What is Apple Spatial Audio & Does it Really Work?

Apple spatial audio has been around for a while now and is intended to provide a rich immersive experience when watching movies and listening to music.

Updated 24 October 2022
What is Apple Spatial Audio & Does it Really Work?


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Sections on this page
  1. How is Apple Spatial Audio Different?
  2. Does Spatial Audio Really Work?
  3. How Can I Experience It?
  4. Do I Need to Setup Personalized Spatial Audio?
  5. What Devices Support It?

If you have an iPhone with a TrueDepth camera and have recently upgraded to iOS 16, you may have been prompted to setup personalized spatial audio and are wondering what that is all about!

Apple first introduced spatial audio as part of iOS 14 in September 2020 and have gradually improved and refined it since then.

Spatial audio is intended to create a more immersive listening experience, more similar to what you hear in real life, where sounds will envelop you from all different directions, making you feel like you are at the center of the action. It is designed to recreate the experience of high end movie theaters with advanced surround sound systems.

How is Apple Spatial Audio Different?

There are already other immersive audio technologies available such as Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality, so how does Apple Spatial Audio differ?

Apple makes use of the accelerometers and gyroscopes within your AirPods to track your head movement and position the sound accordingly. It also tracks the movement of your phone or iPad so that the sound is relative to the position of the device that you are watching.

Let's say you are watching a movie on your phone and there is someone talking to the right of the screen, the sound will be more prominent in your right ear, as if that person was standing off to your right. If you now turn your head to the right, the sound will adjust so that it now sounds as if that the person were standing in front of you.

Although this might sound like a bit of a gimmick at first, the subtle movements of your head and device can create a more realistic and immersive experience when watching movies or listening to music.

Does Spatial Audio Really Work?

The short answer is yes! The way the audio is tied to the screen is very effective and creates a rich and immersive experience, much more like watching the big screen at the box office. It does also deliver on the promise of realistically adjusting sounds based on your head position and the direction of your device.

However, in reality, you are unlikely to be moving your head around that much when watching the small screen on your phone, so it's questionable as to how much benefit you will get in day to day use.

It's also important to note that not all apps and services support spatial audio so you may not always get the full immersive experience on your device.

How Can I Experience It?

One of the best ways to experience it is to watch one of your favourite movies with a pair of the latest AirPods. Make sure it is enabled by opening the control centre (swipe down from top right) and press and hold the AirPod volume. You will then see an option to enable either Fixed or Head Tracked spatial audio.

You can then fire up a movie on Netflix (make sure the title supports spatial audio) and compare the sound with and without it enabled. If you enabled Head Tracked spatial audio, you can also experience how the sound changes as you move your head around.

You can also experience this by playing selected tracks in Apple Music as long as you have the Dolby Atmos enabled in your Apple Music settings on your phone.

Spotify also has support for spatial audio although there have been some reports that the Apple Music support is superior. You could try out the 3D Film Music Collection on Spotify and compare for yourself.

Do I Need to Setup Personalized Spatial Audio?

With the iOS 16 update, Apple may prompt you to setup Personalized Spatial Audio if it detects a compatible device such as a pair of AirPods. While it's not essential to do this to experience the benefits, it is designed to tailor the setup to the shape of your head and the position of your ears so that you get the best possible experience of spatial audio.

Apple have provided these steps for setting it up on your phone:

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings > [your Spatial Audio enabled device] > Personalised Spatial Audio > Set Up Personalised Spatial Audio.
  2. To capture the Front view, hold your iPhone directly in front of you about 30cm (12 inches) away. Position your face in the camera frame, then slowly move your head in a circle to show all angles of your face. Tap Continue.
  3. To capture a view of your right ear, hold your iPhone with your right hand. Move your right arm 45 degrees to your right, then turn your head slowly to the left. To capture a view of your left ear, switch your iPhone to your left hand. Move your left arm 45 degrees to your left, then turn your head slowly to the right. Audio and visual cues will help you finish the setup process. 

What Devices Support It?

According to Apple, the following devices are supported:

  • AirPods Pro (1st or 2nd generation), AirPods Max, AirPods (3rd generation) or Beats Fit Pro
  • The built-in speakers on an iPhone 7 or later, or on one of these iPad models:
    • iPad Pro 12.9‑inch (3rd generation) and later
    • iPad Pro 11‑inch
    • iPad Air (3rd generation) and later
    • iPad (6th generation) and later
    • iPad mini (5th generation) and later
  • iOS or iPadOS 15.1 or later
  • The built-in speakers on a Mac computer with Apple silicon
  • Apple TV 4K with tvOS 15 or later
  • Audiovisual content from a supported app

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