Apple introduced its Spatial Audio feature with iOS 14 in September 2020, rivaling other technologies like Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio for Headphones. Here’s how the Apple feature works and how to enable it.
What is spatial audio?
Apple’s Spatial Audio feature allows users to experience theater-like sound through select Apple audio devices, including AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones. The audio output surrounds the user, who feels that the sound is coming from different directions, rather than the normal directionless sound that you get from headphones.
In addition, the sound field maintains its direction towards the actual device from which you are playing your multimedia content, and that direction is maintained in cases such as when characters in a movie are talking to each other from different sides of the screen.
What this does is provide a much more immersive and realistic experience for media consumption that allows you to become part of whatever you are watching or playing.
How does it work?
Apple’s feature uses 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos signals from various media files and accordingly applies directional audio filters and adjusts the frequencies sent to each ear. This frequency shift is applied to various sound outputs to simulate the steering effect on a user’s left and right ear.
How to enable Spatial Audio on your Apple device?
While Spatial Audio can be experienced on any device since (including) the iPhone 7 that has been updated to iOS 14, you will need Apple AirPods Pro or Apple AirPods Max to experience the features. Instead of an iPhone, you can also use a third-generation 12.9-inch or later Apple iPad Pro, a third-generation 11-inch or later iPad Pro, or a third-generation or later iPad Air. The sixth-generation (and later) iPad and the fifth-generation (and later) iPad Mini will work as well.
Once you have the hardware requirements, you will need to enable the feature in the iOS 14 / iPadOS 14 settings. To do this, go to Settings / Bluetooth / Name of your device and tap on the ‘i’ button next to the headphones.
Scroll down and find the Spatial Audio switch, and turn it on. If you touch “See and hear how it works”, you can experience a quick demonstration.
To control Spatial Audio, users can swipe down / up from the top / bottom edge of their screen to enter the iOS Control Center. Once here, press and hold the volume control button and another screen will appear, allowing users to see a spatial audio change. You can touch here to activate or deactivate the function. Note that blue is on and black is off.