Apple also wants to play HiFi, will AirPods usher in a sound quality upgrade this time?

"I want to buy a pair of headphones recently. Do you really want to buy a Bose 700 or a Sony WH-1000 XM4?"

Facing the soul torture of my colleagues, I was a little puzzled, why he suddenly wanted to replace the well-used AirPods Pro.

He explained deeply that AirPods Pro is a good pair of wireless headphones, but not necessarily a good pair of headphones. He needs better sound quality and stronger resolution. Unfortunately, AirPods Pro can't give him.

Indeed, sound quality performance has not always been the specialty of the AirPods series. Whether it is AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, they have competitors with better sound quality at the same price.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash.com

Users who are considering buying the AirPods series often have to endure the mediocre sound quality of "boiling water" for the convenience of Apple's ecology.

But don't rush to send a "good guy card" to AirPods, because Apple is likely to arrange a sound quality upgrade for AirPods in the future.

Apple Music will usher in a big update?

If the Mac series is the soul of Apple, then music can probably be compared to Apple's genes.

Put 1,000 songs in your pocket!

Turning the time back to 2001, Jobs launched the first-generation iPod, known as the "breakthrough in digital devices." At that time, no one believed that this small "white brick" would change the way people listen to songs.

The birth of iTunes in 2003 triggered a revolution in digital music. Jobs wanted to make music digitization a matter of course. People can easily buy, download and listen to music. iPod and iTunes have created an unprecedented, convenient and fast digital music consumption model. Since then, Apple has gradually changed the right to speak in the recording industry with iPod.

▲ Picture from: Inc.com

When the time came to 2007, Apple announced that iPod sales had exceeded the 100 million mark. The revenue from iPod and iTunes had reached 70% of the total revenue. iPod made Apple and music was carved into Apple’s DNA. .

After that, the responsibilities of the iPod were gradually replaced by younger generations such as iPhone and iPad, but Apple's music story continues. At the end of the 2015 WWDC conference, Apple Music surprises its debut as "One More Thing" and continues to write version 2.0 of Apple Music Story.

Now 6 years later, Apple Music has grown into a huge platform that can compete with Spotify, another music streaming giant.

▲ Picture from: Counterpoint.com

According to the statistics of Counterpoint, as of the second quarter of 2020, global online music streaming revenue reached 6.7 billion U.S. dollars. Among the paid subscribers, Spotify, which ranked first, accounted for 34%, followed by Apple Music. twenty one%.

Apple needs to give a better reason to allow more users to subscribe to its streaming media service to stimulate user growth. The launch of HiFi (high-fidelity) music services may be a good choice.

▲ Picture from: 9to5Mac.com

The news about Apple's update of its HiFi music service was first reported by the music website Hit Daily Double. The news stated that Apple plans to launch a HiFi streaming media player in the next few weeks. It is expected to be released at the same time as the third-generation AirPods. The node coincides with the WWDC conference to be held in June.

Immediately afterwards, 9to5Mac found more clues about Apple's HiFi service in the code research of iOS 14.6 beta 1. In the Apple Music app, 9to5Mac discovered the program code for "Dolby Atmos", "Dolby Sound" and "Lossless". These functions are unprecedented in Apple Music.

▲ Picture from: 9to5Mac.com

What’s more interesting is that 9to5Mac subsequently verified the iOS 14.6 beta 2 released this week and found that this part of the code has been deleted. This may be a remedy that Apple is aware of the possible leak. It seems that Apple is really preparing a The high-fidelity audio surprises us.

Prior to this, Apple Music only supported songs with a maximum bitrate of 256 kbps encoded with AAC. This is not so eye-catching in the streaming media market that generally supports 320 kbps bitrates or even higher lossless bitrates. In the eyes of some music enthusiasts, with the exception of the iPod Classic, Apple and HiFi have nothing to do with it.

Is listening to HiFi music with AirPods really a joke?

We are no strangers to lossless music. Support for lossless music has been added to mainstream streaming music platforms such as QQ Music and NetEase Cloud Music. Apple Music supports HiFi sound quality, which looks like a late sound quality upgrade. .

However, as more information is further disclosed, Apple Music HiFi is more than just upgrading the audio quality of streaming media.

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As mentioned in the MacRumors report, Apple Music’s HiFi is likely to be limited to supporting new AirPods models.

In other words, HiFi sound quality is likely to be similar to the previously updated spatial audio function, limited to the more powerful AirPods Pro, AirPods Max or the mysterious third-generation AirPods support.

The reason is probably related to the Bluetooth code required for HiFi sound quality.

Before explaining the reasons, we must first know a conclusion that even if you have an annual QQ Music membership on your mobile phone, you cannot use AirPods to hear the original and lossless "Mojito".

Put on the AirPods, press the play button with your finger, and the journey of music from the phone to the ear may be more complicated than you think.

On music players, we can often see that there are multiple sound quality options:

  • Standard quality (128kbps)
  • HD quality (320kbps)
  • Lossless quality (900kbps-1440kbps)

Different levels of sound quality represent different bit rates. Under the same compression ratio, the higher the bit rate, the greater the dynamic range of the music, and the richer and clearer details.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash

So with a good sound source and good headphones, can you hear good music? Don't forget that from the mobile phone to the headset, it also needs to be transmitted via Bluetooth, and the "bridge" connecting the two is a different Bluetooth codec (Codec).

When the mobile phone transmits music information to the Bluetooth headset, the music file needs to be encoded, transmitted, and then decoded on the headset.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash

In this process, there will be a compression loss of music information. The key to determining how much information we can hear is the transmission rate of Bluetooth encoding.

The reason why we can’t use AirPods to listen to lossless music is because the highest transmission rate of AAC Bluetooth encoding supported by Apple is only about 320kbps. Although the compression efficiency of the AAC format is good, it can retain most of the mid- to high-pitched information, but compared to the original file, the total It was the loss of "chopping the head and cutting the tail."

▲ Picture from: Sony

The mainstream Bluetooth encoding formats are SBC, AAC, aptX, HWA, LDAC and LHDC, etc. Some of these formats may be heard by you.

The SBC format is the most commonly supported Bluetooth encoding format. It is equivalent to the JPG in the picture format. Almost all devices support the SBC format, but the compression efficiency is low and the sound quality is not good.

▲ Picture from: Youtube.com

The aptX format led by Qualcomm is a more advanced encoding format than SBC and AAC. It is widely used on Android phones and supports 48kHz/16bit audio with a maximum bitrate of 352kbps. More efficient encoding can bring better sound quality and listening. sense.

The aptX format is a big family, and different specification versions such as aptX HD and aptX-adaptive have evolved. The former has a maximum transmission rate of 576kbps, and the sound quality has been further improved, while the latter, as the name suggests, can flexibly switch between low-latency and high-quality sound quality modes.

▲ Picture from: Sony.com

The LDAC encoding developed by Sony is currently one of the best Bluetooth encoding formats for Bluetooth transmission. The maximum transmission rate can reach 990kbps, which allows Bluetooth headsets to have near-lossless music performance.

LHDC encoding with similar performance is also appearing on more and more devices. Take OPPO's Enco X as an example. Under the premise that the mobile phone supports LHDC transmission, the transmission rate will be increased to 900kbps when the LHDC option is turned on, and you can experience lossless music. For higher dynamic acoustic performance, Xiao Du, a colleague of "Golden Ears", said that there is a difference in whether the ear is open or not.

▲ AAC old man

In other words, if Apple wants to launch a HiFi service, the AAC-encoded "small water pipe" cannot transmit huge lossless music to the AirPods series of headphones.

Combined with Apple's condition that new models of AirPods can be enabled to enable the HiFi function, Apple is likely to open a higher standard Bluetooth encoding format for HiFi services.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash

Apple has always been a solid supporter of the AAC format, which has allowed Apple to form a unified balance between the music format and the Bluetooth encoding format, allowing AirPods to have a song listening experience that surpasses the performance of ordinary AAC transmission.

If Apple wants to embrace the high-standard lossless music format, it is bound to be accompanied by the upgrade of the Bluetooth encoding format, which may bring better sound quality to AirPods. There is no doubt that this will make people look forward to the arrival of the WWDC conference. .

Will AirPods+Apple Music be the next iPod+iTunes combination?

Apple analyst Neil Cybart once pointed out that Apple's transformation from paid download iTunes to Apple Music's subscription-based streaming media service is a change in content distribution methods caused by the new digital content field.

Music has always been rooted in Apple's DNA, deep into the bones.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said this in an interview with FastCompany. Early "iPod+iTunes" solved the digital copyright and commercialization of music, giving Apple, a "layman" from the technology industry, an unusual right to speak in the music industry.

After more than a decade, Apple's dominance in the digital music market was shaken by streaming services led by Spotify. The era of "iPod+iTunes" has finally come to an end, and it is very likely that "AirPods+Apple Music" will inherit the Apple Music story.

According to Counterpoint’s survey report, Apple shipped approximately 72.8 million AirPods last year and still dominates the TWS market. In the fourth quarter of 2020, wearable devices and other accessories (including AirPods, Apple Watch and HomePod) created Revenue of 12.97 billion US dollars, accounting for more than 11% of Apple's total revenue.

AirPods is still popular with people, but it is undeniable that people's demand for it is not so strong anymore. The report pointed out that AirPods was one of the few Apple devices that did not increase significantly in sales at the end of last year.

Launching the HiFi service for AirPods on Apple Music, Apple seems to want to replicate the success of the HaaS (hardware as a service) model on iPod and iTunes on AirPods, stimulate AirPods consumption with higher-quality music services, and then use AirPods to drive streaming services Subscription.

However, back to the HiFi function itself, do we really need higher-quality music services?

Mp3ornot.com provides an interesting experiment. It provides files of the same audio with different bitrates. After listening to the high and low quality files, you can distinguish whether the "X" segment is 320kbps or 128kpbs.

After answering 5 wrong questions in a row, I think what I need may not be HiFi music or HiFi headphones, but a HiFi ear.

Higher and higher

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