Apple announced a major upgrade to Apple Music: The streaming service will let you listen to music in lossless (CD) and High Resolution (192KHz 24bit) quality starting next month.
This is a huge jump over the lossy 320kbps AAC music files Apple offered previously, and it makes Apple Music competitive with TIDAL, Qobuz, and Amazon Music HD. Some of those services require you to pay a premium for their high resolution streaming tier, but Apple is keeping Apple Music’s price at $9.99 per month — Amazon dropped the price of its Music HD service to the same price this morning.
The new version of Apple Music also supports Dolby Atmos and spatial audio two new surround sound audio formats that don’t require a traditional 5.1 speaker setup. If you’re an Apple Music subscriber who wants to take full advantage of these new features, you’re going to need the right hardware. This guide breaks down everything you’ll need to listen to high resolution, spatial audio tracks on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
What You Need To Stream High Resolution Tracks On Apple Music
If you want to listen to high resolution audio on the iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you’re going to need a DAC (digital audio converter) and wired headphones. Bluetooth headphones compress audio from your device because the wireless format can’t reliably receive a big stream of data all at once. High resolution music files are huge (we recommend downloading them to your device instead of streaming them), so you’ll need a wired pair.
The Best DAC For High Resolution Music: FiiO Q1 Mark II
If you want to listen to Apple Music tracks at their highest possible quality, Fiio’s Q1 Mark II is the DAC to get. It’s bus powered, which means you can plug it directly into an iPhone or iPad with the included MicroUSB to Lightning cable instead of connecting it to an outlet. This feature allows you to use the DAC to listen to 24-bit music files at resolutions up to 192KHz while you’re on the go. If you’re listening to music on your Mac or PC, you can use FiiO’s MicroUSB to USB-A cable. Newer iPad models have a USB-C port, so you’ll need this USB-C to MicroUSB cable to make a connection.
The Q1 Mark II accepts both standard 3.5mm headphones and balanced headphones, so they’ll work with any cans you have. Balanced headphones have a cable coming from each ear cup, while standard headphones only have one. It even has a gain switch if your headphones are hard to drive (require lots of volume to sound good).
We’re recommending this DAC primarily because of its portability, but also because it was designed specifically to work with the iPhone and iPad, and includes everything you need to listen to high resolution audio on those devices in the box. Whether you listen to music at your desk, while you travel, or on the go, FiiO’s Qi Mark II will ensure you can hear your songs at the highest quality possible.
The Best Earbuds For High Resolution Music: 1MORE Quad Driver in-Ear Earphones
High quality wired earbuds are becoming pretty rare, but 1More’s Quad Driver earphones are the ones we recommend.
The earbuds’ namesake feature refers to the fact that each bud has four drivers — the part of a headphone or speaker that makes sound. Most headphones have one or two, which is why 1More’s earbuds stand out. Having more drivers allows the earbuds to send different sounds (bass, treble, midrange) to a dedicated piece of hardware instead of trying to optimize your music to sound good coming from one. You should notice the results immediately.
1More bundles these earbuds with a 1/8 to 1/4 adapter, so you can plug them directly into any DAC, and nine sets of eartips, so you can find the ones that fit in your ears best. Having the right fit matters a lot — if your earbuds are loose, they won’t create a tight seal around your eardrum, and you won’t hear bass frequencies very clearly. Apple Music’s high resolution audio files offer you the opportunity to hear your music better than ever before, and these earbuds will help you experience it properly.
The Best On Ear Headphones For High Resolution Music: Grado SR80x
Grado’s SR80Xs are the latest on-ear headphones from one of the most well-respected audio companies around.
This updated version of its classic SR80s feature an updated 44mm driver, ultra-durable braided cables, and additional padding in the headband. The original SR80s became the gold standard for on-ear headphones when they were originally released in 1991, and this model carries on that legacy.
Like all Grado headphones, the SR80xs are hand-built in Brooklyn, NY. They feature foam padded ear cushions that feel comfortable even after you wear the headphones for several hours. We’ve tested some of Grado’s other headphones, and always found them to look, feel, and sound excellent. One thing to keep in mind is that the SR80xs are open-backed headphones, which means sound will leak out of the ear cups. This is fine if you’re listening to music at home, but may disturb people at your office.
Another thing to consider is the fact that Grado’s headphones terminate into a 1/4-inch connector, so you’ll need an adapter to plug them into the DAC we recommended. Still, these are small caveats for a pair of headphones that’s guaranteed to make your hi-resolution digital music sound pristine.
The Best Over Ear Headphones For High Resolution Music: Sennheiser HD 560 S
Sennheiser’s HD 560 S were the best-sounding pair of over-ear headphones we tried last year, and the ideal pair for listening to high resolution music.
The open-backed headphones offer a lot of comfort thanks to ample stuffing around the earcups and headband, but don’t feel heavy on the head. Their clamping force — the amount of pressure put on your head by the two earcups — was also minimal. Our favorite design touch was the size of the HD 650 S’ earcups, which covered our ears instead of clipping the tops and bottoms.
We’re recommending the HD 560 S because they sound phenomenal. All of the music we listened to sounded well balanced, which means there was never an excessive amount of bass, midrange, and treble. We were able to hear every instrument, beat, and vocal line clearly without one element of a track drowning out the rest.
Sennheiser’s headphones terminate into a 1/4 inch connector, but the company includes a 1/8 inch connector in the box, so you don’t have to get it separately. If you’re an audiophile who wants to listen to high resolution music at a home listening station on your desk, this is the pair to get.
What You Need To Stream Spatial Audio Tracks On Apple Music
Spatial audio is an Apple-developed technology that makes stereo audio sound like surround sound. We’ve heard this technology applied to movie soundtracks, but are more excited about it coming to music. The idea of taking surround sound music with you everywhere you go sounds appealing, though not every song in the Apple Music catalogue will be available in this format. Apple invented spatial audio, so it’s no surprise that you’ll need a pair of Apple or Beats headphones to take advantage of it. These are the headphones we recommend if you want to listen to spatial audio music.
The Best Earbuds For Spatial Audio: AirPods Pro
Apple’s AirPods Pro are not only the best earbuds for spatial audio, they’re our favorite true wireless pair to date.
Despite their size, the AirPods Pro produce high quality sound courtesy of custom-designed audio hardware, and proper tuning. They may not sound “neutral,” but the AirPods Pro do make music sound dynamic, meaning you won’t have to strain to hear your favorite part, or crank the volume during quiet sections.
These earbuds get up to five hours of music playback per charge, plus an additional 18 hours thanks to their battery charging case. How long the battery lasts depends on your listening volume and whether you activate noise cancellation, which is one of the AirPods Pro’s best features. The earbuds block an impressive amount of noise for headphones that’re so small.
If you want to listen to surround sound music on headphones small enough to fit in your pocket, AirPods Pro are the best set to get.
The Best Headphones For Spatial Audio: AirPods Max
Apple’s shied away from making “audiophile” audio gear for a long time, but the AirPods Max are its best-sounding headphones to date.
The over-ear pair are incredibly comforting to wear, thanks in part to the flexible mesh headband, which cradles your head without adding any unwanted pressure. The earcups are well, and were large enough to fit over our ears during hands-on testing.
Wireless over-ear headphones are everywhere, but the AirPods Max stand out because they’re loaded with technology. Each earcup has its own multi-core processor, which analyzes the music you’re listening to in real time and optimizes its sound. This is immediately clear if you shuffle songs from different eras and genres. There’s no one “AirPods Max Sound,” your music just sounds clear.
The AirPods Max are a premium pair of headphones, but they’re good for more than just spatial audio music. They sound good enough that you may find yourself re-listening to music from your collection and hear something new. If you want even more information on the AirPods Max, we encourage you to read our full review.