Neither the AirPods Max nor the AirPods Pro, Apple's top-end wireless headphones, support the newly announced Lossless Audio upgrade for Apple Music, the company has confirmed to T3.
Yesterday - one day earlier than expected, in yet another nose-thumbing to the increasingly impotent leaker community - Apple announced twin upgrades to its Apple Music streaming service. One of these is the addition of two improved quality options, Lossless and Hi-Resolution Lossless, for a listening experience closer to what the artist originally intended.
These optional tiers are available to all Apple Music subscribers at no additional cost, but only if they have compatible hardware. And we now know that Apple's entire AirPods range, even the £549/$549 AirPods Max, do not come under that category for either tier.
In some ways this is unsurprising, since the limitations of Bluetooth wireless make uncompressed streaming impractical: Apple uses the AAC codec over Bluetooth, which doesn't support anything close to CD quality. But as T3 observes, the iPhone 12 and AirPods Max support the Bluetooth 5.0 protocol, which can carry eight times as much information as earlier standards, and there were faint hopes that Apple would come up with a workaround.
What's more, the AirPods Max aren't always wireless. Yet even when plugged in they do not support Lossless Audio.
"AirPods Max wired listening mode accepts analog output sources only," a company spokesperson told The Verge. "AirPods Max currently does not support digital audio formats in wired mode."
The other upgrade coming to Apple Music in June is Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, and this is very much available to AirPods users; indeed it is an upgrade specifically for headphones. Apple is doing its best to direct AirPods Max owners' attention away from the lack of Lossless and towards the upcoming benefits of Spatial's 3D experience - and after all the upgrades are coming at no additional cost, so perhaps we shouldn't be too picky.
The HomePod can't play at lossless quality either
Since we wrote this story the HomePod and HomePod mini have been added to the list of Apple devices that can't play at lossless quality. As with the AirPods, this has been officially confirmed by Apple.
This is considerably less explicable than the AirPods and AirPods Pro, which rely on Bluetooth. Bluetooth, after all - even Bluetooth 5.0 - simply hasn't got the capacity to stream uncompressed audio. But the HomePods, while wireless, use AirPlay instead, which is based on Wi-Fi and capable of far greater data-transmission rates. It's unclear at this point why exactly the HomePods don't support Lossless Audio.
(Perhaps it's worth stressing that these devices will be able to play the tracks, they just won't be at lossless quality. They won't skip or anything.)
It's been a horrible couple of days for Apple, which realistically could not have launched its seemingly downside-free lossless upgrade any more ham-fistedly. There isn't any obvious technological limitation that means the AirPods Max (when wired) and HomePod shouldn't be able to cope with lossless, and if these flagship products don't support the new option it does make us wonder why Apple bothered to launch it.
Perhaps the service wasn't ready but Apple decided to rush it out to beat Amazon (which has also announced an HD upgrade). Or maybe Apple has something in mind for the AirPods 3, which are expected to launch soon. But it will be controversial, to say the least, if they get a feature than isn't available to AirPods Max owners.