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Apple promotes spatial audio and lossless audio at the same time. What are the advantages of TWS and wired headphones?

  • May 24, 2021
  • 1299

The concept of spatial audio has appeared in front of consumers many times, from VR/AR to car audio, the term has been used in publicity terms. So is Apple's spatial audio a breakthrough new technology, or is it a new bottle of old wine?


Apple's spatial audio system will use the gyroscope and sensors in the headset to simulate a 3D space, so that when the user wears the device and moves his head, it can still remain static. This feature was first introduced into Apple's video content, and now Apple plans to bring it to the audio field.


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However, this technology is not new anymore, and it has been the first to be listed in the content ecology. Sony launched 360 Reality Audio (360 RA) technology as early as 2019, and has taken the lead in cooperating with multiple music streaming media to provide responsive spatial audio content. Unlike Apple’s spatial audio which is limited to wireless headset devices, Sony’s 360 RA also adds support for speaker devices such as speakers and echo walls. Sony has also begun to issue 360 RA certification to other headsets, mobile phones and car speakers to further popularize spatial audio.


Nevertheless, spatial audio is still a relatively early technology. To provide such content, it must be used in the recording and music production process. It's not so much about fighting technology, it's about fighting for soft power in content cooperation. Although TWS is currently the biggest business opportunity in the audio market, it is not the best carrier for spatial audio. Traditional headsets can provide a more immersive spatial audio experience, which is why Apple emphasizes spatial audio in the promotion of Airpods Max. At best, spatial audio provides a novel application scenario for TWS. As to whether it can develop into a pain point, it still needs further exploration of content by Apple and Sony and a number of music service manufacturers.


Lossless audio: the revival of wired headsets + the benefits of audio equipment?


So what are the characteristics of the lossless audio that Apple promotes? What Apple refers to here as "lossless" is lossless audio up to 48kHz, in addition to that Apple also provides 24-bit high-resolution lossless audio at 192kHz. Apple will compress directly from the master tape, using the ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) format, which can compress its volume to 40% to 60% of the original volume. Apple will even provide a version during recording in the studio.


Although Apple intends to provide lossless audio to Apple Music subscribers for free in June, Apple added a small line at the end of the press release: Due to the large file size and required bandwidth of lossless and high-resolution lossless audio, subscribers You need to actively choose this experience. Listening to high-resolution lossless audio also requires the use of external equipment, such as a USB digital-to-analog converter (DAC). This passage means that Apple's existing headset products are not enough to complete lossless audio playback. Whether it is Airpods, Airpods Pro, or the newly launched Airpods Max, they cannot enjoy 24-bit 192kHz high-resolution lossless audio.


This seems to be a very strange choice for Apple. We all know that Bluetooth audio is also beginning to pursue lossless. The effect of wireless transmission is naturally not as good as wired, but if Apple launches its own private Bluetooth protocol, it can undoubtedly greatly enhance its product competitiveness and further combine its own music services to obtain more headset share. And Apple's Airpods product line is still using Bluetooth AAC codec, which can only be missed with lossless audio. Sony's LDAC, SAVITECH's LHDC, and Qualcomm's aptX adaptive and other Bluetooth encodings have all supported 96k 24-bit lossless audio transmission. The first two have obtained the wireless high-resolution audio certification of the Japan JAS Association.


Willson, the product manager of FiiO, mentioned that if Apple devices want to listen to lossless audio through Bluetooth headsets, they must make a huge upgrade in the Bluetooth codec scheme. If it is not a proprietary Bluetooth protocol, it will switch to Qualcomm’s Bluetooth codec scheme. At present, devices with mainstream Bluetooth chips CSR8675, QCC5124, and QCC5141 have the opportunity to be compatible and upgraded. But considering that the current supplier of Apple's Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modules is still Broadcom, this idea may not be realized in the short term.


However, this move does once again expand the market for wired headsets, related audio peripherals and DAC chips. Although these are niche products, as people's demand for sound quality gradually increases, and audio service manufacturers such as Apple and Amazon are active Advancement will surely usher in a good market prospect.

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Although Apple is an equipment vendor, it still started from a service provider in terms of music. Apple’s music service can also be experienced on Android and Windows systems, so if you only go for lossless audio services, you don’t have to accommodate Apple’s equipment. . Considering that Amazon also announced the value-added cost of lossless audio on the same day, Spotify announced at the beginning of the year that it will enter the lossless audio market, not to mention that the domestic NetEase Cloud, QQ Music, etc., have opened lossless audio services early, and these music service providers are fighting each other. The beneficiaries are not only consumers, but also audio equipment manufacturers. In the case of portable amps, manufacturers such as FiiO, Yidu, and THX can use Apple's user base to further expand the audience of their products.


In addition, DAC chip manufacturers can also benefit from it. In recent years, the emergence of TWS headsets has eroded a lot of the market share of traditional audio equipment, and many manufacturers have sold their audio services, and even reduced to working for mobile phone manufacturers. However, with the popularity and homogeneity of TWS, sound quality has begun to become the pain point of differentiation pursued by users. Companies that provide high-end audio DAC chips such as ESS, AKM, TI and CL ushered in the spring again. Not only headset manufacturers and peripheral manufacturers, but also a number of domestic mobile phone manufacturers, led by Oppo and Vivo, have also begun to use flagship models. Add high-end DAC chip.


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