Apple has announced that Dolby Atmos and lossless audio will be coming to its Apple Music streaming service, at no extra cost, from June this year.
The audio upgrade was teased by Apple over the last weekend, with a note added to the Apple Music app and website saying how music was "about to change forever".
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Described by Apple as "industry-leading," the new sound quality uses Apple's spatial audio system, which we explain in more detail here, to bring Dolby Atmos to the music-streaming service. Atmos is better known as a surround sound experience for movies and video games, where viewers are surrounded by a virtual sphere of sound, but the technology has previously been used for music too.
A 2019 remastering of The Beatles' Abbey Road album included a version encoded in Dolby Atmos, giving greater height to the sound track than the regular stereo version.
Apple says: "Spatial Audio gives artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences for their fans and true multidimensional sound and clarity...Dolby Atmos is a revolutionary, immersive audio experience that enables artists to mix music so the sound comes from all around and from above."
Tracks created for Dolby Atmos will be played with the feature automatically enabled when an Apple Music subscriber listens with AirPods or Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, or through the built-in speakers of the latest models of iPhone, iPad and Mac. Apple will curate Atmos playlists and says an icon will be shown on the album art to state when Atmos is available.
Apple Music with Dolby Atmos and Lossless AudioApple
The iPhone maker also announced today that Apple Music subscribers will be able to listen to more than 75 million songs in Lossless Audio, which is a higher-quality sound format than that currently used by Apple Music.
The addition of lossless audio brings Apple onto par with rivals like Amazon Music HD and Tidal, which both already offer lossless audio. Spotify has announced that it plans to launch its own lossless audio tier later in 2021.
"Apple Music is making its biggest advancement ever in sound quality," said Oliver Schusser, Apple's vice president of Apple Music and Beats. "Listening to a song in Dolby Atmos is like magic. The music comes from all around you and sounds incredible."
Apple says the first artists to offer Dolby Atmos music include J Balvin, Gustavo, Dudamel, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Kacey Musgraves and The Weeknd, among others. Spatial Audio is currently available using Apple's AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones. Apple says "thousands" of Atmos songs will be available when the feature launches in June.
Lossless Audio on Apple Music
As for lossless audio, Apple says the tracks will use the company's own ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) to "preserve every single bit of the original audio file."
Apple says its lossless music starts at CD quality, which is 16 bit at 44.1 kilohertz (kHz), and goes up to 24 bit at 48kHz. Above this there is a Hi-Resolution Lossless option that plays 24 bit at 192kHz. Apple explains that using Hi-Res Lossless Audio "requires external equipment, such as a USB digital-to-analog converter (DAC)."
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