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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Inside AirPods Pro: What is and How to Use Spatial Audio

Everything you need to know about Apple's state of the art 3D audio tech for AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.

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Spatial Audio brings an impressive premium surround sound experience to Apple wearables. It utilizes dynamic head tracking and recreates sound to bring an immersive theater like audio experience to the movie or video you’re watching making it feel that the sound is coming from all around you.

Before you begin

Apple bought Spatial Audio, Audio Sharing, Headphone Accommodations, and Automatic Device Switching last September 2020 when it released 3A283 firmware for the AirPods Pro. You can click on that page to follow instructions on how to check if you have the latest firmware installed.

Aside from the latest firmware update, Spatial Audio requires an iPhone 7 or later, an iPad Pro 12.9 inch (3rd generation) and later, iPad Pro 11 inch, iPad Air (3rd generation), iPad (6th generation) and later, iPad mini (5th generation). You’ll also need iOS or iPadOS 14 or later installed on your device as well as the latest firmware on your AirPods Pro or AirPods Pro Max. Unfortunately, despite being created for the big screen, Apple TV and Apple TV 4K does not currently support the feature. We think that Apple might be saving this feature for a future update of Apple TV.

What is Spatial Audio

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Spatial Audio has been in the works for years now and it is Apple’s take on Dolby Atmos for headphones and Sony’s PS5 3D Audio. Spatial Audio is designed to deliver immersive 3D surround sound with your AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.

Spatial Audio Splash Screen.

Apple says it uses 5.1, 7.1, or Dolby Atmos signals and converts them to Spatial Audio. It then maps the individual audio parts on a piece of content – dialogue, sound effects, music, and so on – and applies directional audio filters. It adjusts the frequencies of what each ear hears and places sound virtually anywhere on a digital 3D space. Sounds will appear to be coming from all around you. By adjust the distance of sound digitally it appears as if you’re listening to something close or far away.

And here’s where it gets fun – Spatial Audio then tracks your head movement using accelerometers and gyroscopes in the AirPods Pro and pairs it with the position of your iPhone or iPad where you’re watching so that when you move your head the sound moves relative to the position of your device.

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As Spatial Audio “tricks” your brain into thinking that you’re receiving sound from a fully three dimensional space with a technique known as “binaural rendering”, it will only work when you are using both AirPods Pro.

How to Enable Spatial Audio

  1. Make sure that your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max are connected to your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Swipe down from the right to open Control Center.
  3. Long press on the Volume Button (should be with the AirPods icon).
  4. Click Spatial Audio to turn it on.
How to turn on Spatial Audio.

Turning on Spatial Audio will turn the icon blue. When Spatial Audio is active, the icon becomes animated and moving with audio waves around the listener’s head.

Apps need to support 5.1, 7.1 or Dolby Atmos to be able to use the feature. Currently Apple TV+, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Hulu, Disney+, supports Spatial Audio. Netflix does not currently support surround content via iOS devices but has announced that it is supporting it in the future. App developers can convert stereo content to spatial audio by allowing stereo spatialization using an Apple plug-in.

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