The Finest Gadget for Apple’s Hello-Fi Music Is an Android Telephone

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In latest days, there’s been some discuss of Apple launching a brand new lossless hi-fi audio tier for its Apple Music streaming music service. The main proof for such a transfer is a couple of strains of code in iOS 14.6 beta noticed by 9to5Mac. These strains, which have since been eliminated, referenced “lossless” audio with the Apple Music app.

Apple definitely has aggressive causes to lastly enterprise into the lossless audio class: Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, and Qobuz all provide CD-quality or better-than-CD-quality music, which leaves Apple Music as one of many final holdouts. However I can’t assist feeling that Apple has boxed itself right into a nook in relation to lossless audio, and I don’t see a simple manner out.

Convey again the jack?

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It’s possible you’ll recall that when Apple launched the iPhone 7 in 2016, its senior vp of worldwide advertising and marketing, Phil Schiller, described the choice to take away the headphone jack as brave. Many pundits disagreed, however Apple stayed the course, and no iPhone for the reason that iPhone 6 has come outfitted with a 3.5mm jack.

And although some iPhone homeowners will not be thrilled with that actuality, the transfer helped propel the AirPods and the AirPods Professional into their dominant positions within the true wi-fi earbuds market.

However herein lies a part of Apple’s lossless audio problem.

Wi-fi audio over Bluetooth requires compression. Even the most recent Bluetooth model, Bluetooth 5.2, doesn’t possess sufficient bandwidth to stream uncompressed 16-bit, CD-quality audio. The best way round this knowledge bottleneck has been a sequence of evolving Bluetooth audio codecs that take the music out of your telephone and shrink-wrap it till it’s sufficiently small to suit down that slender wi-fi pipe.

All Bluetooth codecs must strip away among the element present in high-quality digital music, however not all codecs are created equal. SBC and AAC (the one codecs that Apple at present helps) strip away a major quantity of this element as they compress music earlier than sending it to your wi-fi earbuds or headphones.

Different Bluetooth codecs like aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, LHDC, and LDAC have been designed to protect way more of this content material — sufficient to qualify as “hi-res” succesful — however Apple has by no means supported them on the iPhone. That’s most likely as a result of, till just lately, there was no want (from Apple’s perspective) to license these applied sciences.

Would Apple make the choice to start out supporting higher-quality codecs? That appears unlikely. It will most likely require completely different {hardware} aboard Apple’s telephones and tablets, and we’re pretty sure none of Apple’s AirPods fashions are able to supporting them.

Ditching the headphone jack and refusing so as to add high-quality Bluetooth codecs successfully implies that if you wish to hear lossless or hi-res audio on an iPhone right now, you’ll want an app that helps these codecs and — at a minimal — a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter plus an honest set of wired headphones.

It’s possible you’ll want a dongle

Apple’s well-liked AirPods and AirPods Professional are wi-fi solely, however its AirPods Max over-ear headphones can be utilized with a wired connection too.

If Apple stays the course on its refusal to assist high-quality Bluetooth codecs, it might need to supply a hi-res succesful Lightning-to-3.5mm digital-to-analog converter (DAC).

Proper now, if you wish to get pleasure from lossless and hi-res music on an iPhone, you want an exterior DAC that plugs into the Lightning port. A few of these gadgets are comparatively giant — typically as giant as or bigger than the iPhone itself — and wish their very own energy supply. However there’s an rising quantity which are tiny — just like the THX Onyx and Zorloo Ztella — and may leech sufficient energy from the iPhone to ship respectable ranges of quantity.

As efficient as these gadgets are (they’re a real improve for these with high-quality wired headphones or earbuds), they hardly look like the form of factor that Apple would wish to pursue. After eliminating the headphone jack, it wouldn’t make sense for Apple to start out promoting a small however costly, simply misplaced adapter simply so you’ll be able to get pleasure from high-quality music.

Nonetheless, right here’s one thing I can see Apple doing: Promoting an upgraded model of its 1.2 meter Lightning-to-3.5mm cable that features a very high-quality inline DAC. V-Moda already makes one: The $100 SpeakEasy Lightning Cable. $100 for a cable? That definitely appears like one thing Apple would do.

It will possible be marketed to AirPods Max homeowners as the last word sound improve, but when it really works with Apple’s cans, it’s going to additionally work with any third-party headphones with a 3.5mm analog enter.

What about Bluetooth LE Audio?

bluetooth button

In 2020, the Bluetooth Particular Curiosity Group (SIG) introduced the following technology of Bluetooth audio, referred to as Bluetooth LE Audio. LE Audio has a variety of enhancements over the earlier model, together with a brand new codec referred to as LC3.

LC3 has been designed to supply the identical or higher audio high quality as the present SBC codec, however the Bluetooth SIG hasn’t made any statements relating to how LC3 compares to high-quality codecs like aptX HD and LDAC and even good-quality codecs like AAC and aptX. So even when Apple has secretly added assist for LE Audio in its newest iPhones, it’s unlikely that LC3 will be capable of provide a high-quality different.

Who’s bought a HomePod?

homepod mini side top table
John Velasco/Digital Developments

Okay, so possibly if Apple is aiming at lossless audio for Apple Music, it’s not meant for the iPhone. In any case, when Amazon Music HD debuted together with its assortment of Dolby Atmos Music and Sony 360 Actuality Audio tracks, its hero machine was the $200 Amazon Echo Studio.

The Studio, as a 3D audio sensible speaker, was nicely suited to those high-quality sound codecs as a result of it might stream them instantly over Wi-Fi, with out Bluetooth from a telephone getting in the best way.

Apple used to have an Echo Studio competitor — the $399 Apple HomePod — which might have been the right lossless audio companion for Apple Music. However alas, Apple dumped the HomePod earlier in 2021 to focus its speaker energies solely on the $99 HomePod mini, a much more inexpensive sensible speaker that sounds good for its measurement however doesn’t come near what the HomePod might ship when it comes to sound high quality.

Is there a HomePod 2 on the horizon? Probably. Apple now allows you to add Deezer (together with its premium hi-fi tier) to the HomePod and HomePod mini as a local music service, with full Siri integration. That could possibly be an indication that Apple hasn’t solely deserted its dwelling hi-fi aspirations.

What about Apple TV?

Apple TV 4K 2021 with new Siri remote
Apple

If you happen to’ve bought an honest soundbar or a full dwelling theater system, an Apple TV HD — or higher but, an Apple TV 4K — is a good way to take heed to music.

Apple Music is inbuilt, and there are dozens of further apps for different music companies. In case your sound system helps Dolby Atmos, the Tidal and Amazon Music HD apps for tvOS are a superb technique to take heed to Dolby Atmos Music with out headphones.

However even the Apple TV 4K falls just a little brief in relation to lossless music. It may deal with codecs like FLAC, WAV, and Apple Lossless (ALAC), however these are constrained to 16-bit/48kHz. That qualifies as lossless CD high quality, nevertheless it doesn’t rise to the extent of hi-res audio, which is mostly thought of to be 24-bit/96kHz or higher.

If Apple goes with a lossless tier for Apple Music, the Apple TV seems to be like the perfect playback machine so long as Apple’s lossless ambitions don’t veer into hi-res territory.

The Android different

iphone to android lg v30

Say what you’ll in regards to the issues of a fractured Android ecosystem or considerations over safety — in relation to supporting high-quality audio, Android telephone makers have at all times been additional forward.

Google’s Pixel telephones, coincidentally launched the identical yr as Apple’s brave iPhone 7, have at all times supported aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC.

Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones aren’t fairly as prolific of their codec assist — the S21 doesn’t provide aptX HD or aptX Adaptive — however LDAC is an possibility, as is aptX.

Which means, ought to Apple add a lossless tier to Apple Music, an Android telephone will most likely provide a higher-quality technique to take heed to that content material wirelessly.

By no means say by no means

Apple AirPods Max
Riley Younger/Digital Developments

The place does this go away us? I’m going to exit on a limb and say that, whereas the thought of Apple launching a higher-quality tier for Apple Music appears possible (due to aggressive pressures if nothing else) for the time being, it doesn’t appear to be Apple is able to make such a service work wirelessly over Bluetooth.

However right here’s one thing to noodle: Apple has just lately made some huge bets on Extremely Wideband (UWB) expertise. Its U1 chips, which transmit and obtain UWB, have been utilized in all the most up-to-date iPhones and in its just-launched AirTags.

Apple appears to view UWB as largely helpful for high-precision location monitoring, however UWB has an extremely excessive data-rate potential of 1Gbps — greater than sufficient for audiophile-grade hi-res audio — so long as your two UWB gadgets are close to one another.

There’s been no indication that Apple intends on utilizing UWB for audio, and it didn’t embody the U1 chip in its AirPods Max, however the potential is certainly there.

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