What is Apple Spatial Audio, how does it work, how to get it

(Pocket-lint) – Apple’s Spatial Audio was introduced with iOS 14 in September 2020 and it’s Apple’s answer to Dolby Atmos for Headphones and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.

The technology is designed to offer cinema-like sound through your AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones that surrounds you and makes it seem like the sound is coming from all around you. Meanwhile, the sound field stays mapped to the device you’re watching the film or video on and the voice stays with the actor or action on the screen.

Here’s how it works, what devices it is available on, how you turn it on and off and everything else you need to know.

How does Spatial Audio work?

Spatial Audio allows you to hear three dimensional audio from supported videos that follow the movement of your iPhone or iPad.

The idea of the techonology is to recreate what you would hear in a cinema, where sounds appear to be coming from all around you, whether in front, behind, from the side. In order to do this, Spatial Audio uses 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos signals from a compatible film or video, applies directional audio filters and adjusts the frequencies relayed to each ear.

Where Spatial Audio differs to other similar technologies like Dolby Atmos for Headphones however, is in its tracking. The accelerometers and gyroscopes within the AirPods Max and AirPods Pro are used to track your head and position the sound accordingly, but Spatial Audio also tracks your iPhone or iPad so the sound you hear is also relative to the screen you are watching on.

As a result, when Spatial Audio is turned on and you’re watching a supported film or video, if you turn your head or move your device, the dialogue you hear remains with the actor or action on the screen.

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How to get Spatial Audio

There’s a couple of things you’ll need to experience Spatial Audio. Firstly, you’ll need the AirPods Pro or the AirPods Max headphones.

You’ll then need an iPhone 7 or later or the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd gen) or later, iPad Pro 11-inch, iPad Air (3rd gen) and later, iPad (6th gen) and later, iPad mini (5th gen and later).

You’ll also need iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 or later and audiovisual content from a supported app. If an app supports 5.1, 7.1 or Dolby Atmos then it will work with Spatial Audio. 

How do you turn Spatial Audio on or off?

To turn Spatial Audio on, follow the steps below.

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Tap on Bluetooth
  3. Find your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max
  4. Tap on the “i” next to your headphones
  5. Scroll down and toggle on Spatial Audio
  6. You can also tap on ‘See & Hear How It Works’ for a quick demo comparing it to stereo audio 
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How do you control Spatial Audio?

When you’re watching a compatible video or film on your iPhone or iPad with your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, here is how to control Spatial Audio and check if it is on:

  1. 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
  2. Press and hold the volume control button
  3. Another screen will appear where you’ll be able to see the Spatial Audio icon
  4. Tap it once to turn it on or off. It is blue when on and black when off.
  5. 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.

Writing by Britta O’Boyle.

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