What Is Spatial Audio and How to Use It on AirPods Pro and AirPods Max

How use Apple's 360-degree immersive sound format

Apple Spatial Audio is a 3D audio technology that simulates a full surround sound experience if you’re wearing compatible earbuds or headphones like AirPods Pro or AirPods Max. An easy way to think of it is "Dolby Atmos with earbuds or headphones" instead of a full home theater setup with a lot of carefully placed speakers. To experience Apple Spatial Audio, you need to connect AirPods Pro or AirPods Max to a compatible iPhone or iPad, turn the feature on, and use an app that provides compatible audiovisual content.

What Does Spatial Audio Do?

Spatial audio is another term for surround sound. Traditionally, surround sound has referred to audio systems with multiple speakers placed around a central area in order to deliver sound from several angles at once. For example, a Dolby surround sound system can have eight or more speakers carefully placed to deliver an immersive listening experience for compatible audiovisual content.

With spatial audio, different sounds can appear to come from different directions and heights in relationship to the listener. This can help place the listener right in the action when watching a movie or show, and it can even enhance the listening experience when listening to music. Regular stereo music doesn’t necessarily take advantage of spatial audio, but tracks specifically designed for the technology provide a completely different listening experience.

What Is Apple Spatial Audio?

Apple Spatial Audio is a virtualized surround sound format developed by Apple which requires Apple hardware. It’s designed to add height and rear audio effects to compatible audiovisual content, including Apple Music, FaceTime, and other apps that support Dolby Atmos, or just 5.1 or 7.1 channel audio in general.

Apple Spatial Audio provides a similar experience to traditional surround sound systems, except you use compatible earbuds or headphones instead of an array of speakers. Other surround sound headphones have also achieved similar effects.

Does Spatial Audio Drain Battery?

Spatial Audio requires both your iPhone or iPad and your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max to do extra work, so there is an impact on the battery. The phone or iPad has to do extra processing, and the earbuds or headphones send accelerometer data back to the phone which also takes extra power.

If you want to get the most battery life out of your devices and won’t be able to charge them up if they die, then you should consider turning Spatial Audio off, along with other power-draining features like noise cancellation, until you’re in a situation where charging things up is no longer an issue.

How Do You Use Spatial Audio With AirPods Pro and AirPods Max?

To use Apple Spatial Audio, you need to have a compatible iPhone or iPad. It works with iPhone 7 and newer, the 3rd generation iPad Pro and newer, the 3rd generation iPad Air and newer, the 6th generation iPad and newer, and the 5th generation iPad Mini and newer. You also need to have iOS or iPadOS 14 or newer installed, and you need to use an app that provides audiovisual content compatible with Apple Spatial Audio.

Here’s how to use Spatial Audio using AirPods Pro or AirPods Max:

  1. Connect your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max to your iPhone or iPad.

  2. Open Settings, and tap Bluetooth.

  3. Locate your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, and tap the info button (lower case i in a circle).

  4. Check the Spatial Audio toggle, and tap it to turn it on if it isn’t already on.

    Steps to turn on Spatial Audio on iOS.
  5. Open Apple Music, and tap the search icon.

    Other apps support Spatial Audio, this is just an example to get you started.

  6. Tap the search field, and type Spatial Audio.

    You can also tap Spatial Audio in the Browse Categories section to discover compatible music.

  7. Tap the Made for Spatial Audio playlist.

    Finding Spatial Audio to listen to in the Music app on iOS.
  8. Tap Play, and you can start listening to your first Spatial Audio.

  9. To check if Spatial Audio is active, open the Control Center.

  10. Tap and hold the volume control.

  11. Check to make sure you see the Spatial Audio On icon, and tap it if you don’t.

    Steps to turn on Spatial Audio via the Control Center on iOS.
FAQ
  • What is THX Spatial Audio?

    THX Spatial Audio is an immersive surround platform developed for music, TV, gaming, and more. THX has partnered with other manufacturers to integrate this feature into devices such as televisions and headsets. For example, Razer offers gaming-specific headsets with THX Spatial Audio and an app that enhances and works with most wired and wireless headphones.

  • What is binaural spatial 3D audio?

    While these terms often appear together and are related to surround sound listening, they differ slightly. Binaural audio mimics how you'd hear things if you were right there in the recording studio. Spatial or 3D audio wraps around the listener from different angles for a more real-life experience.

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