several other caveats to getting Lossless audio, and it can be a bit of a confusing mess if you’re trying to get the highest-quality audio possible from Apple Music, but generally, we’d recommend not worrying about it too much unless you have high-end equipment, and you’re sure you can tell the difference.
Lastly, note that you won’t get purchased iTunes tracks in Lossless audio formats. These are available exclusively on Apple Music, so if you find some tracks lying around in your library that aren’t flagged as Lossless, that’s the most likely reason. If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, you may be able to get the Lossless version from Apple Music by deleting your local copy and re-downloading it, but that depends entirely on whether the tracks match up.
Apple Music subscribers can match tracks against the Apple Music catalogue, as long as they’re available, but you’ll also only have the lossless version for as long as you’re an Apple Music subscriber. However, even though the more affordable iTunes Match provides a seemingly identical matching service for tracks, these are matched against the iTunes catalogue, which means iTunes Match subscribers won’t have access to the lossless versions at all.
Lastly, it’s also worth mentioning that Apple’s new $4.99 Voice Plan doesn’t include access to Apple Music Lossless tracks either. Presumably, Apple had to cut some corners to offer this entry-level plan, while also setting a few things apart to encourage users to stick with the standard plan. It doesn’t seem like a huge loss (no pun intended), however, for a plan that’s focused entirely on calling tracks and playlists up by voice.