Hi-Res Apple Music Remote Control
June 9, 2021 11:38 AM   Subscribe

With the release of high resolution lossless on Apple Music (and no home internet data cap) I want to integrate it into my main stereo. I have an older Mac Mini, an external USB-based DAC, and an old iPhone. Can I run all of this headlessly, and conveniently, in my living room somehow?
posted by hwyengr to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From Apple's announcement:
Apple Music’s Lossless tier starts at CD quality, which is 16 bit at 44.1 kHz (kilohertz), and goes up to 24 bit at 48 kHz and is playable natively on Apple devices. For the true audiophile, Apple Music also offers Hi-Resolution Lossless all the way up to 24 bit at 192 kHz.1

1Due to the large file sizes and bandwidth needed for Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless Audio, subscribers will need to opt in to the experience. Hi-Res Lossless also requires external equipment, such as a USB digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
Perfectly plain to me that only reason for "Hi-Res Lossless" to exist is to persuade people who want to think of themselves as "true audiophiles" to part with their hard-earned on "superior" playback gear. But playback from sources coded at over 16 bits and/or sampled at over 48KHz will never sound better than CD quality lossless; if it sounds perceptibly different at all, that will be distortion it's adding, not buried quality it's revealing. Monty explains.

Since the overwhelming majority of the source audio available to Apple Music will have come from from CD releases, and CDs are encoded in 16 bit PCM sampled at 44.1kHz, it seems highly likely to me that most of what Apple Music Lossless ships as "Hi-Resolution Lossless" at six times the bandwidth cost is going to have been created by upsampling CD-quality sources. The best possible outcome of this is music that sounds no different at all from the original CD on playback. The likely outcome is music that sounds almost undetectably worse.

So if your main stereo is already doing a satisfactory job of playing back CD quality lossless audio got from Apple Music, then from an audio reproduction quality point of view, the best way to integrate Hi-Resolution Lossless using your Mac Mini and USB-based DAC and iPhone would be to leave them disconnected entirely.
posted by flabdablet at 12:29 PM on June 9, 2021

Best answer: To actually answer the question that was asked, the iTunes Remote app works with the current Apple Music app on desktop, though as far as I can tell it only gives you access to stuff that's in your library (you can't just browse and search Apple Music from there). It is not actually aware of the lossless files, but it will play them back and control them; you just won't see on the remote screen that it's lossless. So if you create playlists of lossless files (or just add them to your library) in Apple Music on the computer, and then use iTunes Remote to control it, it should work fine. I just did some brief testing and aside from the limitations I mentioned, it worked fine.
posted by primethyme at 2:34 PM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Forgot to add, the one issue might be if the Mac Mini is too old to run Big Sur, it won't be able to get the OS update required for lossless support.
posted by primethyme at 2:35 PM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Primethyme's answer is correct: You will not be able to browse Apple Music, but you would be able to play tracks in existing libraries. A late 2014-model Mac mini and newer can run Big Sur. However, you would need to use screen sharing or similar to a headless Mac mini from another Mac (or another host running a compatible client, if using VNC or other non-Apple remote desktop server), to create or manage said libraries.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 3:58 PM on June 9, 2021

Response by poster: A late 2014-model Mac mini and newer can run Big Sur.

It's a mid-2011 Server. Sigh. Back to the SACD player to fulfill my "true audiophile" tendencies.

Here's hoping they upgrade the Remote app until I can retire my newer Mac Mini.
posted by hwyengr at 4:11 PM on June 9, 2021

You might take a look at the Big Sur micropatcher project. No idea if it will definitely work well for you, but it could be enough to reasonably run something headless.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:37 PM on June 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

To not exactly answer your question, if you are OK with playing music in lossless quality but not high-res*, and you are up for some tinkering in the Terminal, you can install ShairPort Sync on any computer to make it an AirPort player. Then you can run Apple Music on your iPhone or any other Apple device, and select your Mini as the playback destination.

The easiest way to install ShairPort Sync on a Mac Mini is using Homebrew. An alternative which does the same thing and doesn't require doing stuff in the Terminal, but is not free, is AirFoil.

This won't give you all the features of the newest versions of Apple Music, like multi-room, hi-res or Atmos audio. But it will give you CD-quality playback.

* For what it's worth, I agree with Flabdablet that lossless CD quality is more than adequate for any home stereo.
posted by riddley at 7:52 PM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

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