What is Apple’s spatial audio and how does it work with AirPods?

Admin, Thursday, August 11, 2022
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If you’re familiar with the Apple ecosystem, you probably know that the company likes to offer its own implementation of popular technology. This is true for spatial sound as well. But what makes Apple’s spatial audio special, and how does it work?

We’ll break down the differences between Apple’s spatial audio and other apps so you can see if it’s right for you.

What is spatial audio on AirPods?

The open case of Apple AirPods (3rd generation) grips the earbuds and rests on a wooden surface.

Zack Khan / Android body

Spatial audio, also known as “virtual surround” among other names, is how AirPods can create a surround sound-like experience using just two Headphones. Without getting complicated here, it basically tricks your ears into thinking the sound is originating from different directions. As a result, compatible content will look as if it is coming from everywhere.

Compatible content is key here. Not everything is recorded with spatial audio support. Within the ecosystem, Apple Music offers spatial audio content if you enable it. The benefit of using AirPods with this is the ability to automatically detect if a track is compatible with spatial audio. Using certain models of AirPods with compatible devices also means you get head tracking, which we’ll explain the benefit of shortly.

How does spatial sound work?

Apple AirPods Max and smart bag on a white desk.

Chris Thomas / Android Authority

All spatial audio standards from Apple or Dolby AtmosOr Windows Sonic, DTS Headphones: X, or other standards that use the same basic idea. Using software or hardware signal processors, compatible content can mimic the way sounds reach your ears from different directions and sources. The result sounds like you’re in the middle of a surround sound system.

If you’ve ever listened to a file Youtube video binaural audio, I tested some sort of ambient sound using only headphones. Taking this idea and applying it to music, movies and games is what defines spatial sound. What makes Apple’s own app notable is its uses for head tracking.

Head tracking allows you to move freely without breaking the immersion of spatial sound.

In a standard surround sound system, moving your head changes the way sound reaches your ears. Something similar should happen with spatial sound. Otherwise, the sounds will not seem to originate from their rightful places around you and the illusion will disintegrate. Apple includes only head tracking support on AirPods Proand AirPods (3rd generation) and AirPods Max when using your Mac with an Apple Silicon, iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV 4K.

How do you use spatial audio on AirPods?

AirPods Pro in the wireless charging case next to the iPhone and digital camera.

Sam Smart / Android Authority

The Apple Spatial Audio app requires a compatible model of AirPods, a device with iOS or iPadOS 15.1 or later, or an Apple Silicon Mac.

Use spatial audio with AirPods on a mobile device

The iPhone 11 rests on a gray sofa, and displays the banner notification that it was found with a Garmin Venu 2 Plus.

Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

To use spatial audio with AirPods on a device running iOS or iPadOS 15.1 or higher, first make sure you have all updates installed. Next, insert your AirPods and then:

  1. Make sure your AirPods are connected.
  2. Open Control Center, press and hold the Volume Down button, then tap Spatial Audio at the bottom right.
  3. Faucet fixed Enables spatial audio without head tracking. Choose head tracker To enable spatial audio with head tracking. Choose About To disable the spatial sound.

The setting you select is saved and will automatically enable itself the next time you use this app. For example, using head tracker With Apple Music, it will happen automatically the next time you use the Apple Music app to play a song recorded with spatial audio support.

If you want to disable head tracking across all apps, open Settings > Accessibility > AirPods > Tap on your AirPods > Turn off Continue [device].

Use spatial audio with AirPods on your Mac

2020 Apple iMac with Retina 5K Display Promotional Image

To use spatial audio on a Mac, you’ll need a Mac with Apple Silicon and macOS Monterey 12.3 or later, along with a compatible AirPods model. First, put your AirPods on, then:

  1. Make sure your AirPods are connected to your Mac.
  2. tap on AirPods icon in the menu bar.
  3. Click fixed Enables spatial audio without head tracking. click head tracker To enable spatial audio with head tracking. Choose About To disable the spatial sound.

Not all content that you play with your Mac will work with spatial audio. You will need to play back the recorded content with spatial audio support to experience this.

Use spatial audio with AirPods on your Apple TV 4K

Apple TV 4K With Remote

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

To use spatial audio with Apple TV 4K, you’ll need to have tvOS 15.1 or later installed. First, put on your AirPods, then:

  1. Make sure your AirPods are connected to your Apple TV 4K.
  2. Open Control Center.
  3. Select your AirPods, then you can turn spatial audio on or off.

The settings you choose for each app will be saved and applied automatically the next time you use that app with your AirPods. If you want to disable header tracking for everything, double file compression observer on your Siri remote, then go to Settings > Accessibility > AirPods Turn off “Center Audio on TV”.

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