Apple Music lossless via S2?

  • 8 November 2021
  • 66 replies
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I know this question has been asked (but apparently not answered) previously, but I thought I’d try again.

When listening to music directly through Apple Music on my Sonos speakers (via Airplay), I definitely notice improved quality with the new “lossless” quality offered by Apple. My ears, however, seem to think that the quality isn’t as high-fidelity when I listen to the same music via the S2 app (which, of course, is pulling the same music from my Apple Music subscription). However, I’m willing to admit that this perceived difference in quality may be psycho-somatic (since I’m still confused as to whether the S2 app is capable of accessing lossless files when it queries the Apple Music database).

Any chance either Apple or Sonos have provided an authoritative answer to this question? I.e. when S2 streams a file from Apple Music, is Apple giving them access to the lossless files? Or is Apple reserving those files for customers who are using the Apple Music interface? (For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed that music that I’ve listened to recently via the S2 app is showing-up on my Apple Music widget as “recently played”; so there’s definitely some background dialogue happening between the two apps).

Ps: the reason this matters— I would much rather use the S2 app to control music, as Airplay has unfortunately proven very unstable on my Sonos system (especially across multiple speakers) since moving to a new apartment—whereas S2 (for the most part) has been stable/reliable.

 


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Airplay is going to apply any DSP’s the Apple Music app on the phone is using, whereas Sonos is playing the raw data.  So it may be the case that it sounds different.  Look under the Settings in the Apple Music app, specifically the Sound Quality and Effects settings. 

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Airplay is going to apply any DSP’s the Apple Music app on the phone is using, whereas Sonos is playing the raw data.  So it may be the case that it sounds different.  Look under the Settings in the Apple Music app, specifically the Sound Quality and Effects settings. 

Actually: that’s precisely my question. Is S2 actually playing the raw (lossless) files? Or is Apple only reserving access to those lossless files for those who are listening via the Apple Music app. (To clarify: the music, to my ears, sounds “better” through Apple Music, not through S2—so this has nothing to do with settings on my Apple Music app. It has to do with S2’s access to source files).

Actually: that’s precisely my question. Is S2 actually playing the raw (lossless) files? Or is Apple only reserving access to those lossless files for those who are listening via the Apple Music app. (To clarify: the music, to my ears, sounds “better” through Apple Music, not through S2—so this has nothing to do with settings on my Apple Music app. It has to do with S2’s access to source files).

 

Why would you think any DSP being applied by the Apple Music app couldn’t make the Airplay sound better?  They don’t put DSP processing in to make it sound worse (even though to some ears it may).  They put those DSP’s in because some people like them, and without knowing what DSP is turned on, you can’t know if you like them or not, hence why I asked. 

Though if you doubt Sonos is actually getting the same quality files, you can use a bandwidth monitor to see the size of each file as it is being streamed. 

As far as I’m aware Sonos doesn’t yet support Apple Music lossless for direct play. 

Using the Apple Music app on an iDevice along with Airplay would in theory permit a lossless path. 

As far as I’m aware Sonos doesn’t yet support Apple Music lossless for direct play. 

Using the Apple Music app on an iDevice along with Airplay would in theory permit a lossless path. 

 

Really?  I learn something new every day.  Glad to be corrected.   

Of course there’s still the possibility for EQ to introduce variations, so I’ll concede that ‘lossless’ could be a debatable point there. I meant that there shouldn’t need to be lossy compression in the chain.

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When Apple Music Lossless first rolled out, there was a lot of evidence that what was being streamed over AirPlay 2 was in fact lossy AAC and not ALAC.

 

I’m not sure if they have remedied this situation, but as of a few months ago, you could not be guaranteed that streaming from Apple Music to Sonos was lossless through either the native app or the Sonos app.

It would be odd to send AAC over Airplay if the native Apple Music app was streaming in as ALAC. Why incur the processing overhead of psycho-acoustic lossy compression when it’s totally unnecessary?  

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AirPlay#Protocols Airplay uses ALAC. I don’t subscribe to Apple Music but I do have Deezer HiFi (FLAC), and bandwidth measurements of the Airplay traffic support the assertion that it’s ALAC.

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I don’t understand it either, but there was a big discussion of it on Audiophile Style.

https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/bits-and-bytes/apple-music-lossless-mess-part-2-airplay-r1026/page/5/?tab=comments#comment-1158694

And definitely people using other AirPlay endpoints showing bandwidth measurements too low to be lossless.

I just rechecked.

iPad playing Deezer FLAC, Airplay to a wireless Port via a wired Boost (i.e. SonosNet). Average bandwidth around 1Mbps.

It can’t be AAC. It has to be ALAC. 

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How can I check bandwidth? What people were claiming was that the Apple Music App was converting lossless to AAC before streaming via Airplay. Wouldn’t necessarily apply to Deezer.

How can I check bandwidth?

It depends on your network. I was using the bandwidth monitor on a router running Tomato. 

 

What people were claiming was that the Apple Music App was converting lossless to AAC before streaming via Airplay. 

A quick scan of the Audiophile Style post suggests the results could be dependent on the app and the Airplay2 target. I have no way to compare, since my only target is Sonos and I have no Apple Music content on my iPad apart from the free U2/Songs Of Innocence album which appears to be in 256kbps AAC. Maybe if the Apple Music app is fed a lossless stream it would then send it on to Sonos as lossless. That would be logical, but I have no way to tell. 

What I can note, however, is that the Airplay traffic looks totally different from the Apple Music app compared to Deezer. The former is sent in chunks averaging about 280kbps (which is logical given the U2 AAC256 content), whereas the traffic from Deezer is a steady stream averaging ~1Mbps. The Deezer traffic also has all the hallmarks of lossless compression, in that the bitrate rises and falls depending on the complexity of the music.

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Yes Appel Music sounds much better on Sonos when using the Appel Music App and using Airplay2.

I am listening via a Port and yes I have disconnected the EQ setting in the Appel Music App and set the App to Lossless.

The head of Apple Music is on record as saying that he/his team cannot pick out AAC v ALAC served via Apple Music in a blind listening test, except perhaps via high quality headphones.

It is of course possible that some people can hear what Apple folks themselves cannot but this may be something to keep in mind while pursuing Apple lossless.

However, I’m willing to admit that this perceived difference in quality may be psycho-somatic (since I’m still confused as to whether the S2 app is capable of accessing lossless files when it queries the Apple Music database).

 

 

Another equally valid reason you are hearing a difference could be if the sound levels for the compared alternatives are not identical down to 0.1dB. The louder will sound better, even if the louder is by just 0.1dB.

The solution to this issue suggests itself - just bump up the volume controls a notch on the less loud alternative.

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I was trying to easily airplay lossless tracks from apple music on my iPhone to my sonos but apparently that’s no possible. here is the test:

 

I’m wondering what’s the roadblock.

Airplay protocol restriction?

Wifi transfer speed limitation?

Lazy Apple Engineers?

Lazy Sonos Engineers?

 

 

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Yes Appel Music sounds much better on Sonos when using the Appel Music App and using Airplay2.

I am listening via a Port and yes I have disconnected the EQ setting in the Appel Music App and set the App to Lossless.

Both S2 → Airplay or Apple Music (set Lossless) → Airplay will result in non-lossless playback on Sonos devices. How come you could perceive the difference?

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I experience a more airy, open and distinct dynamic sound.

And of course I know everything about "Kumar’s" countless and many times written standard, - but correct, “sound leveling” answer.

But in this case you perhaps can get around this sound level problem

And perhaps it may not have anything to do with the Sonos App, but it may still be connected.

 

If you go to the iPad's Settings under Music and then to sound quality you could, when playing, switch between the Lossless sound and the Standard sound.

And yes, there is a short interruption when you the change the sound quality setting, but I sense an improvement of the sound when I "switch" to the Lossless Sound.

And I do not think, that this possible sound change, could be noticed on any Sonos speakers, but playing  via a Port and a good sound system, I do sense a sound change for the better.

Just another thing, when I play a “normal” sound source via Airplay2, my Ipad does not get very hot, but when I play Lossless from the Apple Music App, the back of my Ipad gets hot, this may indicate that the iPad works extra hard when it plays Lossless. 

But whether the Appel Music App also sends Lossless to my Port I do not know, but I as “tonsure”, who started this tread, I am also experiencing a sound improvement, - but I could be wrong.

I experience a more airy, open and distinct dynamic sound.

And of course I know everything about "Kumar’s" countless and many times written standard, - but correct, “sound leveling” answer.

But in this case you perhaps can get around this sound level problem

 

Perhaps I have not understood the reply posted, but in response to the last sentence quoted would it not be simpler to just use the volume control?

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I experience a more airy, open and distinct dynamic sound.

And of course I know everything about "Kumar’s" countless and many times written standard, - but correct, “sound leveling” answer.

But in this case you perhaps can get around this sound level problem

 

Perhaps I have not understood the reply posted, but in response to the last sentence quoted would it not be simpler to just use the volume control?


The music from the Appel Music App plays via Port.

In the iPad's Music quality setting, you simply switch Lossless on or off.

The music plays all the time with the same volume.

You just turn the Lossless stream on or off.

When you do this, the Music continues to play, except that it is very briefly muted when you switch from the standard sound to Lossless or the other way around.

Hope this makes sense.

 


The music from the Appel Music App plays via Port.

In the iPad's Music quality setting, you simply switch Lossless on or off.

The music plays all the time with the same volume.

You just turn the Lossless stream on or off.

When you do this, the Music continues to play, except that it is very briefly muted when you switch from the standard sound to Lossless or the other way around.

Hope this makes sense.

 

Yes, understood. So what you should get is the same volume level - but I have seen reports that Apple Music has its lossless streams play a little louder than lossy streams. Perhaps it is to get to sound better, perhaps it is some other reason. But if that were the case, that may well be the reason you are getting the effect of better sound via lossless.

 

See one link on this:

https://markellisreviews.com/apple-music-lossless-sounds-better-because-its-louder-a-follow-up/

 

I wish someone would simply measure the bandwidth of the Airplay stream sent by Apple Music when playing lossless (as I did with Deezer). That would confirm it one way or the other.

@Gert_4 More on the louder lossless thing - while the link claims this to be the case, it is after all just one data point on the net, and may not be valid. However it does point out to the need to not automatically assume that sound levels from Apple lossless and lossy are the same to the extent needed for a valid comparison test.

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The music from the Appel Music App plays via Port.

In the iPad's Music quality setting, you simply switch Lossless on or off.

The music plays all the time with the same volume.

You just turn the Lossless stream on or off.

When you do this, the Music continues to play, except that it is very briefly muted when you switch from the standard sound to Lossless or the other way around.

Hope this makes sense.

 

Yes, understood. So what you should get is the same volume level - but I have seen reports that Apple Music has its lossless streams play a little louder than lossy streams. Perhaps it is to get to sound better, perhaps it is some other reason. But if that were the case, that may well be the reason you are getting the effect of better sound via lossless.

 

See one link on this:

https://markellisreviews.com/apple-music-lossless-sounds-better-because-its-louder-a-follow-up/

 

I do not know if this is the case, what has made me suspicious was that my iPad gets hotter when playing with Lossless on.

It seems like the iPad is working with larger files and this is also what I think I could hear, a better sound with Lossless on.

If this is not the case then Appel has a problem with the power consumption.

I do not know if this is the case, what has made me suspicious was that my iPad gets hotter when playing with Lossless on.

It seems like the iPad is working with larger files and this is also what I think I could hear, a better sound with Lossless on.

If this is not the case then Appel has a problem with the power consumption.

But if the reason for getting a better sound is because the lossless files are playing just a little louder, then why not achieve the same sound quality via a slightly higher setting on the volume control when using lossy files - then, even if there is power consumption/heating problem of the kind you refer to, it becomes a non issue!

For comparative testing, the point I am making is that even if you are just switching lossless to lossy within the Apple app, sound levels still need to independently matched before coming to a conclusion on sound quality, with other blind testing disciplines also followed.

The question then is that when the seller of the service himself says that there is really no difference in heard sound quality between lossy/lossless, is this effort of testing worth the time and energy and deployment of sound level testing equipment?

Note that Apple Music Atmos is a different animal altogether. There the difference in how the sound comes across is night and day and needs no blind testing to be sure of the validity. Which of the two sounds better, still remains a matter of personal preference.