Well, it looks like hi-fi music streaming is indeed coming to the masses, with Apple and Amazon both announcing Monday that they’ll begin offering CD-quality and high-resolution tunes to their paid subscribers for free.
Apple said that it will offer both lossless streaming and spatial audio with Dolby Atmos support to Apple Music subscribers for no extra charge starting in June, while Amazon announced that paid Amazon Music users can immediately upgrade to Amazon Music HD for free.
That leaves Spotify, which announced a CD-quality “Hifi” tier earlier this year but has yet to announce an official launch date, or whether it will cost extra. Given today’s news from Amazon and Apple, it appears highly unlikely that Spotify would charge more for its upcoming lossless tier.
According to a press release, Apple said that Dolby Atmos-enabled tracks on Apple Music would work on “any” headphones, and that they would “automatically” play on all AirPods and Beats devices with either H1 or W1 chips.
Apple already offers Spatial Audio video support for W1-enabled AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones, but not for standard H1-equipped AirPods. “Thousands” of songs with spatial audio will be available at launch, Apple said.
In addition, Apple Music will tee up "Lossless" audio for its catalog of 75 million songs, including tracks encoded with 16-bit resolution and 44/1kHz sampling rates (equivalent to CD quality) and high-resolution 24-bit/44.1kHz. On its website, Apple says that you can listen to Apple Music lossless tunes on an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV.
Apple is also offering lossless tracks with even better audio quality, all the way up 24-bit/192kHz, which will be labeled as "Hi-Res Lossless." You’ll need an external DAC to wring out that level of quality, however.
Apple makes no mention of AirPod, AirPods Pro, or AirPods Max lossless compatibility on its website or in today's press release. But according to a T3 report, Apple confirmed that no AirPods models will be compatible with lossless Apple Music streams, and (as Billboard's Micah Singleton writes) that includes the pricey AirPods Max, either wirelessly or via its wired Lightning port (which only supports analog, not digital, audio sources). That's sure to be unwelcome news for AirPods owners, particularly when it comes to the $549 AirPods Max. Still, the restriction doesn't come as a total shock, given that the highest quality Bluetooth audio codec that AirPods headsets support is lossy AAC.
Also left out of the lossless party: Apple's HomePod speakers, although the larger HomePod will support Spatial Audio, MacRumors reports.
Meanwhile, Amazon chose today to announce that it will stop charging extra for its own CD-quality and high-resolution tunes, effectively upgrading all its paid Amazon Music subscribers to Amazon Music HD.
Amazon Music offers more than 70 million tracks in CD-quality audio, including 7 million songs in 24-bit high-resolution quality. It also boasts tracks with Dolby Atmos audio, although those can only be played back on an Amazon Echo Studio smart speaker.
Amazon Music HD used to cost $14.99 a month, or $12.99 a month for non-Prime members. With today’s announcement, though, Amazon Music subscribers can now enjoy lossless audio for just $10 a month, or $8/month for Prime members. Amazon also has a $15-a-month family plan.
Amazon’s prices are equivalent to Apple Music’s, which cost $10 a month for individuals and $15/month for families.
Now we’re waiting to hear from Spotify about its own upcoming Hifi plan, although it’s likely we won’t be waiting for long.
Then there’s Tidal, Deezer, and Qobuz, which all charge $15 a month and up for access to their lossless music catalogs. Tidal remains one of the few streaming services to offer tracks encoded in the high-res MQA format, but its Tidal Masters tier costs $20 per month.
What will those services do now that Apple and Amazon (and, most likely, Spotify, eventually) are undercutting their prices? Stay tuned.
Updated shortly after publication with more information about Apple Music lossless compatibility with AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max headsets, as well as HomePod speakers.