The car audio industry may benefit from an improved audio service just announced by Apple.
Apple announced Monday that Apple Music subscribers will get an upgrade to ‘CD quality or better’ audio streaming starting in June at no extra charge.
The upgrade to lossless audio will be free to all subscribers and the company plans to offer 75 million lossless audio songs by the end of the year and 20 million at the outset.
Apple Music’s new audio capability starts at CD quality (16 bit/44.1 kHz) and it goes up to 24 bit/48kHz when played on Apple devices. Users can also get 24 bit/192kHz playback but they will need an external device like a digital to audio (DAC) converter to achieve it. We asked Apple if CarPlay might be able to receive better than CD quality streaming but did not receive a response.
Also Monday, Amazon Music made its own announcement about hifi audio. The company said its HD audio service will now come free of charge. Amazon Music Unlimited users no longer have to pay a $5 premium to stream CD quality up to 24 bit/192 kHz. The HD service previously cost $14.99 (or $12.99 for Prime members). It now goes down to the standard $9.99 Unlimited rate ($7.99 for Prime members).
Spotify plans to launch a HiFi tier later this year in CD quality and Tidal already offers a Tidal Masters tier that can playback at 24 bit/96 kHz.
Industry members said Apple’s move will bring more awareness to better quality audio and that is good for the industry. It will make the high end audio demos easier for retailers and it may even cause services such as Tidal to lower the price of its Hi-Res tier.
“The boutique shops and the stores trying to sell that format will now have more content at no extra cost. And so will the customer,” said Lance Doss, Director of Technical Support & Training at Elettromedia USA. “Amazon Music was charging $15 a month. What Apple did was kick the door down and say we’re going to do it for free.”
Ken Ward, Founder of Educar and International Technical Marketing Manager at Elettromedia Srl said, “I hope dealers and suppliers start talking about how Apple did this because there is a huge demand for better sound!”
Both Kenwood and Sony welcomed the news. “Every opportunity to expose the masses to high fidelity audio is great for our business. We have been promoting Hi Resolution Audio since its inception, so this is certainly a step in the right direction for the audio industry,” said Anthony Tozzi of Sony.
Kenwood’s Seth Halstead added, “…We believe that this announcement can only help to build upon the awareness and possibilities that exist when great sounding audio becomes easier to access.”
AudioFrog President Andy Wehmeyer said, “Of course it’s going to help retailers because… customers are now going to be concerned about the quality of the playback. What we know is that better speakers, and amplifiers and subwoofers and learning how to tune a DSP are things we can talk about more easily because customers are more interested in sound quality.”
But he cautioned about pursuing the discussion about Hi-Res Audio and 192kHz versus 44.1KHz. “Whether it’s CD quality or Hi-Res, once I Bluetooth it to my car, it’s not Hi-Res anymore. There isn’t even CD quality Bluetooth, but there’s stuff that approaches CD quality,” Wehmeyer said. There are so many variables in streaming and down sampling that even for audiophiles, “there’s so much confusion about what I’m actually listening to that this winds up being marketing for the services, [like Apple,] providing this because we do not hear above 20K.” He cautions about “becoming bogged down in a Hi-Res Audio discussion that we need a tweeter that goes out to 80K, two full octaves above what we can actually hear.”
Spotify announced in February it will offer the HiFi tier in select markets. It currently streams at only 320 kbps. No Spotify HiFi pricing has been announced.
Other services such as Qobuz also offer Hi-Res audio streaming and downloads.
Apple Music subscribers can start listening to lossless audio in June by going to Settings > Music > Audio Quality.
Apple also announced it is bringing Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos to Apple Music. By default, Apple Music will automatically play Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, as well as the built-in speakers in the latest versions of iPhone, iPad, and Mac.