Apple’s wi-fi platform for audio and video streaming — AirPlay — is likely one of the greatest methods to play music from an Apple machine to a wi-fi speaker. When at residence, on a Wi-Fi community, it outperforms Bluetooth because of its wider bandwidth. The traditional knowledge has at all times been that AirPlay units a tough restrict on audio high quality: iPhones and different Apple gadgets can solely transmit lossless CD-quality audio, at 16-bit/44.1kHz, to an AirPlay-enabled speaker, leaving the expertise incapable of supporting the higher-res streams now being provided by Apple Music and others. However evidently AirPlay can really do 24-bit audio. Kind of.
The brand new second-gen HomePod, which Apple launched in January, can stream lossless 24-bit/48kHz audio instantly from Apple Music, utilizing its personal Wi-Fi connection to the web. This isn’t information: Apple added 24-bit lossless playback (by way of Apple’s ALAC codec) to the first-gen HomePod and HomePod mini in 2021, together with Dolby Atmos assist.
Nonetheless, I used to be stunned to be taught that the HomePod can even stream this better-than-CD-quality 24-bit/48kHz audio utilizing AirPlay. I used to be so struck by Apple’s obvious growth of AirPlay’s functionality, I checked to see if the specification had modified. It hasn’t. How is that this even attainable?
It seems that there’s a nuance to the HomePod’s use of AirPlay. It stays true that once you stream from a tool like an iPhone to an AirPlay speaker, the stream is proscribed to 16-bit/44.1kHz. Nonetheless, when a HomePod grabs a stream natively from Apple Music, it might share that stream with a number of further HomePods (for the needs of multiroom or stereo-pairing). It does this utilizing AirPlay and may achieve this at as much as 24-bit/48kHz.
The shock right here isn’t that two HomePods can share audio wirelessly at 24/48. That’s how a number of HomePods can play the identical stream in sync with no loss in high quality. What’s stunning is that they use AirPlay to do it.
So we’re left with one thing of a thriller. If AirPlay can handle higher than CD high quality when streaming from one HomePod to a different, why can’t it do the identical factor from an iPhone to an AirPlay speaker, even when the speaker in query is a HomePod?
As a Wi-Fi-based streaming protocol, there’s by no means been a bodily purpose why AirPlay must be restricted to only CD high quality. In spite of everything, Chromecast has lengthy been capable of assist as much as lossless 24-bit/96kHz, and DTS Play-Fi makes the same declare. Denon’s Wi-Fi-based HEOS system can go as excessive as 24-bit/192kHz.
Why, you could be questioning, will we even care about 24-bit audio? Isn’t CD high quality completely high quality? No query about it, CD high quality is usually thought-about glorious, even by a few of the most ardent audiophiles. And but, that hasn’t stopped the trade from shifting to so-called hi-res audio, a stage of high quality that many regard as being noticeably higher than good ol’ CD high quality.
Whether or not you possibly can really hear the distinction or not will rely on all kinds of things. I received’t get into that debate right here. As an alternative, I’ll merely level out that there’s a disconnect between the standard stage Apple has chosen to assist by itself streaming music service (Apple added 24-bit lossless tracks to its Apple Music catalog in 2021) and the standard stage supported by its different audio applied sciences, together with AirPlay.
If Apple sees match to broaden AirPlay past its present CD high quality constraints, which it appears like it’s able to doing, it is going to go a protracted strategy to serving to folks hear what they (might have been) lacking.