High fidelity comes to the masses thanks to Apple Music’s new lossless, hi-res, and Dolby surround streaming services. That’s right! The second biggest music streaming platform on the planet now offers CD-quality audio, high resolution masters, and Dolby Surround albums. And it’s a big deal. Because rather than charging you a premium for its additional services, Apple’s all-new high fidelity smorgasbord is available at just $11.99 Aud a month.
Back in February, Audiophiles the world over rejoiced with the news that Spotify would introduce a CD-quality streaming tier. Finally, streaming’s MVP would grant access to the biggest CD library on the planet. But when Apple stepped into the ring in June to announce it would join the high fidelity ranks of streaming providers like Tidal, Qobuz, and Amazon HD – at no extra charge, they sucker punched the competition so hard that we’re all still in a daze.
Amazon immediately toed the line, dropping the price of its high resolution library to match Apple. Tidal went into damage control, firing free subscription tokens to current and former subscribers alike. And so far Spotify hasn’t responded. They didn’t have to. Four months after the initial announcement and we still haven’t received a Spotify Hifi release date, which begs the question. Will it still charge a premium for CD-quality streaming? In Feb, we all assumed it would. But that was before Apple changed the game.
All buzz aside, what does any of this actually mean for you… the listener. Well, it’s never been easier nor more affordable to listen to your favourite artists and albums in high fidelity. And to Apple, high fidelity means the following:
- Apple Lossless: 16bit/44.1kHz (CD quality)
- Apple Digital Masters: up to 24bit/192kHz (HiRes)
- Apple Spatial: Dolby Surround Sound
Now, the potential to hear a wide selection of music between 16/44.1 and 24/192kHz is exciting to say the least. Music of this calibre played on the right equipment is an absolute treat. But to ensure you get every bit and sample rate available, you’ll first need a quality DAC. Because without it, you might as well go back to streaming compressed lossy files.
There are two primary considerations here: home audio and portable. And I’ve listed below the available products depending on your preference. So let’s dive in.
For the folk who don’t own an amplifier with an inbuilt DAC, Audiolab’s flagship DAC is compatible with digital music files up to 32-bit/384kHz via its USB (B) input. This is HUGE. Because once you’ve sourced a compatible iOS cable (widely available and no more than 10 to 15 bucks a pop), this award-winning digital to analogue converter will pump out wildly textured and highly detailed HiRes Apple Music streams. Treat. Your. Self.
For the folk who desire a more all-in-one solution, our LEAK Stereo 130 integrated amplifier is the winning ticket. It has an inbuilt ESS Sabre 32 Reference DAC capable of playing digital audio files up to 32-bit/384kHz via its USB (B) input. So again, with a compatible cable purchase you’ll get truly incredible sound quality. Not to mention that the Stereo 130 is a 2 x 45W class A/B powerhouse home to a smorgasbord of additional audio inputs. Turntables, televisions, Bluetooth anyone?
Entirely unique to the portable DAC market, Audiolab’s highly acclaimed M-DAC Nano can up-sample incoming audio signals to 32-bit/384kHz. But perhaps most impressively it does this via Bluetooth, so you’re portable and wireless. Well, to a degree. It does require a pair of wired headphones, and Audiolab’s M-EAR 2D and M-EAR 4D pair beautifully. But it’s the capability and convenience of this truly clever DAC has made it a multiple award-winner, one that should sit high on any listener’s must-have portable DAC list.