The news that Apple Music lossless won’t be compatible with any current AirPods model has understandably caused some consternation, but there may be a way to listen to lossless music over your Apple headphones in the future.
Leaker Jon Prosser suggested, on his Front Page Tech show, that Apple could turn to AirPlay as a method of getting Apple Music’s new feature working on models like the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. This would involve using Wi-Fi instead of their usual Bluetooth connection, which can’t handle lossless audio formats.
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“I’m being told that with a simple update, at any time, Apple is working on allowing AirPods to work over AirPlay instead,” Prosser claimed. “With AirPlay, your device would use Bluetooth to discover the AirPods as devices, but once connected it would then create a personal Wi-Fi connection to stream the audio between devices. And, boom, just like that, AirPods are the first wireless headphones that stream lossless audio.”
Prosser also drew parallels with Apple’s Find My tech and its more recent AirTag launch: Apple uncharacteristically announced that Find My would be compatible with third-party devices, before revealing a proprietary product that would take even better advantage of it. The idea, seemingly, is that Apple could now make AirPods the best way of listening to Apple Music wirelessly, having previously confirmed that all headphones will be able to use its separate spatial audio feature.
However, while Prosser is correct in identifying Bluetooth as the limiting factor when trying to play lossless music wirelessly — as opposed to the AirPods series in particular — adding AirPlay connectivity may not be as simple as merely releasing a software update. Connecting to Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth requires additional wireless hardware, and teardowns of AirPods headphones have never revealed thus-far-unused components that would allow them to use Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi is also a lot more power-hungry than Bluetooth. So unless Apple added a way to turn it off, it would spell trouble for the AirPods series’ already so-so battery life.
All that said, it remains odd that Apple wouldn’t even think to include lossless support on the AirPods Max, which only launched late last year. Perhaps instead of somehow retroactively adding Wi-Fi connectivity to existing headphones, Apple could focus on ensuring upcoming models like the AirPods 3 work fully with the new Apple Music features.