How to Really Listen to Apple Music Lossless Tracks on Your iPhone

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When Apple brought lossless tracks to Apple Music at no extra cost, it was a huge deal. Not only did it turn what was already the most popular music streaming service in the world into the most popular lossless streaming service overnight, but it has also since compelled all other legacy lossless streaming services, like Tidal, Deezer and Quboz, to lower their subscription fees. In an instant, better sound became more accessible than ever.

But for most people who own an iPhone and also subscribe to Apple Music, listening to those tracks losslessly isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. Apple’s Lossless Files can not be streamed via Bluetooth (it can’t handle high-speed streams) to begin with, which means many of Apple’s most popular products, including all AirPods models (except for the AirPods Max, but only when wired), cannot play these tracks losslessly.

Instead, Apple Music Lossless Tracks are optimized for two scenarios: streaming music over Wi-Fi to a wireless speaker that supports lossless streaming. Or through an analog connection, such as a pair of headphones or wired headphones.

The other issue is that Apple’s Lightning connection doesn’t support lossless streaming, which is problematic because most newer iPhones no longer have a 3.5mm connection. There’s a simple solution, or of course, and that’s to buy Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm adapter ($9), which has a built-in DAC that supports lossless audio or CD quality (up to 24-bit/48kHz). So you plug in the adapter, plug in a nice pair of headphones, and listen to the best audio quality Apple has to offer, right? Not exactly.

Indeed, there are levels of lossless streaming on Apple Music (and most other services). There are CD-quality lossless tracks (up to 24-bit/48kHz), and then there are even higher resolution audio tracks that Apple calls “Hi-Res Lossless” (up to 24-bit/192kHz). ), the latter of which you need an even higher quality DAC, as not all DACs are created equal.

Portable DACs come in many different shapes, sizes, weights, prices and many of them don’t support Apple Music’s highest quality Hi-Res Lossless tracks; support for these tracks is primarily reserved for high-quality desktop DACs/amps, stereo receivers, and active speakers. However, most portable DACs support lossless CD quality tracks and will certainly enhance the sound of your wired headphones.

(To note: When shopping for a portable DAC to pair with your iPhone, you’ll likely need a Lightning to USB adapter ($29). Indeed, in addition to adding a 3.5mm jack, some portable DACs are also powered by your iPhone.)

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1

AudioQuest DragonFly Black

Maximum resolution: up to 24 bit / 96 kHz

The DragonFly Red is AudioQuest’s entry-level portable DAC. It works well with iPhone and supports a wide range of digital audio files. But the best part is that it is the size of a flash drive, so it will hardly take up any pocket space.

2

Fiio Q3

Maximum resolution: up to 32 bit / 768 kHz

The Fiio Q3 is a portable DAC that supports higher resolution audio than most other options. It’s about the same size and weight as the iPhone 13 mini, but that’s because it has a built-in battery and therefore doesn’t draw power from your iPhone. It has three differently sized headphone jacks and LED indicators that signal the audio quality you’re listening to. It also comes with a Lightning to USB-C cable, so you can plug it into your iPhone right out of the box.

3

iFi Hip-Dac

Maximum resolution: 32 bit / 384 kHz

The iFi Hip-Dac is another portable DAC that supports some of the highest quality audio streams, including Apple’s Hi-Res tracks (and Tidal’s Master Quality tracks). It has a built-in battery and is capable of the size of a small iPhone. It has USB-C and USB-A ports for charging and audio, but you’ll need to purchase a Lighting to USB-C adapter separately.

4

Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt

Maximum resolution: 24 bit / 96 kHz

The Audioqest Dragonfly Cobalt is exactly the same size as the company’s Dragonfly Red, but is significantly more expensive – and there are a few good reasons for that. It has an upgraded processor and headphone amp that dramatically reduces your iPhone’s power consumption and reduces noise reduction. The result is better sound for longer. (It also natively supports Tidal’s main-grade authenticated tracks, which is why it’s ideal for Tidal subscribers.)

5

The best Hi-Fi headphones under $150

We’ve rounded up our favorite premium headphones that cost $150 or less. All are wired. Everything is ideal for pairing with a portable DAC and listening to Apple Music lossless tracks.

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