What Is Spatial Audio: An Easy Guide to Apple’s Immersive Sound Feature

Enjoy what Apple's Spatial Audio feature has to offer
Enjoy what Apple’s Spatial Audio feature has to offer

What is Spatial Audio? A deep dive into Apple’s immersive feature and tips on how to make the most of it.

We might not have flying cars or access to teleportation technology. Still, when it comes to audio, things have come a long way.

Take Apple’s Spatial Audio, for example: a technology designed to turn music and movies into a thoroughly enveloping experience.

Yet, figuring out the minutiae of this feature can be frustrating. Even worse, you can’t tell whether it’s worth learning more. Can Spatial Audio bring your entertainment to the next level?

Your questions will be addressed below, from basics like “What is Spatial Audio?” to specifics like “Will I be more scared during a horror film when I turn it on?” Spoiler alert: possibly. Let’s get started!

What Is Spatial Audio?

Woman enjoying spatial sound in headphones
Woman enjoying spatial sound in headphones

Spatial Audio uses 3D technology to make the sound come from virtually anywhere around the listener.

The result is a 360-degree sound format meant to replicate a cinema-like experience.

But how does Spatial Audio work? In technical terms, sound engineers employ directional audio filters and adjustments of the frequencies relayed by each ear to create the impression that different sounds originate from the left, right, below, or above.

Imagine you’re watching a Predator movie. The alien at the story’s center is known for its specific clicking noise. As you’re glued to the screen, you hear the ominous clicking coming from all around. It’s like having a movie theater in your head.

You might be tempted to dismiss Spatial Audio as a fancier way of referring to surround sound.

However, while surround sound delivers a horizontal audio experience, Spatial Audio adds a vertical component to the mix.

Apple’s Spatial Audio works seamlessly with Dolby Atmos to achieve this effect.

When listening on compatible headphones, Apple’s Spatial Audio uses head tracking. It figures out when you move your head and makes adjustments accordingly.

Using the same Predator example from before, let’s say the clicking sound comes from the left. If you turn your head to the left, the clicking sound will now come from the front. Creepy!

Apple’s Spatial Audio was introduced for videos and gaming with iOS 14 in September 2020 and made its way to Apple Music in June 2021. Since its launch, more third-party apps have become compatible with it, to the joy of audiophiles everywhere.

Personalized Spatial Audio vs Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos

When playing around with Apple’s Spatial Audio, you’ll most likely encounter these two terms: Personalized Spatial Audio and Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos. So what are these, and how do they differ?

Well, Apple introduced Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos for Apple Music in 2021. The feature ensures that Dolby Atmos tracks play natively on Apple devices. Think of Spatial Audio as another layer on top of Dolby Atmos, allowing the listener to move inside the audio space when wearing headphones.

In other words, it can feel like you’re at a concert. The sound stage stays in the same place – your device – and you experience a song differently as you move around. Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos is available to all Apple Music users for no extra cost.

Moving on, Apple debuted a Personalized Spatial Audio feature as part of the iOS 16 software update. You can customize audio for the shape of your ears, minimizing outside interference. This translates to a dynamic audio experience.

To sum up, Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos is a feature available to all Apple Music users. If you take the time to set up Personalized Spatial Audio, however, you can make the audio experience tailored specifically to you across any audio on your iOS device.

What You Need to Use Apple’s Spatial Audio

While you don’t need to pay extra for Apple’s Spatial Audio feature, you need compatible hardware. The list of devices that support Apple’s Spatial Audio includes:

  • AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro (1st or 2nd generation), AirPods Max, or Beats Fit Pro
  • The speakers on an iPhone 7 or later
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation) or later
  • iPad Pro 11-inch
  • iPad Air (3rd generation) or later
  • iPad (6th generation) or later
  • iPad mini (5th generation) or later
  • iOS or iPadOS 15.1 or later
  • The speakers on select Mac computers
  • Apple TV 4K with tvOS 15 or later

Additionally, you need to play content from a supported app. Besides Apple Music and Apple TV, apps compatible with the feature include streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, and more.

Finally, the media you’re interested in must also be compatible with Dolby Atmos. The feature might not be available for older movies streaming online.

Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos is also available to Android users with Apple Music. The only caveat is that your device needs to support Dolby Atmos. Any type of headphones should work.

How to Use Apple’s Spatial Audio

Testing the Apple Spatial Audio feature is pretty straightforward. As long as you have the required hardware and software, all you need to do is turn it on.

We have a comprehensive breakdown of the process below.

How to set up Personalized Spatial Audio

The feature is available for iPhones with iOS 16 and the TrueDepth camera. For headphones, you can use Personalized Spatial Audio with AirPods 3rd generation, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, as well as Beats Fit Pro

Follow these steps to give it a try:

  1. Connect your headphones to your phone.

    AirPods' pop-up notification on the connection with OS
    AirPods’ pop-up notification on the connection with OS
  2. Access Settings.

    Settings icon on iOS
    Settings icon on iOS
  3. Tap the “i” icon beside your Device name.

    i icon beside AirPods Pro
    “i” icon beside AirPods Pro
  4. Tap on Personalized Spatial Audio.

    Personalized Spatial Audio option
    Personalized Spatial Audio option
  5. Select Personalize Spatial Audio.

    Going to Personalize Spatial Audio settings
    Going to Personalize Spatial Audio settings
  6. Follow the on-screen prompts to create your audio profile.
    This will require you to capture a front view of your head by holding your iPhone directly in front of you and moving your head in a circle. Then, capture a view of each ear by slowly turning your head while holding the iPhone about 45 degrees to your left and right ear, respectively.

    On-screen prompts to setup Personalized Spatial Audio
    On-screen prompts to setup Personalized Spatial Audio

This can take some trial and error. Patiently follow the audio and visual cues to finish the setup process.

How to use Spatial Audio on iOS devices

To turn on Spatial Audio on your iPhone or iPad while playing a song or video, connect your headphones to the device. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Open Control Center. Touch and hold the volume control.

    Volume control for connected AirPods Pro
    Volume control for connected AirPods Pro
  2. Toggle Spatial Audio between Off, Fixed (Spatial Audio only), and Head Tracked (to enable Head Tracking).

    Spatial Audio settings
    Spatial Audio settings
If you have an iPad or an iPhone X and later, you can access Control Center by swiping down from the top-right corner of the screen. On earlier iPhones, swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

Alternatively, you can turn Spatial Audio on for all media. That way, the feature is always enabled. You don’t have to do it manually every time you want to experience it for a song or video.

To do so, connect your headphones to your device. On your iPhone or iPad, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings > Bluetooth.

    Bluetooth settings
    Bluetooth settings
  2. Tap the “i” icon beside the name of your AirPods.

    Info icon beside AirPods Pro
    Info icon beside AirPods Pro
  3. Tap Personalize Spatial Audio or Stop Using Personalized Spatial Audio to turn the feature on or off.
Using the feature for the first time may be distracting. You might want to test it out for a while before you engage in vigorous movement with Spatial Audio. The sound may bounce around chaotically and cause you to lose focus.

How to use Spatial Audio on Mac

The process is almost identical on Macs. Once your headphones are connected to the computer, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Volume icon in the Control Center while you’re playing a song or video.

    Volume slider on Mac
    Volume slider on Mac
  2. Click on Spatial Audio and choose between Off, Fixed, or Head Tracked.

    Spatial Audio settings options on Mac
    Spatial Audio settings options on Mac

How to use Spatial Audio on Apple TV

Turning on Spatial Audio on Apple TV involves a similar pattern. With your headphones connected to your Apple TV, follow these steps:

  1. Click the TV button on your remote control to open the Control Center.

    TV button for Apple TV remote control
    TV button for Apple TV remote control
  2. Click the AirPlay icon.

    AirPlay icon on Apple TV (Youtube/MA Tech) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPYdoFt3OrU
    AirPlay icon on Apple TV (From: Youtube/MA Tech
  3. Select your headphones from the list.

    Selecting AirPods Max (Youtube/MA Tech) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPYdoFt3OrU
    Selecting AirPods Max (From: Youtube/MA Tech)
  4. Go back to the Control Center then select the Headphone icon.

    Headphone icon on Control Center (Youtube/MA Tech) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPYdoFt3OrU
    Headphone icon on Control Center (From: Youtube/MA Tech)
  5. Select Spatial Audio while playing media to turn the feature on or off.

    Clicking on the Spatial Audio (Youtube/MA Tech) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPYdoFt3OrU
    Clicking on the Spatial Audio (From: Youtube/MA Tech)
For a shortcut to the Spatial Audio menu, press and hold the Home button on your Siri Remote while media is playing.

How to use Spatial Audio on Apple Music

To use Spatial Audio solely on Apple Music, you need to turn on the Dolby Atmos function. This is available for both iOS and Android devices.

How to turn on Spatial Audio on Apple Music for iOS

Follow these steps for your iPhone or iPad:

  1. From the Settings menu, select Music.

    Music Settings on iOS
    Music Settings on iOS
  2. Under Audio, tap on the Dolby Atmos section.

    Dolby Atmos options
    Dolby Atmos options
  3. Pick the option that suits you best: Off, Automatic, or Always On.

    Setting Dolby Atmos to Automatic
    Setting Dolby Atmos to Automatic

If you’re using wired headphones, Apple recommends the Always On option. That way, the feature is enabled at all times, and the app plays songs at the best quality congruent with your headphones.

The Automatic option works for virtually any headphones and speakers on compatible devices. The app will detect and automatically play songs in Dolby Atmos when possible.

Spatial Audio won’t provide the same immersive experience on speakers as it does on headphones since speakers can’t track the position of your head.

How to turn on Spatial Audio on Apple Music for Android

Using Android? In that case, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Apple Music app.

    Apple Music app icon
    Apple Music app icon
  2. Tap the menu button on the top-right and select Settings.

    Settings inside Apple Music app
    Settings inside Apple Music app
  3. Under the Audio section, locate the Dolby Atmos setting. It will appear as long as your phone supports Dolby Atmos then switch the toggle button on.

    Dolby Atmos toggle switch
    Dolby Atmos toggle switch
Once Spatial Audio is enabled, start by listening to this playlist of supported tracks to better understand what you’re in for.

Apple’s Spatial Audio vs. Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, & Windows Sonic

Apple’s Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Windows Sonic are all immersive sound technologies meant to achieve a 3D sound effect. But how do you know which one is best for you?

Apple’s Spatial Audio was primarily designed for headphones. It does an excellent job of using the headphones’ sensors to track your head’s movement. If you bring your left ear close to the device, for example, you’ll hear the sound louder there than in your right ear.

Apple’s Spatial Audio pairs seamlessly with Dolby Atmos, which creates virtual height and side channels to give you the impression that the sound is coming from all around.

On the other hand, DTS:X is akin to Dolby Atmos but encodes sound at a higher bit rate. As a result, some argue that it produces more realistic audio.

Lastly, Windows Sonic is a free spatial sound feature available with Windows 10 and Xbox One. It’s meant to enhance your movie or gaming experience.

With technologies so similar, picking your favorite comes down to personal preference. How much of an audiophile you are, as well as the amount you’re willing to invest in sound equipment, will also play a role.

Apple’s Spatial Audio might not be as impressive as DTS:X; yet, it creates a dazzling audio experience on headphones. If you already have the software and compatible AirPods, it’s also free. Always a plus.


By now, we hope you have a better understanding of what Spatial Audio means and know how to take advantage of it. So yes, horror movies should be even scarier.

Ideally, the next time you connect your headphones and put on a Predator movie, that clicking sound will be downright frightening – because it will be coming from all around!

Is there anything you think we might have missed in the article? All this alien talk around spatialized audio gave us the creeps, but we’d still love to hear from you! Please drop us a line about any problems you might have encountered with Apple’s Spatial Audio.



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