December 3, 2021

What Is Spatial Audio? Apple’s 3D Sound Expertise Defined


At WWDC 2021 (Apple’s annual Worldwide Builders Convention), Apple formally added assist for spatial audio with Dolby Atmos for Apple Music. However what precisely is spatial audio? How is it completely different from (or the identical as) Dolby Atmos? And how much audio gear do that you must take heed to it?

There’s quite a lot of floor to cowl, and a few of it’s a bit technical, however we’re going to interrupt all of it down in easy-to-understand phrases. You’ll be a spatial audio professional in minutes, and also you’ll know precisely how you can entry this rising development in film and music streaming.

What precisely is spatial audio?

Apple Music on iPhone.
Nikki Meel/Shutterstock

As a generic time period, “spatial audio” refers to audio that has been engineered to have a 3D high quality to it. Meaning it provides you a stronger sense of depth, width, and even top when in comparison with conventional stereo. Apple didn’t invent spatial audio, however it has developed its personal audio know-how to reap the benefits of it on its gadgets and companies.

A number of codecs dwell underneath the spatial audio umbrella. You will have heard of Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. These are each examples of spatial audio codecs. However to listen to these new codecs, it’s not sufficient to have entry to films or music tracks that had been recorded utilizing them. You want the proper {hardware} and software program, too.

So when Apple refers to spatial audio on gadgets just like the iPhone or iPad, it’s saying that it has constructed the required software program into these gadgets so as to allow you to hear spatial audio codecs, so long as you may have the proper headphones or audio system (extra on these necessities in a second).

Spatial audio actually acquired its large debut when Dolby Labs launched Dolby Atmos to film theaters. Atmos lets particular person sounds (a helicopter flying by, for instance) transfer independently between audio system positioned in entrance of, beside, behind, and above the listener, which creates that so-called 3D impact of being immersed in sound. Dolby Atmos ultimately migrated into folks’s residence theaters by way of appropriate soundbars and A/V receivers, then into music with Dolby Atmos music. In the present day, you’ll discover it in films, TV reveals, music, and even membership venues with dwell DJs.

Nonetheless, Apple has gone one step additional: Along with including the wanted software program to allow spatial audio, Apple has constructed gyroscopes and accelerometers into its AirPods 3, AirPods Professional, and AirPods Max. When these headphones are related to an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV 4K, they will appropriately orient film and TV sound in order that whenever you flip your head away from the display you’re watching, the sound nonetheless seems to be coming from that display’s location. Usually, you’d hear no distinction in any respect.

This spatial audio trick is (for now) an Apple unique — it solely works on the Apple headphones we talked about, and solely on choose films and reveals enjoying on particular Apple gadgets.

Why is everybody saying “spatial audio with Dolby Atmos assist”?

Person wearing Apple AirPods Max.
Riley Younger/Digital Traits

As we mentioned above, spatial audio isn’t an audio format per se; it’s a know-how that permits audio codecs. For the debut of spatial audio in Apple Music, Apple partnered with Dolby Labs to convey Dolby Atmos Music to its streaming platform.

Dolby Atmos is an audio format, and for the second, it’s the one spatial audio format on Apple Music. However in idea, there may very well be others. Sony 360 Actuality Audio (360 RA) is one other spatial audio format, as is DTS:X. You’ll discover 360 RA tracks on companies like Tidal and Amazon Music HD, which additionally assist Dolby Atmos Music.

Saying “spatial audio with Dolby Atmos assist” is Apple’s manner of indicating that the explanation you now get to listen to what Dolby Atmos Music seems like on Apple Music is that Apple has enabled this new format, and it used its spatial audio know-how to take action.

Is there a distinction between spatial audio for music and video content material?

Sure, although it may be a refined distinction. When spatial audio is used for video content material, like a film soundtrack, the intent is to tug you into the motion by permitting the on-screen sounds (just like the well-known helicopter instance from earlier) to maneuver round in area in a manner that matches what’s taking place within the video. Automotive chases, gun battles — all of them come alive.

In the meanwhile, Apple solely helps spatial audio for video whenever you’re utilizing the AirPods Professional or AirPods Max along with an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV 4K working the most recent software program. Even then, it solely works with choose films from choose streaming companies.

Music is a distinct beast. When spatial audio is utilized to music, musicians and their producers can use the identical 3D high quality to put devices and vocals across the listener. More often than not, that is carried out to create a way of area and depth, which might simulate being in a studio or on stage with the musicians. Typically, it’s used to create movielike transferring sounds, although this may be fairly distracting.

Apple provides wide-ranging assist for spatial audio with music. So long as you may have an Apple Music subscription, you’ll be capable of hear spatial audio music on choose tracks when utilizing a set of wi-fi or wired headphones. They don’t should be made by Apple, however you could have to show the function on manually should you’re not utilizing one of many AirPods or Beats household of wi-fi headphones.

The main format for spatial audio for each music and video is Dolby Atmos.

What do I would like to listen to spatial audio?

Woman wearing Airpods Pro.
Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

You may expertise spatial audio by way of Dolby Atmos- or DTS:X-equipped soundbars. or A/V receivers each with and with out Apple merchandise, however for now, we’ll focus simply on Apple’s spatial audio ecosystem.

For video:

  • Apple AirPods 3, AirPods Professional, or AirPods Max
  • A supported Apple playback machine:
    • iPhone 7 or later
    • Apple TV 4K (fall 2021)
    • iPad Professional 12.9-inch (third technology and later)
    • iPad Professional 11-inch
    • iPad Air (third technology and later)
    • iPad (sixth technology and later)
    • iPad mini (fifth technology)
  • iOS, tvOS, or iPadOS 14 or later
  • Audiovisual content material from a supported app (in the intervening time, that is restricted to titles from Apple TV+)

For music:

  • Energetic Apple Music subscription and the Apple Music app for iOS, tvOS, iPadOS, or MacOS
  • Any iPhone or iPad working iOS or iPadOS 14.6 (prolonged assist for dynamic head monitoring was added in iOS 15):
    • By way of built-in audio system on an iPhone XR or later (besides iPhone SE), iPad Professional 12.9-inch (third technology or later), iPad Professional 11-inch, iPad (sixth technology or later), iPad Air (third technology or later), or iPad Mini (fifth technology)
    • Or, any set of wi-fi or wired headphones or earbuds that helps Dolby Atmos
  • Any Mac working MacOS 11.4:
    • By way of built-in audio system on a MacBook Professional (2018 mannequin or later), MacBook Air (2018 mannequin or later), or iMac (2020 mannequin or later)
    • Or any set of wi-fi or wired headphones or earbuds that helps Dolby Atmos
  • Any Apple TV 4K working tvOS 14.6:
    • By way of a number of wirelessly related HomePod audio system
    • By way of a related Dolby Atmos-capable soundbar, TV, or A/V receiver
    • Or by way of a Bluetooth-connected pair of:
      • AirPods, AirPods Professional, or AirPods Max
      • BeatsX, Beats Solo3 Wi-fi, Beats Studio3, Powerbeats3 Wi-fi, Beats Flex, Powerbeats Professional, or Beats Solo Professional

What about Android?

Android customers acquired assist for spatial audio on Apple Music in July 2021. Dolby Atmos is in any other case supported on newer Android gadgets.

How do I get spatial audio content material?

Apple Music Spatial Audio Playlists.

Notice: You want a subscription for Apple Music to allow spatial audio like this. In any other case, you received’t have spatial audio for Apple’s personal content material, interval — though common Dolby Atmos assist will nonetheless exist.

Together with the proper {hardware}, you additionally want content material that helps spatial audio. For instance, if you’re searching for music at Apple’s personal retailer or on Apple Music, search for the icon that signifies assist for Dolby Atmos. This ensures that Apple’s personal content material will play with spatial audio, whether or not you’re streaming it or downloading it to your individual library. When you beforehand downloaded a track that’s now accessible in Dolby Atmos, delete it and obtain it once more to get the model that helps spatial audio.

Apple additionally has loads of devoted playlists with music that’s assured to have spatial audio, so you possibly can at all times search these for extra info.

In the case of different content material, particular apps might want to assist Dolby Atmos and work with Apple’s spatial audio. The excellent news is that many standard apps are providing this assist, together with Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Vudu, and naturally Apple TV.

Can I flip spatial audio on or off?

Dolby Atmos audio settings on iPad.

Sure, you possibly can. With a newly up to date machine and an Apple Music subscription, you possibly can head into Settings, then choose Music. Below Audio, you’ll see a piece for Dolby Atmos, and an choice to at all times Download in Dolby Atmos. If you choose Dolby Atmos, you possibly can see choices for turning it off fully, turning it to Computerized (solely works with Apple gadgets just like the AirPods 3), and turning it to At all times On (works with third-party gadgets like Dolby Atmos headphones from Samsung).

When you’re watching third-party content material like a Netflix present or HBO film, it’s also possible to management spatial audio extra instantly. Head into the Bluetooth part of your Apple machine and choose your listening machine, then choose the blue Extra Data button. This could can help you select Spatial Audio, after which change to stereo or again as you please.

The place is spatial audio accessible?

Apple’s rollout continues to be ongoing, with nations like India being supported as time goes on. In case your area (the one related to your account) doesn’t assist spatial audio, you received’t see the choice to allow it. You may contact Apple assist to ask extra particular questions on in case your area shall be getting spatial audio. As at all times, hold your gadgets repeatedly up to date!

Didn’t spatial audio already come out for the AirPods Professional and Max?

Spatial audio was introduced for these gadgets as a part of Apple displaying off the head-tracking capability and comparable options. The large June 2021 announcement was about bringing spatial audio to Apple Music and group FaceTime calls.

Is that this associated to lossless audio?

No, though Apple can also be bringing lossless audio to its total Apple Music catalog, with extra on the best way all through 2021. Lossless audio provides you extra element, all the best way as much as 24-bit/192kHz, however in contrast to Dolby Atmos by way of spatial audio, you’ll want particular gear to reap the benefits of it. Right here’s our full Apple Music lossless audio explainer.

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