Apple Spatial Audio is like 3D for your ears. Here’s what you need to know.
While Apple is primarily known as being a tech company, if you were to be asked to categorize Apple in another category, most would probably say Apple is also a music company.
After all, it’s got a long history in music. The first iPod in 2001 revolutionized the music industry. The iTunes Music Store in 2003 completely changed the way we found and purchased music.And the Apple Music streaming service, launched in 2015, quickly became one of the biggest streamers in the world.
And the fact of the matter is, Apple makes music innovations almost every year. Their latest innovation is called Spatial Audio, which was first introduced in iOS 14 in 2020, and recently has been extended to content on the Apple Music streaming service.
Spatial Audio can best be through of as 3D sounds for your ears. But that’s a bit simplified. Here’s what you need to know about Apple’s Spatial Audio.
What Is Spatial Audio?
When Apple unveiled iOs 14, it officially described Spatial Audio like this:
“AirPods and AirPods Pro gain powerful capabilities with iOS 14. Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking brings a theatre-like experience to AirPods Pro. By applying directional audio filters, and subtly adjusting the frequencies each ear receives, sounds can be placed virtually anywhere in a space to provide an immersive listening experience.”
But just what does that mean? It’s best to describe it this way:
A traditional surround sound system sends different parts of the audio track (like certain sound effects in movies) to different speakers placed around the listener. This can make specific sounds feel as if they are coming from a certain direction – in front of you, to your side, behind you, etc.
But if you are wearing headphones, you dampen that surround sound feel because as your head turns, the sounds turn with you. That’s where Apple Spacial Audio come in.
Spacial Audio essentially locks the “position” of the sound in one place. Becuase of this, as you turn your head the direction the sound is coming from will sound as if it locked in place to. So if you are using Spacial Audio when watching a movie, if you are looking at your TV and it sounds like the laser gun fight is coming from directly ahead of you, if you turn your head to the right, the laser gun fight will now sound like it’s coming from your left.
This gives you a much more immersive audio experience when watching movies or television with your AirPods or compatible headphones in.
How Does Spatial Audio Work With Movies & TV?
Spacial Audio works with movies and TVs as described above. If a movie is Spacial Audio-compatible and you have the right headphones, the direction the various sounds from the movie sound like they are coming from will remain locked in place.
Thus, as you move (track) your head, the sounds will stay locked in place and not shift with your head movement. Altogether this gives you a much more theater-like experience even though you are wearing headphones.
How Does Spatial Audio Work With Apple Music?
Spacial Audio works a little different with music. Right now, many songs on Apple Music have been remastered to support spatial audio. These remastered tracks include multiple new channels that make it sound as if various sounds from the music are coming front in front or you, to the side, behind, or even above you.
Right now, Spacial Audio on Apple Music doesn’t support head tracking, but that is rumored to be coming in a future update to the technology.
What Are Spacial Audio’s Requirements?
Spacial Audio has a few requirements. First is the content:
- Individual movies and TV shows need to be updated to work with Spacial Audio. Some already do, some will add this in the future.
- Apple Music has rolled out Spacial Audio support, but not all songs support it yet.
Now the hardware and software requirements:
- Spacial Audio requires an iPhone or iPod touch to be running iOS 14.6 or later and an iPad to be running iPadOS 14.6 or later.
- For movie or TV content, you’ll need an Apple TV 4K running tvOS 14.6 or later.
- You also need AirPods, AirPods Pro or AirPods Max.
- And BeatsX, Beats Solo3 Wireless, Beats Studio3, Beats Flex, Powerbeats3 Wireless, Powerbeats Pro or Beats Solo Pro also support the feature.
- As for iPhones and iPads and Spatial Audio speaker support, you’ll need an iPhone XR or later (iPhone SE not supported), or an iPad Air 3rd gen of higher, an iPad mini 5th gen or higher, an iPad 6th gen or higher, any 11in iPad Pro, a 12.9in iPad Pro 3rd gen or higher.
- Mac support requires MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 2018 or later and iMac 2021 or later.
How Do I Use Spatial Audio?
On your iPhone:
- Open Settings.
- Tap Music.
- Tap Dolby Atmos.
- Tap Automatic or Always On or you can also just tap to turn Dolby Atmos off.
On Apple TV 4K:
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- Open Settings.
- Select Apps.
- Select Music.
- Under Dolby Atmos click until it says “Automatic.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is Spatial Audio free?
The technology is included in Apple’s various operating systems, but you’ll need to have movies or music that is compatible with it. You’ll also need to have compatible devices.
Q: What OS supports Spatial Audio?
Apple’s Spatial Audio is supported in iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, tvOS 14.6, and macOS 11.4 or later.
Q: What does Spatial Audio do?
It makes it sound like the music and sound is in 3D. You can move your head and the sound will track around it as long as you have the compatible hardware and content.
Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.