Apple’s R11k headphones don’t support lossless audio

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Apple’s noise cancelling cans, the AirPods Max, are expected in South Africa this month, but if you were hoping to enjoy lossless audio through those headphones, you’re going to be left wanting.

On Monday Apple announced that Apple Music subscribers would soon be able to listen to 75 million songs that feature lossless audio. Lossless audio is quite simply audio that hasn’t been compressed to make the file more efficient. We can get into a debate about how it’s “what the artist wanted you to hear”, but given the state of the music industry and the fact that Bluetooth buds are all the rage, we’re sure musicians are just happy if you buy their album.

But we digress.

Lossless audio and AirPods Max.

Apple has gone to great lengths in its marketing to portray the cans as “a perfect balance of high-fidelity audio and effortless magic of AirPods”. But does that high-fidelity claim hold water when presented with a high-fidelity audio file? Spoilers, no it doesn’t.

“Lossless audio is not supported on AirPods, any model,” an Apple spokesperson told The Verge. “AirPods Max wired listening mode accepts analog output sources only. AirPods Max currently does not support digital audio formats in wired mode.”

What is bizarre is how Apple’s signal processing in the AirPods Max – in wired mode – works. One would assume that in wired mode the cans would be analog and they are, sorta.

A digital signal leaves your audio source is converted to analog to travel along the cable and then re-digitised using Apple’s tech. It’s for this reason that Apple can’t say it offers pure lossless audio as the signal at the output doesn’t exactly match the input.

While this is a bit of a bummer it’s also not important.

High fidelity audio isn’t for everyone and unless you’re an audiophile obsessed with hearing the best version of a song possible, we’d argue it’s a waste of storage space.

Thankfully you can decide for yourself if lossless audio is important without spending a dime.

NPR’s test here gives you three samples of songs that use different levels of compression and its up to you to pick the lossless file. It’s not scientific test by any stretch of the imagination but it could save you a few grand in audio equipment you don’t need.

As a final aside, if you’re looking to learn more about audio and what makes a good pair of headphones we highly recommend DankPods which you can read more about here.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.