How to listen to Apple Music in up to 24-bit/192 kHz – the best DAC, headphones and speakers for hi-res lossless audio
While Dolby Atmos spatial audio is compatible on most of Apple and Beats speakers and headphones, lossless audio is a different story.
Apple have officially launched Dolby Atmos spatial audio and lossless audio on Apple Music. For more information on spatial and lossless audio, as well as how to upgrade on iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV, click here. In simple terms, lossless audio provides a higher quality audio experience, giving you a closer representation of what the artist heard in the studio. The upgrades are available to all Apple Music subscribers on the latest iOS, iPadOS, macOS and tvOS at no additional cost, however your experience may vary based on the equipment you use.
Apple Music is available for streaming in the following formats:
- High Efficiency: HE-AAC (around 65 kbps)
- High Quality: AAC 256 kbps
- Lossless: between
- 16-bit/44.1 kHz
- 24-bit/48 kHz
- High-Resolution Lossless: up to 24-bit/192 kHz
Over 20 million lossless songs are available to stream today on Apple Music. The entire catalogue of over 75 million songs will be available in lossless by the end of the year. You’ll find the Lossless or Hi-Res Lossless badge on the Now Playing screen of any song already available. If every track of a release is available in lossless, you’ll also see the badge on the album details page.
What equipment do I need to listen to lossless and hi-res lossless audio?
The built-in speakers on iPhone, iPad and Mac support lossless audio playback, however the speakers (particularly on the iPhone) are so small, the difference in audio quality will be negligible. To make the most out of lossless audio, you’ll want to hook up an external set of headphones or speakers. All of Apple’s AirPods and Beats wireless headphones use Apple’s AAC Bluetooth Codec, which is unfortunately not lossless. The HomePod and HomePod mini also currently uses AAC, however Apple says support for lossless audio will be coming in a future firmware update.
Lossless Audio – 24-bit/48 kHz
You’ll need a wire to make the most out of lossless audio. The most affordable way to listen to lossless audio on your iPhone is using Apple’s Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter. This little adapter used to be included in the box of the iPhone after they dropped the 3.5 mm headphone jack from their phones. Sadly they stopped including the adapter a few years later, but it can still be purchased, currently for just $7.99. The adapter contains a digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) that supports up to 24-bit/48 kHz lossless audio.
High-Resolution Lossless Audio
For audio quality any higher than this, you’ll need an external digital-to-analogue converter (DAC). However before you go rushing out to drop a few thousand dollars on your new audiophile-grade hardware to listen to all of your favourite music in super high resolution quality, you should know while Apple Music’s entirely catalogue will be upgraded to lossless by the end of the year, most of these do not and will not exceed 24-bit/48 kHz. I recommend browsing through your own Apple Music catalogue, looking for that Hi-Res Lossless badge to see how many of the songs you listen to support the higher audio quality.
Also note that if a track is listed as Hi-Res Lossless, this means the track is higher than 24-bit/48 kHz, but not necessarily 24-bit/192 kHz. You’ll find the resolution by tapping the badge. Many Hi-Res Lossless tracks are actually around the 88 to 96 kHz range.
All of the below DACs use USB, so if you’re connecting one of the options to an iPhone or Lightning iPad, you’ll want to start by purchasing a Lightning to USB adapter, such as the official Apple one, currently available for $24.32.
All AudioQuest DragonFly DACs support audio up to 24-bit/96kHz, with varying levels of audio quality among three colour options below.
AudioQuest DragonFly Black: $99.95
AudioQuest DragonFly Red: $199.95
AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt: $299.95
The $949 RME Babyface Pro FS is a bus-powered audio interface, giving you a super simple setup, with one cable running from your device and another to your headphones. No need for bulky power bricks.
For a killer pair of wired open-back headphones, check out the $599 Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro.
If you’re on a tighter budget, check out our guide to the best headphones at every price point.
Check out our bookshelf speaker guides for some excellent pairs under $100, $200, $300 and $400.