Apple Claims Lossy and Lossless Are “Virtually Indistinguishable” (Boo)

Apple, who recently announced the immanent release of lossless hi-res streaming through Apple Music, doesn’t think very much of it.

From Apple’s About lossless audio support page:

What is lossless audio compression (my emphasis)?

Most audio compression techniques lose some amount of data contained in the original source file. Lossless compression is a form of compression that preserves all of the original data.

Apple has developed its own lossless audio compression technology called Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC). In addition to AAC, the entire Apple Music catalog is now also encoded using ALAC in resolutions ranging from 16-bit/44.1 kHz (CD Quality) up to 24-bit/192 kHz.

While the difference between AAC and lossless audio is virtually indistinguishable, we’re offering Apple Music subscribers the option to access music in lossless audio compression.

Here’s what Apple said in the press release for this new lossless service:

Apple Music will also make its catalog of more than 75 million songs available in Lossless Audio. Apple uses ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) to preserve every single bit of the original audio file. This means Apple Music subscribers will be able to hear the exact same thing that the artists created in the studio.

Can Apple have it both ways?

Of course they can, they’re Apple! For many Apple users, the difference between lossy and lossless is about as interesting as the difference between Zoysia and Bent. Add in the fact that you can’t get bitperfect playback of different file resolutions out of OSX without doing something annoying, and you’ve got yourself a big Who Cares sandwich.

Apple Music iPhone screenshot taken this morning

And it’s worth highlighting that Apple is talking about all lossless music, even CD-quality, not just hi-res. You could call their lossy / lossless indistinguishable stance anti-science (see Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem) and you’d be correct. But when it gets down to it, Apple’s ambitions are not siloed into any given app or device, let automatic sample rate switching! They are after our every waking hour — eyes, ears, fingers, hearts, and minds — as they laid it all out in yesterday’s WWDC event.

Careful watchers will have noted Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering, refer to the speakers in an iMac as being “high resolution”. I suppose with this in mind, it’s easy to understand why Apple says the difference between AAC and lossless audio is virtually indistinguishable.

Yea, I’m being snarky but downplaying the difference between lossy and lossless to sell AirPods is kinda crappy.

What you need to know about lossless in Apple Music

AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and Beats wireless headphones use Apple AAC Bluetooth Codec to ensure excellent audio quality. However, Bluetooth connections aren’t lossless.

That’s the punch line. Apple’s wireless headphones don’t support lossless audio, but that’s OK because you really can’t tell the difference between our new lossless streaming and our old lossy streaming anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. I am an Apple user from desktop to iPhone and spatial audio with dynamic head tracking sure sounds cool. But I’m also a fan of music and the quality of music reproduction, so I’m sorry to see Apple crapping on their own efforts to offer better sound quality. Boo!

Remember, even Billie Eilish is telling people how important sound quality and lossy music is (Yay!), but she’s working with Spotify to help get the message out about Spotify’s own lossless streaming service so its not an Apple to Apple comparison.