Listening to Dolby Atmos tracks with Apple Music in a home cinema without an Apple TV is impossible

I logged back in to Apple Music lately to see what’s new and while the app on macOS is still a piece of shit, I noticed heaps more Dolby Atmos music available.

Figured I’d spend a nice Saturday morning with the Apple Music app on my Nvidia Shield or Xbox Series X and relax to some Atmos tunes. Oh how naive I was to think Apple would give paying customers of these filthy third party devices the same features as their clean and pure first party hardware.

The easiest way to get music into my Denon AVR would be AirPlay from an iOS/Mac, but that’s no good as it re-encodes everything to 16-bit 44.1kHz and doesn’t do multi-channel.

There’s no Apple Music app on the Nvidia Shield or any of the Android TV units, despite there being an Apple Music app for Android smartphones that according to Apple’s support document, does support Atmos.

I have an Android phone (Samsung S10+) and I even have a USB-C to HDMI dongle, but it also didn’t pass bitstream audio to the AVR, just stereo.

What about an iOS device (iPhone 13 Pro) and the Lightning to HDMI adapter? No good, only outputs stereo audio.

The Xbox Series X supports Dolby Atmos, but for some reason the Apple Music app doesn’t.

Surely, a MacBook Pro hooked up over HDMI would work? Nope, macOS doesn’t do bitstream audio over HDMI - it decodes everything to PCM and only supports 8 channels. I even tried some Dolby Atmos demo content in VLC and it had the same problem.

Windows does bitstream audio over HDMI, so how about a laptop running Apple Music? Same situation as the Xbox, no Atmos for the Windows version of Apple Music at the moment as it’s still in preview.

After all that I gave up and just got a trial of Tidal and it works great on the Nvidia Shield.

The downside is that Tidal doesn’t have as much Atmos content as Apple Music. I wanted to listen to SZA’s SOS and Queens of the Stone Age’s In Times New Roman, but Tidal doesn’t have them in Atmos.

If you have an Apple TV this is way easier and just works. Obviously this is how Apple want you to use Apple Music in a home theatre style setup. The only catch is that the Apple TV bizarrely only outputs 48kHz out of its HDMI port and some Dolby Atmos content is 24-bit 96kHz. Would I be able to tell the difference? Not at all, but the fact the 96kHz audio data is there and I’m only getting 48kHz shits me.