The Ongoing Absence of ALAC and HD Audio Support in AirPods: Exploring the Limitations

At the recent Apple event, there wasn’t a major overhaul of the AirPods, with the excuse being the transition to a USB-C port. However, there has been a slight update to the specifications of the AirPods Pro 2: they will now be able to play lossless audio on Apple Vision Pro.

Although this audio quality is superior to what most people in the general market can perceive, it is not the best that audiophiles can aspire to. The AirPods are not capable of playing audio in formats such as ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), and there are valid reasons for this limitation.

ALAC is a format developed by Apple to reproduce sound without any loss and without compression, offering up to 24 bits/192 kHz quality. In comparison, CD quality was 16-bit/44.1 kHz. Apple Music can play part of its catalog in this high quality on devices like the Apple TV 4K, HomePod, iPhones with external speakers, or Macs.

However, the playback of audio on AirPods is restricted to the compressed AAC format that Apple has used for years. The reason behind this is that the Bluetooth connection used by AirPods does not have enough bandwidth to transmit audio in ALAC format, as it takes up too much space due to being uncompressed.

Creating a communications standard with sufficient bandwidth to support ALAC playback would require a technology beyond Bluetooth. Even the AirPods Max, when used with a cable, cannot completely guarantee lossless audio because the sound is converted to analog and then digitized again. Although the loss may be negligible, it still exists in this process.

Attempting to achieve lossless audio wirelessly, possibly through Wi-Fi connectivity like AirDrop, would also lead to a significant reduction in battery life. The sacrifices required for a gain that only the most experienced audiophiles would appreciate are not practical in the case of AirPods.

Perhaps in the future, technology will advance to allow for the best audio quality on small devices like the AirPods. However, for now, we will have to wait and see.

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