HOW IT WORKS: Listening to music with a DAC
MacFormat UK|February 2022
Apple Music finally offers high-quality audio – but you’ll need a converter
Cliff Joseph

When Apple added new highquality ‘lossless’ and ‘high-res’ audio formats to the Apple Music service last summer, it was forced to admit that its own AirPods range of headphones are unable to actually play these new audio formats – and, yes, that even includes the madly expensive AirPods Max.

That’s because the AirPods all use Bluetooth – rather than conventional audio cables – to stream wireless music. The convenience of wireless headphones is great, of course, but Bluetooth – which was originally developed way back in the 1980s – was never designed to handle these modern, high-quality audio formats.

Playing lossless or high-res audio therefore requires either a conventional set of wired headphones, or Bluetooth headphones that also include a 3.5mm audio connector so that you can switch to a wired connection when you want to. That’s a really good option, as it gives you the convenience of Bluetooth when you’re travelling, but lets you switch to a wired connection when you get back home and want to enjoy your favourite tunes with the best possible sound quality. And, of course, you can play lossless and high-res music on external speakers that have a wired connection too.

That’s not the whole story, though. Even with a good set of wired headphones or speakers, the cheap and cheerful sound chips that Apple uses in Macs, iPhone and iPads aren’t really good enough to handle high-quality audio. So, in order to get the best sound quality from Apple Music or any other streaming service, or even sources such as an old CD collection, which is still stored in iTunes on your Mac, Apple now recommends you use an additional device known as a DAC – a digital-to-analogue-converter.

Macs and DACs

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