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Audio

Apple Music Lossless?

Apple Music at Dismal Manor

Well it is free. Apple One Premier lets you have any several Apple online services for $30/month. I had TV+, iCLoud 2TB, and News for $30 already so took a bite of the Apple One apple adding Music.

Apple now offers bundles of online service under the Apple One logo. Here at Dismal Manor we have

  • Apple TV+
  • Apple iCloud storage
  • Apple News
  • Apple Music

Since my storage plan was $10/month, Apple TV+ was another $10, and Apple News another $10, changing to Apple One Premier was the same out of pocket and allowed me to add Apple Music to the mix. Read on to learn my impressions of the new Apple Music Lossless offering.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oversampling
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filter_design
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterworth_filter
  4. https://www.apple.com/apple-music/
  5. https://www.apple.com/apple-one/
  6. https://youtu.be/4PFr1CMYvsc Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat on Schiit Audio DAC time domain differences.
  7. https://youtu.be/hs1On87Ixe4 Present Day Production on recording sampling rate and sampling rate conversion issues. They show the damage using a DAW and spectrum analyzer.
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_filter
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FLAC
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Lossless
  11. http://digitalsoundandmusic.com/5-3-8-algorithms-for-audio-companding-and-compression/

Revision History

  1. 2021-06-13, really big rewrite to reduce the scope of the article. The original stuck its nose into the sampling rate issue, something I felt was adding no reader value.

Activating Lossless Playback

Open Apple Music and open its Preferences. Select the Playback group. Turn off the stuff you don’t want. Sound enhancer is an auto-magical equalization. Sound check rejiggers levels to normalize each track for playback. In the Audio Quality section, select Lossless Audio. Select ALAC up to 24-bit 48 kHz. Select ALAC up to 24-bit 48kHz for downloading.

Apple Recommends an External DAC for Lossless

Apple will prompt you to use external hardware. Today, there are two ways to reach external hardware

  • USB DAC locally
  • AirPlay Devices

A local USB DAC should sound a bit better as Apple AirPlay, in the past, has been a bit off when feeding a stream receiver. At the time, Google Cast audio sounded a lot more detailed spatially. AirPlay audio was flat by comparison. Toward the end of this article, I’ll describe my low cost DAC setup and how it is patched up.

Apple Music Playback Preferences

Review the Restrictions tab and set those that are appropriate for your household.

Apple Music Restrictions — check to disable or forbid

Lossless Compression

Lossless compression is, well, lossless, because compression followed by expansion returns the original bit series. Lossless compression reduces the size of a bit series in a manner that reduces the amount of storage needed for the compressed bit stream while allowing the exact input sequence to be reconstructed. For audio, two encoding algorithms are in widespread use, Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC), and Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC).

The two schemes are similar in the amount of size reduction produced. They differ somewhat in the division of labor between the compression phase and the expansion phase.

Both achieve compression by storing the information common to both channels only once. FLAC stores and compresses the sum (L+R) and difference (L-R) as described in Reference [11]. The sum and difference sequences are then encoded using a linear predictive encoder. Use of L+R and L-R audio is a common practice used in Stereo LP records and Stereo FM radio before its use in lossless audio encoding. Adding gives 2L. Subtracting gives 2R.

FLAC compression is more difficult than FLAC expansion by design. This permits inexpensive devices to play back FLAC media.

It is important to note that both ALAC and FLAC return the original bit sequence. So one won’t sound different than the other. They’ll both sound exactly the same because the bit sequences are exactly the same. This is easily demonstrated by importing both versions into Adobe Audition, inverting one, and playing the two back together. The result is silence!

Well how does Apple Lossless Sound?

So far, Ive listened to one record, Cory Wong and John Batiste Meditations. When played to a local DAC, the sound quality is very similar to that provided by Qobuz. Harmonically, the guitar, bass, and piano are harmonically right and have proper attack and decay. The small stick work on the drum kit is pretty good but drums are laid back on this record.

I have Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out Takes lined up and playing as I write this. Blue Rondo a La Turk is rolling. This record has impressive jazz drum work on it. Lots of the small sounds that are hard to capture and reproduce are clean and present. Cymbal play and drumming are soft (its a jazz record, innit?) but it is there. This is a 2020 release following some noodling in the Columbia/Sony jazz vaults. It’s right. It’s what I’d hear in a club. And this on Modi which is not quite as good at this stuff as Gumby (Gugnir multi-bit).

For this I began with the Modi on the TOSlink off the back of the CalDigit. Moving to USB and the sound is comparable, maybe a tad better. Very, very good sound. Very comparable to lounge sound with the Magneplanar LRS.

Schiit Modi selected for playback

Watusi Jam is playing now. The Toms and cymbals are right. Little Modi is easily within spitting distance of big brother Gumby reproducing this record.

Getting Started with Lossless

I’m assuming you have a Mac. You can play back directly on the device but you will be unimpressed. So what sort of kit do you need for improved playback of lossless material? I’ll describe what I use here.

Modi 3 image courtesy of Schiit Audio
  • Schiit Audio Modi DAC, or similar
  • Schiit Audio Magni headphone amplifier or similar
  • 3.5mm headphone
  • CalDigit Dock with TOSlink and USB A outputs
  • TOSlink optical cable 1/2 meter or so
  • 2 USB cables with micro-B connectors (device end)

Schiit Modi is perfectly happy to have all 3 interfaces connected simultaneously. For this review, I have TOSlink and USB connected.

In cabling this up, I found that the Cal Digit did not have the heft to power Modi and moved the power connector to my Anker USB 3 hub powered off the mains. You can also use a USB power brick rated 3 amps or more.

  1. Connect the computer’s USB output to the DAC’s digital audio input.
  2. Connect the the DAC’s USB power input to a robust USB power supply (3 Amp).
  3. Select the TOSlink input by placing Modi’s toggle switch in the middle position.
  4. Confirm that Modi’s power indicator is lighted
  5. Connect Magni and Modi using audio cables
  6. Turn Magni volume to minimum
  7. Connect Magni’s transformer to power and to Magni
  8. Turn on Magni
  9. Connect headphones
  10. Set computer audio routing to the Cal Digit box. The first is for front panel audio. The second is for the TOSlink interface
  11. Connect Modi’s USB power input if needed and select the desired input. Set volume to 9 o’clock initially. Set app level sliders to full right.
  12. Start music and select your playback device. Adjust volume as needed.
Mac audio device configuration

The figure below shows Music App’s audio output selector.

Select Computer

Switching to Modi USB is simple. Shift the Music App’s audio output and shift Modi’s input selector to the top position.

Playing to Schiit Modi USB input

This is the first time I’ve spent time with Modi’s USB input and the results are impressive. Very close to Gumby.

Apple Music Shortcomings

The big shortcoming with Apple Music is that there is no good way to play back Apple Music audio in the lounge music system. It’s just not made for audio system integration.

  • AirPlay is the only way to something else
  • AirPlay keeps the source host busy, the stream is not handed over to the receiver to fetch from the source.
  • Apple TV is the only official receiver and it no longer has a high definition audio output. The TOSlink output was removed several versions ago.
  • To be by the book, send by AirPlay to Apple TV with the TV on and catch the output out of the TV’s TOSlink output (do they have them today?)
  • Or connect an Apple TV HDMI output (there’s only one) to an, ugh, home theater receiver’s HDMI.
  • Or send the output to a Raspberry Pi stream receiver implementing a reverse engineered version of AirPlay 1. This sounds flat compared to Roon RAAT to the same device.

It is still possible to buy media by those artists whose children need shoes. Apple Music downloads music into a selected location. From there, it can go into your Roon Library. As deals between streaming services and publishers come and go, it is a good idea to have an owned copy of favored music.