Apple’s AirPods Pro earbuds are undeniably one of the best active noise-canceling headphones around. Arguably, though, they’re not quite the in-ear headphone upgrade no-brainer they once were.
As manufacturers introduce wireless earbuds with support for the latest aptX Lossless Audio codec over Bluetooth wireless connectivity, Apple is looking like it's lagging behind in terms of its audio capabilities if it doesn't offer wireless lossless audio support when it eventually launches the so-called AirPods Pro 2, rumored to be announced at the next Apple event.
When Apple launched the original AirPods Pro back in October 2019, they set the standard in ANC performance and personalized adaptive sound from a wireless earbud.
Since then the ANC wireless earbud market has exploded, and even small specialist audio brands have been muscling in on the AirPods market with their own versions of personalized sound and active noise-canceling.
These features are now commonplace and can even be found on low-cost designs along with the kind of sound quality delivery that is at least as good as, and sometimes even superior to, the iconic AirPod Pro.
How can Apple fix that? Well, it needs to make this one change to win us back over.
Without lossless you're losing out
For audio lovers looking forward to better audio quality from their wireless earbuds and headphones, the recent rumors suggesting that next-gen AirPods Pro could miss out on some big upgrades after all are a bit concerning to say the least. So far, the features affected appear to be the health features, but I just hope that the rumored wireless audio improvement isn't among one of the upgrades that's also being cut.
We've already seen that Bluetooth audio quality is about to get a massive upgrade thanks to the new aptX Lossless Audio codec, and earbuds are already starting to appear that are capable of handling the higher data rate audio format that promises to stream 16-bit/44.1kHz, CD-quality audio over Bluetooth at data rates of up to 1,200kbps.
For an idea of how significant this is, aptX Adaptive offers a maximum bitrate of 420kbps, aptX HD 576kbps, while Sony's LDAC offers a maximum streaming bitrate of 990kbps. If you can appreciate that the higher the data rate, the more information there is in the audio signal being received by the earbuds or headphones. This results in a more accurate representation of whatever you're listening to, and ultimately achieves a significant step up in audio quality over previous aptX codecs.
It's not quite so cut and dried as this of course — you still need to be listening on a properly designed set of headphones capable of maximizing the high-quality audio signal with speaker drivers that produce the full range of frequencies as accurately as possible to ensure the higher-quality audio signal isn't being compromised in any way — but you get the picture.
The arrival of aptX Lossless Audio could be a game changer for music fans who want to enjoy high-quality audio wirelessly, and will effectively make the majority of wireless headphones and earbuds that are available feel like you're being short changed when it comes to sound quality.
When it comes to wireless steaming over Bluetooth for Apple, though, it prefers its own AAC format. It hasn't supported the aptX codec previously, so it's unlikely to be joining the aptX Lossless Audio party that's expected to start when Android devices launch with support for the new codec later this year.
Apple already has its own lossless audio format ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), which already offers CD-quality resolution and beyond, but the format is tied to its own content via its Apple Music streaming service and iTunes. The other problem is, as far as we know, it hasn't yet managed to figure out a way to get its ALAC lossless audio format working with Bluetooth connectivity without compromising the audio quality.
We've previously understood that Apple could turn to AirPlay as a method of getting its lossless format working with its AirPods range of headphones, and it's possible that this could involve using Wi-Fi to carry the audio signal. With no recent rumor leaks on the subject, it's unclear whether this is still in the works. But we understand it may utilize different wireless tech using Bluetooth to discover and connect to the AirPods, and then create a personal Wi-Fi connection that uses a form of AirPlay 2 to stream lossless audio between devices.
Whether Apple introduces wireless lossless audio support on a new audio device before full aptX Lossless Audio capability arrives is anyone's guess, but these are very exciting prospects for audiophiles everywhere nevertheless.
If it doesn't, my money is likely to go on a pair of NuraTrue Pro earbuds. I’ve already had some hands-on experience with these as one of the first pairs of earbuds to support the aptX Lossless Audio codec. Sadly though, with no compatible aptX Lossless Audio playback device yet available, I am unable to assess the audio quality benefits with the new lossless codec. From what I've heard so far, though, performance with standard wireless connectivity looks likely to have Apple on its toes in terms of audio personalization and sound performance overall. The NuraTrue Pro earbuds are already bringing my music listening to life on morning commutes, so look out for my full review of these earbuds coming soon.
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.