Apple Spatial Audio was first added to iOS 14 in September 2020, and it has changed a lot since then.
It’s Apple’s answer to Dolby Atmos for Headphones and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. It gives a stereo pair of headphones a virtual 3D surround sound effect. It makes you feel like you are in the middle of the action by giving you a virtual mix of sounds that surround you.
But what makes it special is that it also uses tracking hardware in Apple devices, like the AirPods (3rd Generation), AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max headphones, to track your head and the position of an iPad or iPhone in real-time. This lets it place the sound effect in a way that makes sense based on where you look or turn.
Here’s how it works, what devices it can be used on, how to turn it on and off, and everything else you need to know.
How does Spatial Audio work?
Spatial Audio lets you hear three-dimensional sound from videos that support it. The sound moves with your iPhone or iPad.
It does a good job of making you feel like you’re in a movie theater, with sounds that seem to come from all around you, even from above your head. Spatial Audio uses the 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos mixes from a compatible movie or video, adds directional audio filters, and changes the frequencies that are sent to each ear to do this.
The tracking of Apple’s Spatial Audio is different from that of Dolby Atmos for Headphones and other similar technologies. The accelerometers and gyroscopes in the AirPods Max, AirPods Pro, and AirPods (3rd generation) track where your head is and place the sound accordingly. It also keeps track of your iPhone or iPad, so the sound you hear is also related to the screen you are using.
So, when you turn on Apple’s Spatial Audio and watch a video or movie that supports it if you turn your head or move your device, the dialogue stays with the actor or action on the screen.
How about Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos?
Apple also has Spatial Audio tracks with Dolby Atmos for music on Apple Music. This is in addition to Spatial Audio for movies and TV shows.
These have been remixed to include multiple channels around and above you, giving the impression that you are in the middle of a recording studio or live concert. As with movies, it sounds like there are multiple channels when you use stereo headphones, but in this case, you need special Dolby Atmos music mixes.
In Spatial Audio, you can choose from thousands of songs. When played through headphones, the music sounds like it’s coming from everywhere.
When played through an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV, the new surround mixes can be heard on all Apple and Beats headphones with the H1 or W1 chip. On the other hand, so do any good headphones.
Apple headphones are the only ones that automatically turn on and off Dolby Atmos support. Headphones from other companies won’t do this. To use your separate headphones, go to Settings > Music > Dolby Atmos and make sure it’s set to “Always On.” This only works with Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos. Apple devices are still the only ones that can play regular movie and TV Spatial Audio.
You can also hear it through the speakers on an iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, or HomePod, though it kind of defeats the purpose of listening to Dolby Atmos audio on an iPhone’s stereo speakers. A TV or AV receiver that works with an Apple TV 4K can also play Dolby Atmos (as with supported movies).
Some Android devices can also use the Apple Music app to play Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos. This is up to the manufacturer, though.
How to get Spatial Audio
Apple’s Spatial Audio will only work if you have a couple of things. First, you’ll need the AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods (3rd Generation), or the latest Beats headphones.
Then, you’ll need an iPhone 7 or later or an iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd gen) or later, an iPad Pro 11-inch, an iPad Air (3rd gen) or later, an iPad (6th gen) or later, or an iPad mini (5th gen and later).
You’ll also need iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 or a later version, as well as AV content from an app that supports it. The app will work with Spatial Audio if it supports 5.1, 7.1, or Dolby Atmos.
Spatial audio with Dolby Atmos works automatically on Apple Music, but if you use third-party headphones, you’ll need to switch it to “Always On” in Settings > Music > Dolby Atmos.
It’s important to note that other companies, like Google with its Pixel Buds and Amazon with Amazon Music, also use the term “spatial audio” to describe more immersive audio. This feature, however, is about Apple’s version of spatial audio and the separate head tracking technology. Read more; How to pair Bluetooth Earbuds to the Apple Watch
How do you turn Apple Spatial Audio on or off?
To turn Spatial Audio on, follow the steps below.
- Go to Settings
- Tap on Bluetooth
- Find your AirPods (3rd Generation), AirPods Pro, or AirPods Max
- Tap on the “i” next to your headphones
- Scroll down and toggle on Spatial Audio
- You can also tap on ‘See & Hear How It Works’ for a quick demo comparing it to stereo audio
How do you control Spatial Audio?
When you’re watching a compatible video or movie on your iPhone or iPad with your AirPods (3rd Generation), AirPods Pro, or AirPods Max, here’s how to control Spatial Audio and see if it’s on:
- Swipe down from the top of your screen or up from the bottom, depending on your iPhone or iPad model, to open the Control Centre
- Press and hold the volume control button
- Another screen will appear where you’ll be able to see the Spatial Audio icon
- Tap it once to turn it on or off. It is blue when on and black when off.
- If the sound waves are pulsing around the person’s head in the icon, Spatial Audio is on. If they are not moving, but the icon is blue, Spatial Audio is on but not active for the content you’re listening to.
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