To the untrained observer, distinguishing between the AirPods Pro 2 with a Lightning Port and the recently unveiled AirPods Pro 2 featuring MagSafe Charging and USB-C at Apple’s Wonderlust iPhone 15 event may not reveal any significant design distinctions, except for the conspicuous addition of a USB-C port on the bottom.
However, concealed within the technical specifications lies a noteworthy novelty: support for lossless audio. Surprisingly, this feature is initially exclusive to the Apple Vision Pro, while absent from the iPhone 15, iPad, or Apple TV 4K.
For avid music streamers like myself, this comes as a profound letdown—a missed opportunity for pioneering technology on a device that only a select few will possess. But what exactly is lossless audio, and why should we desire it?
Lossless audio, as the name implies, is audio that remains uncompressed. If you’ve ever encountered a WAV file on your computer, you’ve encountered a lossless audio file. Achieving lossless audio playback on a computer or laptop can be attained by connecting them to wired headphones or establishing a Wi-Fi connection with a wireless speaker linked to your phone or tablet. Any other form of connection, such as Bluetooth, inevitably results in audio compression.
Since the Vision Pro is a portable device designed for use beyond the confines of one’s home, Apple had to create an entirely novel wireless protocol, one that remains unnamed as of now. It appears that this new wireless protocol employs Apple’s H2 Wireless Chip, present in both the AirPods Pro 2 and the Vision Pro, along with undisclosed software that Apple is reserving for the Vision Pro’s launch.
Regrettably, this software, the H2 Chip, or some undisclosed feature is absent from devices like the iPhone 15, iPad, and Apple TV 4K. In essence, this means that most of the devices you currently own will not support lossless audio playback. While I won’t defend Apple’s choice to limit lossless audio to the Vision Pro, I can appreciate the rationale behind their decision.
First and foremost, the Vision Pro is a premium product, and premium products typically receive access to the latest technology first—a common industry practice. This does somewhat justify the Vision Pro’s hefty $3,499 price tag, although you could undoubtedly purchase a high-resolution audio player supporting lossless files for a fraction of that cost.
A more substantial argument in favor of its inclusion on the Vision Pro is the importance of realistic audio for the overall user experience. Any omission of details could disrupt the immersive experience—an outcome Apple would naturally want to avoid.
However, this perspective has a significant flaw: the AirPods Pro 2 are not bundled with the Vision Pro; they must be purchased separately. In other words, spatial audio does not hold such paramount importance for the Vision Pro that Apple deems it necessary to include AirPods in the package.
Looking ahead, the future of lossless audio appears promising. It’s easy to be skeptical about the current situation, where Apple introduces cutting-edge technology for lossless audio playback over a novel local wireless network, only to confine it to a device that many either don’t desire or cannot afford.
The silver lining in this scenario is that Apple is unlikely to keep this technology exclusive to the Vision Pro for long. While the launch on the Vision Pro may serve to justify its price tag, it’s quite plausible that the wireless audio technology will find its way to iPhones and iPads in the near future.
Though we lack concrete details about Apple’s extended plans, it’s a reasonable assumption that, within the next 12 months, we’ll hear about one or more products that support lossless audio—perhaps even the AirPods Max 2.