Apple has upgraded the AirPods Pro with lossless audio, sort of

AirPods Pro with USB-C.
Screenshot / Apple

Amid the slew of new Apple products launched today, only the tiniest mention was made of the fact that Apple has also given the AirPods Pro Gen 2 wireless earbuds a not-so-minor refresh. Along with the expected addition of USB-C, making the AirPods Pro the first Apple headphones to ditch the Lightning connector, Apple has also given the iconic white noise-canceling earbuds the ability to do lossless audio wirelessly — something that has never been seen on the AirPods family before, and is even a rarity among non-Apple wireless audio devices.

There is, however, a catch. The “groundbreaking wireless audio protocol” that allows for lossless audio at 20-bit/48 kHz (a better-than-CD-quality resolution) is powered by the AirPods Pro’s H2 chip, but for now, it only works when paired with the upcoming Apple Vision Pro headset. At the moment, Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless Bluetooth codec (when used with compatible wireless headphones and smartphones) is the only technology that supports lossless audio wirelessly, and even that technology is limited to 16-bit/48kHz.

We’ve reached out to Apple to find out more about this new wireless protocol — it’s unlikely to be Bluetooth, as lossless audio at 20/48 might require more bandwidth than Bluetooth can sustain — but it could be made possible via ultra-wideband (UWB), the same wireless technology that lets your iPhone locate your AirPods Pro with a high degree of accuracy. It wouldn’t be the first time that an audio company has worked with UWB — PSB says it will debut its first UWB wireless headphones in 2024.

Apple says that along with the protocol’s lossless capability, it will also have ultra-low latency. That’s essential for gaming and to ensure that what you see on the Vision Pro’s screen matches what you hear with the AirPods Pro. It’s also yet another aspect of UWB, which offers extremely quick data transmission.

Another detail we’ll be trying to clear up is whether or not the previous AirPods Pro Gen 2 (with the Lightning charging case) will be updated with lossless audio. You’d think the answer would be yes, but Apple’s announcement seems to suggest otherwise:

“AirPods Pro (2nd generation) are upgraded with USB‑C charging capabilities, additional dust resistance, and Lossless Audio with Apple Vision Pro. With iOS 17, all AirPods Pro (2nd generation) level up with access to new audio experiences like Adaptive Audio and Conversation Awareness.”

Note the use of the word “all” in the second sentence to distinguish between the older AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with Lightning and the new model with USB-C. One way to interpret that is to say that only the USB-C model will get lossless audio.

As soon as we get more details, we’ll update this post.

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