Why Hi-Res Lossless Music from Apple Music Won’t Sound Different when Played on Macs (Unless You Change a Setting)

I haven’t written much about Apple’s new foray into lossless, high-resolution, and Dolby Atmos music. I’ve written about high-resolution music plenty over the years, and it’s clear that, for the vast majority of listeners, it’s just marketing and won’t make a difference.

But Apple has added music formats that can’t even be played back on Macs, without changing a hidden setting. Here’s why.

I started playing this album, which is marked Hi-Res Lossless. High-resolution music has both bit depths and sample rates that are higher than the standard 16-bit, 44.1 kHz. So to play it back correctly, your Mac has be able to play the music at those settings. And it won’t, at least not out of the box.

Open the Audio-MIDI Setup app, which is in /Applications/Utilities. You’ll see the sample rate that your Mac is using.

Audio midi

The Music app doesn’t cause this to change automatically, so you’ll need to change it. And while you can probably leave it set to 96,000 Hz all the time, this could cause problems if you’re playing back music at other sample rates.

Audiophiles who have libraries of high resolution have been complaining about this for years, and because of this setting, alternative music player apps, which can adjust for sample rates, have become popular in that niche. I would have expected that Apple would have resolved this issue when they started offering high-resolution music.

Note that there’s no way to know the correct sample rate of the music, if you’re streaming it from Apple Music. Even if you’ve added an Apple Music track to your library, select a track, press Command-I, then check the File tab, it won’t dispaly the sample rate. In fact, it doesn’t even say that it’s high resolution.

No sample rate

These files don’t display their bit rate, so you can’t even calculate backwards from the file size to know what the actual resolution is. In this example, the file is 37.2 MB, which, according to this audio file size calculator, fits the size for a file at 1040 kbps. That’s quite low for a 24-bit, 96 kHz file, so it’s clear that it’s hard to figure this out.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand any of this; it’s not meant for you. Those who understand what I’m talking about will know what it means. As for the rest, just enjoy the music.

Update: As a correspondant pointed out, you can see the bit depth and sample rate if you don’t have Dolby Atmos on in the Playback preferences of the Music app. Click the Lossless icon in the LCD to see that information in a popup.

Bit rate lossless

But if tracks have Dolby Atmos, you can’t see that information.