Apple Music offers both Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio as part of a subscription for no extra cost. With Apple offering the same features that more premium streamers such as Tidal do, many Apple Music users are very glad to hear the news.
But, are Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio any good? Or, is Apple just doing a lot of marketing? Let’s find out.
What Are Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio on Apple Music?
Spatial Audio manipulates the sound to make it seem like it’s coming from in front of you, behind you, above you, and from the left and right. Without getting too technical, Spatial Audio adjusts audio frequencies using filters, and can place sounds anywhere in a 3D space.
Apple’s Spatial Audio works exactly the same way, utilizing Dolby Atmos as the sound format. You’ll need a pair of AirPods Max or Pro with an iPhone or iPad to use the Spatial Audio feature.
Spatial Audio in Apple Music also supports head tracking in iOS 15, so the sound can follow your head movements. The gyroscope and accelerometer in AirPods Pro and Max sense movement, and will stay anchor the sound to your device’s location.
Lossless Audio is a bit simpler to understand. Pretty much the whole time we’ve listened to music digitally since CDs, we’ve used the MP3 or M4A file formats for audio. Streaming services typically use this format as well.
Both of those file formats compress the music track to make the file size more manageable for everyday listening. But, during compression, you lose parts of the audio that the computer doesn’t think are relevant.
With Lossless Audio, music is stored and streamed in a WAV or FLAC file format. These files are much larger because they aren’t compressed. The result of this is an audio track that sounds exactly as it did when it left the music studio.
How Apple Music’s Spatial Audio Performs
To see how effective Apple Music’s Spatial Audio was, we conducted a blind test. Playing a track that supports Dolby Atmos on Apple Music, a track from Spotify, and a track from YouTube. When playing the Atmos track, you could instantly recognize that it was Spatial Audio rather than normal stereo sound.
One blind test was not enough. We could be biased after all as we know what we’re supposed to hear. Repeating the same blind test on two other listeners, we got the same results. The Spatial Audio track was recognizable.
So, now we know that Spatial Audio works and the question falls to whether the feature is any good or not. Tracks that are expertly mixed for Dolby Atmos sound excellent using the feature. The sound from different instruments, beats, and voices were all directional, and it was a much better way to listen to the track.
However, not all tracks are mixed for Dolby Atmos. Some are just marked as supporting Spatial Audio, but don’t, and sound the same–or worse. In many tracks, both voices and instruments are muted, and as a result, you often can’t hear the bass.
This is where the only problem with Spatial Audio lies—you don’t know whether or not a track has been mixed for Dolby Atmos. This is no fault of Apple’s, rather the labels that incorrectly mark their tracks on the platform. Perhaps Apple needs an option to differentiate between working with Spatial Audio and being mixed for Dolby Atmos.
Once Apple can find a way to solve this problem, Spatial Audio will be perfect. Spatial Audio is probably a feature you’ll turn off when you’re at the gym, especially with head tracking in iOS 15. But, when you’re just listening to a track, it’s exactly what you want to improve your listening experience.
Unfortunately, there’s no computer test that you can do to visualize where sounds are best coming from, so we marked where we could hear sounds on a diagram in one track.
Although this is a 2D representation rather than a 3D one as real-life would be, you can still see where the sounds were coming from. Rather than just coming through the headphones, Spatial Audio provides depth and location to different sounds in the track. And that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do.
How Apple Music’s Lossless Audio Performs
Lossless Audio is probably the more beneficial of the two features. While Spatial Audio improves your listening experience, you probably won’t use it in the gym and can’t use it in your car. Lossless Audio makes sure you get the best audio quality possible.
To test how well Apple’s Lossless Audio works, we completed the same blind tests as we did for Spatial Audio. There was one listener who couldn’t recognize the track playing Lossless Audio, but the others all reported that they could distinguish between the quality.
In the tests, we used a pair of AirPods Pro. To access Hi-Res Lossless, which is of even higher quality, you’ll need a high-quality pair of wired headphones. At this stage, most people would struggle to distinguish between the quality, unless they were an audiophile or expert. The impressive part is hearing the difference with Lossless Audio through AirPods.
If we take a more technical look at Apple Music’s Lossless Audio, we can see if the tracks are, in fact, lossless. By looking at a soundwave of a Lossless Audio track, and comparing it to a normal track (both from Apple Music), we should see the difference in the soundwaves.
These soundwaves show us exactly what we expected to see. The Lossless Audio files have much more range than the standard audio files, as they haven’t been compressed. Actually, the difference is quite stark when you look at the amplitude (height) of the track in some areas.
Should You Switch to Apple Music for Lossless and Spatial Audio?
When compared to other music streaming services in the past, Apple Music always fell somewhere in the middle. There’s nothing that Apple Music particularly excelled at, and there were a couple of features it could have probably added. Apple Music wasn’t bad–just mediocre. That has changed now.
From the tests that we’ve done, we can see that Apple Music’s offerings of Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio perform really well. The features do exactly what they say on the tin, and they can excel your music listening to the next level. Of course, audio is a very personal preference. What sounds good for some, might sound better or worse for others.
But, with new premium features in Apple Music at no extra cost, it would be silly to not give it a try on the three-month free trial. You’ll find it’s probably enough to convince you to switch.