Apple Music boss admits he can’t hear any difference between compressed and lossless audio: “our ears aren’t that good”

Apple Music Spatial and Lossless Audio
(Image credit: Apple)

BEST OF 2021: Apple may have talked up its new lossless audio support in Apple Music when it was announced - “you will be able to hear the exact same thing that the artists created in the studio”, we were told - but Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, who heads up the service, isn’t convinced that it’s quite such a big deal.

Speaking to Billboard, he said: “The reality of lossless is: if you take 100 people and you take a stereo song in lossless and you take a song that's been in Apple Music that's compressed, I don't know if it’s 99 or 98 can't tell the difference.

“For the difference of lossless, our ears aren't that good. Yeah, there are a set of people who have these incredible ears, and that's one piece of it. There's the other piece of it, which is do you have the level of equipment that can really tell the difference? It requires very, very high-quality stereo equipment.

“What you find is, for somebody who's a true, for example classical connoisseur, they may be able to tell the difference in lossless. I can't tell personally - I do the blind tests all the time with the team - I can't tell.”

On the subject of Spatial Audio, however - Apple’s new immersive audio standard that offers support for Dolby Atmos - Cue is much more effusive.

“I've been waiting for something in music that was a real game-changer,” he says. “The quality of audio has not been able to really rise because there hasn't been anything out there that when you listen to it, it truly is differentiated to everybody. It doesn't matter whether you're eight years old or 80 years old, everyone can tell the difference and everyone knows this one sounds better than the other one.

“And the analogy to that is obviously the first time you ever saw HD on television: you knew which one was better because it was obvious. And we've been missing that in audio for a long time. There really hasn’t been anything that's been substantial. We'll talk about lossless and other things, but ultimately, there's not enough difference.

“But when you listen for the first time and you see what's possible with Dolby Atmos with music, it's a true game-changer. And so, when we listened to it for the first time, we realized this is a big, big deal. It makes you feel like you're onstage, standing right next to the singer, it makes you feel like you might be to the left of the drummer, to the right of the guitarist. It creates this experience that, almost in some ways, you've never really had, unless you're lucky enough to be really close to somebody playing music.”

Lossless Audio and Spatial Audio are now available to all Apple Music subscribers, with Spatial Audio authoring tools set to come to Logic Pro later this year.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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