Apple plans to launch HiFi or lossless audio streaming for Apple Music on Tuesday, May 18. Other than that, no details were given, but there are references to “Apple Lossless”, “Free Lossless” in the Apple Music web app. “Hi-Res Lossless” and “Dolby Atmos”. This was discovered by 9to5mac. These references suggest that Apple is likely planning to announce that users will be able to stream songs in higher quality and potentially enjoy them in the form of spatial audio with a soundbar supported by AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or Dolby Atomos.
There’s still no word on whether better-sounding music is available for free or for free with a normal Apple Music subscription. I feel like it doesn’t cost anything extra, much like if you bought a 1080p movie on iTunes and when the studio releases a 4k adaptation, users get it for free.
Apple sells many devices that are designed to get the most out of 4K video. Apple TV 4K and the Version 2 model with enhanced HDR support are a good place to start. The same goes for the new iPad 12.9This basically means using the same display as the Apple HDR monitor. Apple Music with HIFI audio is really going to be a game changer for people who like music and actually have a good pair of headphones or earphones to get the most of it. So Apple covered movies and music, but what about audiobooks?
Traditionally, audiobooks are inherently low bitrate because you only need the human speech component. 64 kbit / s should be sufficient for most audiobooks, as it is the bit rate at which speech can be recorded without loss of quality. You only need a higher bit rate if your audiobook uses sound effects. Even then, the sound effects are rarely used and you can still hear many more voices. The usual maximum of MP3 is 320 kbps, while it can be higher, it is more than enough for audiobooks. If you visit the audiophile scene, you will hear formats like FLAC or WAV or OGG. These formats are lossless and offer such high audio quality. For the purposes of an audiobook, however, these formats have a significant disadvantage, namely the file size. MP3 is the predominant format for audiobooks because it is compressed. A 10-hour MP3 file ranges from 400 to 800 MB on average, while a FLAC of the same duration can take 4 to 6 GB.
Storage space used to be an issue with iPhones and iPads, but not anymore. The new iPad Pro 2021 Edition starts at 128 GB and a maximum of 2 TB. iPhone Mini and iPhone 12 range from 64GB to 256GB and Pro starts at 128GB and ends at 512GB. Audiobooks can be downloaded directly to your phone or tablet, but they can also be streamed. Suffice it to say, if Apple improves audiobook quality, storage space won’t be a big problem anymore.
Audible started using their new ones Audible Enhanced Format in 2020 and most audiobooks are 64kbps 2ch 44.1kHz, but some of their newer titles are encoded in AAC at 128kbps and 44.1kHz 2ch. Audible provides Apple audiobooksHence, most of the codecs are the same.
Apple had an exclusive relationship with Audible to run all of the audiobook storage when the Apple iBooks system was launched. That changed in 2017 when they ended their exclusivity and entered into other partnerships, such as dealing with large publishers. This means that the quality of older audiobook titles is suspect, but newer ones actually sound pretty good. There are two main codecs that Apple audiobooks use: Apple Lossless Audio Codec at 292 kb / s, 2 channels, 44.1 kHz, 16-bit bit depth and MP3 files with typically 128 kb / s, 2 channels and 44.1 kHz. Typically, Apple audiobooks range from 96 kbps to 128 kbps and audible 64 kbps / 22.05 kHz (older titles) to 128 kbps / 44.1 kHz for the newer ones.
The main reason newer titles have a higher bit rate is because the production quality has increased dramatically in recent years. All of the major publishers have invested tens of millions in building more studios, hiring quality sound engineers, and paying for very good storytellers or even celebrities. Audiobooks have been the fastest growing segment in digital publishing for the past five years.
Millions of people love to listen to audiobooks, and if Apple makes audiobooks sound even better using the same HIFI codecs for Apple Music, they will have a huge competitive advantage. If Apple were to market audiobooks as the best sounding, it would surely hurt Audibles and Scribs’ bottom line. There could also be an influx of people buying premium headphones like Airpods Pro and Airpods Max.
Michael Kozlowski is the editor-in-chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audio books and e-readers for ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post, and the New York Times.