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AirPods Max, AirPods Pro won’t support new Apple Music Lossless audio – but there’s a silver lining

apple airpods max
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Music fans were in for a surprise this week when the company announced that it would begin offering some 75 million Hi-Res Audio and lossless audio tracks to subscribers at no extra cost. 

But in a shocking turn of events, however, it now appears that Apple’s two flagship headphones – the Apple AirPods Pro and Apple AirPods Max – won’t actually be able to stream the new format because of audio codec limitations.

The problem lies with the fact that both headphones only support the AAC codec when connected to an iOS or iPadOS device whereas the new lossless format is encoded in ALAC. In short, without ALAC support built into the headphones, neither the AirPods Pro nor the AirPods Max can actually receive Lossless Audio music – and it's not something Apple can fix in an over-the-air update.

The silver lining? According to staff at TechRadar’s sister publication T3 who spoke to Apple about the dilemma, both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max will be able to stream the new Dolby Atmos 'Spatial Audio' versions of songs on Apple Music. Apple says there will be "thousands" of songs available at launch in the Dolby Atmos format with more to follow that will give listeners something new to enjoy.  

Streaming Hi-Res Audio is harder than you think… 

If you’re an audiophile, music formats and audio codecs can be the bane of your existence. It's not uncommon to buy high-end wireless headphones that have some amazing new features like active noise cancellation, only to find out that they don’t support the codecs needed to stream Hi-Res Audio. (Technically speaking, there are no Bluetooth formats that support Hi-Res Audio – but aptX HD and Sony LDAC come the closest.)

For many audio purists, that’s the reason wired headphones remain the de facto form factor – it’s easier than dealing with wireless transmission codecs and it ensures that there’s no downsampling to stream data-heavy files over a wireless connection.

What’s an AirPods Max owner to do? Unfortunately, not much. We had hoped that theoretically a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter or use a Lightning-to-Lightning port cable connected directly to your Apple devices, circumventing the Bluetooth codec would work – but that's not the case.

In a statement to The Verge, an Apple spokesperson said “Lossless audio is not supported on AirPods, any model. AirPods Max wired listening mode accepts analog output sources only. AirPods Max currently does not support digital audio formats in wired mode.” That means there's no way to hear Apple Lossless Audio in all its 16-bit/44.1kHz glory – or 24-bit/192kHz quality for Hi-Res Lossless music. 

The good news (sort of) is that other Apple devices won't be impacted: Apple has  confirmed support for Lossless Audio streaming for both its Apple TV and HomePod devices as well as any MacOS computer – so don’t feel like iOS or iPadOS are your only gateways to the high-end audio formats.

Nick Pino

Nick Pino is the senior home entertainment editor at TechRadar and covers TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He also has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.