large image

Trusted Reviews is supported by its audience. If you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

What is Apple Spatial Audio?

At WWDC 2020, Apple announced two new features for its AirPod range: auto-switching and spatial audio.

Out of the two features, spatial audio has been the one that’s captured the most attention. A year after the original announcement at its WWDC 2021 conference, Apple revealed that Spatial Audio would work in conjunction with Dolby Atmos. If you subscribe to Apple Music, you’ll be able to listen to selected songs in Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos.

So what is Apple’s Spatial Audio? How does it work and what devices is it available on?

What is Apple Spatial Audio?

Spatial Audio is a 3D audio technology that creates a more immersive soundscape with compatible Apple products by using dynamic head-tracking for a ‘theatre-like’ experience.

With Spatial Audio, Apple says that sounds can be placed “virtually anywhere” in the hemisphere. The technology works with 5.1 and 7.1 soundtracks, as well as Dolby Atmos object-based audio.

How does Spatial Audio work?

Spatial Audio with dynamic head-tracking uses the accelerometer/gyroscope in iOS devices in combination with directional audio filters and subtle adjustment of the frequencies that each ear receives to place sounds “virtually anywhere” within a hemisphere of sound.

The effect is to immerse the listener with effects all around them. And as the sound field stays mapped to the iOS device though the dynamic head-tracking functionality, when you move your head, “the voice stays with the actor or action on-screen.”

Spatial Audio with AirPods

Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos works differently in that there is no head tracking. As a result, you don’t need a pair of Apple headphones to enjoy this version of the feature. In fact, any headphone will do.

Apple Music will default to automatically play Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones that feature the H1 or W1 chip. To get Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos working on any pair of headphones, you just need to enable Atmos to ‘always on’ in the settings.

What is Personalised Spatial Audio?

Apple personalised spatial audio

As WWDC 22, Apple announced an enhanced version of its Spatial Audio technology that will feature in iOS 16. Personalised Spatial Audio is said to enable an even more “precise and immersive listening experience”, by allowing iPhone owners to use the TrueDepth camera to tune the performance especially for the user.

Spatial Audio for AirPods has been advanced to better understand the geometry between your head and ears to create a more focused presentation.

What iOS devices and apps support Spatial Audio?

Spatial Audio with dynamic head-tracking is restricted to iOS devices. Thus, you’ll need the following hardware/software to sample it.

  • AirPods Pro / AirPods Max
  • AirPods (3rd gen)
  • Beats Fit Pro
  • iPhone 7 or later
  • 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
  • Apple TV 4K with tvOS 15
  • Built-in speakers on a Mac computer with Apple Silicon
  • Audiovisual content from a supported app

With regards to video streaming apps, Apple TV+, Disney+, and Netflix, along with US-based streaming services HBO Max and Hulu support it.

WWDC 2021 spatial audio with dolby atmos apple music

If you’re listening to Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, however, the list of compatible devices widens in scope.

Why trust our journalism?

Founded in 2004, Trusted Reviews exists to give our readers thorough, unbiased and independent advice on what to buy.

Today, we have millions of users a month from around the world, and assess more than 1,000 products a year.

author icon

Editorial independence

Editorial independence means being able to give an unbiased verdict about a product or company, with the avoidance of conflicts of interest. To ensure this is possible, every member of the editorial staff follows a clear code of conduct.

author icon

Professional conduct

We also expect our journalists to follow clear ethical standards in their work. Our staff members must strive for honesty and accuracy in everything they do. We follow the IPSO Editors’ code of practice to underpin these standards.