Apple Music lossless via S2?

  • 8 November 2021
  • 66 replies
  • 13727 views

Userlevel 2
Badge +4

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.

 


This topic has been closed for further comments. You can use the search bar to find a similar topic, or create a new one by clicking Create Topic at the top of the page.

66 replies

Userlevel 2
Badge +4

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).

Why is Sonos fully ‘in with Apple’ by offering AP2 and now supports ‘hi res’ audio but then wouldn’t support Apple Lossless?

Anybody from Sonos on this forum that can clarify?

We don’t need further clarification. See https://support.sonos.com/s/article/3282

What is the streaming rate and streaming format for Apple Music on Sonos?
64kbps HE-AAC, 128kbps AAC, 256kbps AAC

 

As for when or if Apple Music Lossless will be supported that would be dependent on Apple. It’s the service which works to Sonos’ API.

If the parties are working on it you certainly wouldn’t have that confirmed here by Sonos staff. They don’t pre-announce. Rather like Apple in fact.

‘Hi res’ (so-called, in this case 24-bit) audio is available from Amazon and Qobuz because they made it so.

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.

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.

Can anyone explain then what’s being played when I select Apple Music as a source from within the Sonos app?

See this support article that relates to the current Apple Service in the Sonos App:

https://support.sonos.com/s/article/3282

I have a similar but slightly different issue with the Android S2 app and Amazon Music Unlimited. I was playing Keys to Imagination from one of my favorite albums - Yanni live at the Acropolis, and comparing between casting directly from Amazon Music app and via Sonos app to an Amp + Arc group.

The Sonos app produced a sound where the dynamic range seemed to have been reduced. Aka I was losing out on some of the treble and low bass and the midrange was louder - volume slider unchanged. For example, the Cymbals and drums were much more clearer when directly casting from Amazon app. Same album, same UHD track. I checked the equalizer settings on the Amazon app and it was disabled/flat. It is not something esoteric or funky hand-waving to say one sounds better quality than the other. The effects were very clear.

Till that time I was happily using the S2 app and listening to Amazon music. I just installed and tried the Amazon app directly out of idle curiosity and then it was a moment of surprise. Oh there is that Cymbal sound is it! I am wondering if it is due to some DSP happening inside the Amazon app despite the flat EQ. If it is then I’d say it is good DSP!

Greetings folks.  This has been confirmed through tests and confirmed by Apple this is how it works

  1. Apple Music app cannot stream lossless to Airplay 2, it converts to 256AAC
  2. Apple Music app can stream lossless to Airplay 1
  3. Apple Music app can send lossless to Airplay 2 if ALAC is saved on hard drive (self ripped DRM-free CDs)
  4. Apple Music also cannot send lossless to chromecast (for android users)

https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/bits-and-bytes/apple-music-lossless-mess-part-2-airplay-r1026/

 I just don’t buy the hires thing.

But - would be a shame to learn that AAC is all that’s available as I do believe there is a difference to 16/44

There I agree with you, where Hi Res is concerned. As to the second, Apple themselves say that there is no difference in a level matched blind test between Apple lossless and lossy, that their engineers can hear. There are some reports though, that Apple lossless streams run a little hotter so as to deliver a slightly higher sound level at the same volume control setting on the kit. If so, that will make an audible difference, but that is easy to fix.

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.

What’s your audio setup?

Some zones have Connect Amps driving Quad/KEF speakers, while one zone is a Sonos play 1 pair + Sub. The Echo Show units are to confer voice command when needed, as well as album art, wired to Sonos line in jacks because the Sonos Alexa integration will probably never make it to India. 

Userlevel 2
Badge +1

In a not completely scientific test (other data could have been downloading at the same time), I played a 3’12” long track, indicated as lossless, 24-bit/48kHz ALAC, in the Music app (iOS 15.1), and used Airplay 2 to send that to a Beam (running S2 13.4).

I skipped ahead in a playlist so that the phone wouldn’t have already downloaded and cached what I was playing.

The phone was logged by my WiFi AP as having downloaded approx 55MB, and the Beam received 6.2MB in the same time.

The order of magnitude difference strongly suggests to me that the Music stream was received by the phone, and re-encoded on the fly for Airplay to the Beam. But 6.2MB for 3 minutes also indicates a lossy codec.

Badge

Can anyone explain then what’s being played when I select Apple Music as a source from within the Sonos app?

See this support article that relates to the current Apple Service in the Sonos App:

https://support.sonos.com/s/article/3282

256 AAC - and they’re not even embarrassed to say so lol.

 @Lydie73 

Sonos discontinued that speaker 3.5 years ago. It doesn’t support Airplay.

Take the Play.3s back to the store and demand a refund. They were ancient stock, and were mis-sold.

If you wish you could exchange them for two Ones which (a) support Airplay and (b) sound better.

256 AAC - and they’re not even embarrassed to say so lol.

Nothing to be embarrassed about - see the link where the head of Apple Music says that the difference between lossless and 256AAC can’t be heard in a blind test by him, and by other Apple engineers. And why they introduced it as an offering for no extra price.

https://djmag.com/news/apple-music-head-says-he-can-t-tell-difference-lossless-audio

As to those rare exceptional 1% to 2% golden ears he refers to, in the interview he also said that even these ears will need very very high quality stereo equipment to pick up the difference. But I can’t see even that happening in a typical domestic room, even a quiet one, because the ambient noise floor is too high to allow that very small difference to be heard. High quality headphones perhaps, where these room noises are completely missing.

 

 

Badge

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.

As I have a trial subscription to Apple Music I got around to measuring it.

When ostensibly playing ‘Lossless’ on the iPad Apple Music app the AirPlay stream to a Sonos player averaged only ~300kbps over 10 minutes. It was also pretty steady, not rising and falling with the music complexity. It looks like AAC256. 

By contrast the AirPlay stream from the Deezer app when playing lossless is around 1Mbps, i.e. ALAC.

This is pretty confusing - why would Apple allow a rival music service to send superior quality audio than their own Music app over their own protocol?

 

Is there no way then to get lossless Apple Music to a AP2 enabled Sonos Amp either via iOS or S2 app?

Badge

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.

An easier and more conclusive way would be if anyone has a DAC that shows the incoming bitrate to just run this test? Many DACs do.

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.

An easier and more conclusive way would be if anyone has a DAC that shows the incoming bitrate to just run this test? Many DACs do.

Which DAC has this capability - to show incoming bitrate?  I have searched extensively and have been unable to find one.

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.

An easier and more conclusive way would be if anyone has a DAC that shows the incoming bitrate to just run this test? Many DACs do.

A DAC connected where exactly? A Port outputs 24/44.1 PCM on its S/PDIF regardless of the original source content. 

Badge

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.

An easier and more conclusive way would be if anyone has a DAC that shows the incoming bitrate to just run this test? Many DACs do.

Which DAC has this capability - to show incoming bitrate?  I have searched extensively and have been unable to find one.

 

Check this out:

 

What that article is missing is a non-Apple device. In the past, Apple has streamed different streams between their own devices than they have with devices not made by Apple. That article does not address that, one way or the other. 

Badge

I’m not bothered about anything over 16/44 as I just don’t buy the hires thing. I’ve tried a lot it on some decent DACs and Amp (Arcam, Linn etc) wired from a NAS and can hear no difference.

 

I’ve kept my main Monitor Audio speakers but now use Sonos Amp and soundbars / subs  around the house because it just works and has the best app and Apple compatibility - we’re a heavy  Apple household and everyone needs easy access.

 

But - would be a shame to learn that AAC is all that’s available as I do believe there is a difference to 16/44

That is true.  I have found most of these focus on apple devices and also too many of them are on headphones, very few on AVRs and DAPs (I have been trying to establish which DAP has bitperfect USB output and allows installation and operation of Apple Music - no luck so far)  I subscribed to Apple music for a bit on android.  I used Airplay 2 and chromecast (and a USB DAC).  I wasn’t able to measure, but I was convinced I was getting 256AAC in both cases.  I am trying to find a workaround (someone in here posted something similar which I thought was quite smart - checking router data vs Airplayed data and comparing the two.  I have installed Glasswire - not sure if it will do what I want, but worth a try.

Badge

I also have a Yamaha WXA50 here to test and its MusicCast app shows the bit / sampling rate on any incoming audio from a NAS / Radio EXCEPT when you use Airplay, where it just goes blank. 

I also have a Yamaha WXA50 here to test and its MusicCast app shows the bit / sampling rate on any incoming audio from a NAS / Radio EXCEPT when you use Airplay, where it just goes blank. 

… which is not relevant to Sonos. Airplay encoding will depend on the characteristics of the target. Unless one can peek inside the system via the diagnostics (off limits to users) the stream bandwidth is the best, probably only, guide.

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.