AirPods Max can’t play lossless Apple Music at all, even wired

At this point, Apple’s claim to fame when it comes to lossless audio is just that, technically speaking, Apple Music will support the feature in the near future. What you’ll use to listen to that audio is a bit of a mystery, as far as Apple’s own ecosystem is concerned.

Earlier today, Apple announced two new features for Apple Music: Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos and lossless audio. Only one of these new features is universally supported on Apple’s own headphones — and it isn’t lossless audio. And now it turns out that even Apple’s own $549 AirPods Max won’t support lossless audio either, even when you do choose to plug them in.

Apple was admittedly pretty light on the details with its announcement today, and perhaps that was on purpose. Because, as the details come in, it’s starting to feel a little like a barren wasteland. Apple’s wireless headphones, the AirPods lineup, are wildly successful, but they won’t support Apple’s newest feature for Apple Music when it launches in June.

According to The Verge, Apple has now confirmed that lossless audio is not supported with AirPods Max — or any AirPods, for that matter. (While not confirmed in the statement, it stands to reason no Beats-branded headphones are supported, either.) Apple’s statement on the matter:

Lossless audio is not supported on AirPods, any model,’ an Apple spokesperson said by email. ‘AirPods Max wired listening mode accepts analog output sources only. AirPods Max currently does not support digital audio formats in wired mode.

None of this should be surprising at face value. There’s no surprise that AirPods and AirPods Pro don’t support lossless audio because they connect over Bluetooth and Bluetooth doesn’t have enough bandwidth to stream lossless audio, even at “just” CD quality. Apple needs to surmount that issue at a later date in some way or another as far as listening to lossless audio over a wireless connection, but, as it stands right now, there’s no easy fix.

Unless Apple has something to announce at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, which starts in early June. Or just offer support over Wi-Fi. Something!

Things get rocky, though, when the AirPods Max are thrown into the mix. Because those headphones can be plugged in. So even if you use a dongle like Apple’s Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter to connect to your new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, the headphones won’t get the full experience of lossless audio.

From the report:

So the natural question becomes… well, what are you hearing in that scenario? Apple tells The Verge that when you play a 24-bit / 48 kHz Apple Music lossless track from an iPhone into the AirPods Max using both the cable and Lightning dongle, the audio is converted to analog and then re-digitized to 24-bit / 48 kHz. That re-digitization step is the reason that Apple can’t say you’re hearing pure lossless audio; it’s not an identical match to the source.

One of the benefits of the AirPods Max is their audio quality, which is outstanding. Even with AAC streamed over Bluetooth. But it’s not great that Apple’s new lossless feature for Apple Music isn’t supported by any of its own headphones, especially when Apple is leaning so heavily into a wireless future.

What do you think of the situation?