Apple Music Boss Admits Most People Can’t Hear a Difference Between Lossless and Compressed Audio

Apple Music head lossless
  • Save

Apple Music head lossless
  • Save
Photo Credit: Dan Counsell

Apple Music hailed lossless audio as a step forward in the music listening experience – but Apple exec Eddy Cue doesn’t agree.

Cue is Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services – and the head of Apple Music. In a recent interview with Billboard, Cue says he doesn’t believe people can tell the difference between lossless and compressed streaming audio.

“The reality of lossless is: if you take 100 people and you take a stereo song in lossless and you take a song that’s been in Apple Music that’s compressed, I don’t know if it’s 99 or 98 [people that] can’t tell the difference,” Cue says.

“For the difference of lossless, our ears aren’t that good. Yeah, there are a set of people who have these incredible ears, and that’s one piece of it. There’s the other piece of it, which is do you have the level of equipment that can really tell the difference? It requires very, very high-quality stereo equipment.”

“What you find is, for somebody who’s a true, for example classical connoisseur, they may be able to tell the difference in lossless. I can’t tell personally – I do the blind tests all the time with the team – I can’t tell.”

Apple’s own audio gear, AirPods and AirPods Max use the standard AAC codec over Bluetooth. It’s a lossy codec for wireless streaming, but even wired you’re not getting true ‘lossless audio.’

That’s because the AirPods Max use an analog-to-digital converter (ADC) to convert the analog audio from the 3.5mm cable into a digital format before passing it on to the actual audio drivers. The signal is being reprocessed, and is no longer an identical match to the source.

The result is a sound that is very close to the lossless file, but Apple won’t call it that because there has been some reprocessing to the file. Listening to ‘hi-resolution lossless’ still requires an external DAC, no matter what gear you’re planning on using for streaming the music.

One Response

  1. Mike Rophone

    Actually, you can train yourself to hear the difference. All compressed audio involves a change in phase relationships between the stereo pair, so generally you’ll hear less depth and less stereo spread. And you can hear it with $40 headphones.