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Something is bubbling in Apple Music land, according to a teaser on the service itself, as well as references found in the code of its Android and web apps. That something appears to be a proper hi-res tier using lossless audio.

Start with Apple’s own teaser, within the ‘browse’ tab of its service. “Get ready – music is about to change forever,” it claims, with a ‘coming soon’ tag attached. Enter the code-furtlers, who’ve been uncovering more details by looking at Apple Music’s innards.

9 to 5 Google dug out references to “lossless audio files” in Apple Music’s Android app. More specifically, references to ‘Lossless’ and ‘High-Res Lossless’ options, with warnings about the space these tracks will take up if downloaded to the device, and the data they’ll use if streamed over the mobile network.

Its sister website 9 to 5 Mac found similar references in the source code of Apple Music’s web app, with additional mentions of Dolby Atmos and Dolby Audio. Apple Music’s parent company has already been working in spatial audio, with a recent update to its AirPods Pro and AirPods Max earphones.

There’s only so much you can extract from code: none of the reports sheds light on whether Apple Music’s hi-res feature will be offered within its service at no extra cost, or will launch as a more expensive tier – the strategy adopted by Amazon Music, Deezer and Tidal for example.

That’s the bigger picture here. With Spotify having announced in February plans to launch a CD-quality ‘HiFi’ tier later this year, by the end of 2021 the three biggest audio streaming subscription services (Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music) will have hi-res options, along with Deezer, Tidal, Qobuz and others.

The next question: how popular will they be? Billboard had some selective data from Amazon Music on Friday: its HD subscriptions have “grown 100% globally year-over-year as of March” claimed its report, with a quote from VP Steve Boom saying “It has exceeded everybody’s expectations… You could add up all the other HD services together and they wouldn’t be close to us.”

Adding up all the other HD services together likely doesn’t result in a big number at this point, and while 100% growth is impressive, it’s likely from a small base. The jury is still out on whether hi-res / HD music streaming will be more than a niche, but the competition between the three biggest audio DSPs (and perhaps YouTube Music too?) may finally provide a verdict.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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