What is Spatial Audio and how does it work?
Spatial Audio is an audio technology that is present in Apple’s newest devices, but the concept is broader than the use made by the brand
For those who like to listen to music with quality audio and uses the ecosystem Apple, the term Spatial Audio ( “Spatial Audio” ) became recurring. However, while the company treats this expression as proprietary technology, the concept goes far beyond that.
In simple terms, Spatial Audio can be explained as a 360 degree sound that recreates the total sound effect in the environment on smaller devices such as headphones.
If before you had to be in a movie theater or in front of a home theater to have “full sound in the room”, today simple TWS headphones such as Apple AirPods are enough to simulate the same effect.
What is Space Audio?
Spatial Audio is what Apple calls its technology that gives the listener the feeling that the sound is filling the room. It’s as if the sound you hear comes from multiple directions simultaneously – just like in real life. So-called “surround sound” works just like that.
The difference with the new technology is that, depending on the hardware + software combination used, the virtual points of origin of the sound can be “fixed” in the environment, even in relation to someone moving with their headphones, providing a feeling still greater freedom.
In a movie, for example, it becomes possible to distinguish more clearly who is speaking to the left or right of the screen. The sound of an approaching person’s footsteps becomes closer to reality. In songs, the perception of sharpness also increases, making it possible to better distinguish the sound of each instrument and the voice of the singers.
Technologies like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X as well as Spatial Audio add a new level to sound expression. Instead of just listening to songs on a linear axis – louder sound vs. quieter sound – the listener has a sense of place – left sound vs right sound or above sound vs. below sound. The feeling is one of total immersion in the content.
How does Spatial Audio work?
In order to be able to listen to songs with the Spatial Audio effect, whether new or old, there is a lot of work behind the scenes. First, sound engineers need to map each part of the file – audio, sound effects, musical instruments, and so on – and place them on a three-dimensional “map”.
With this structure ready, the distances of the sound in relation to the listener, intensity, and equalization are adjusted. This type of work is simpler to be reproduced when we talk about a home theater with its multiple speakers – each channel receives a specific sound.
However, in a headphone, these multiple channels need to be emulated in order to give the listener the same perception they would have if they were in a room with a complete sound system. For this, HRTF ( Head Related Transfer Function ) filters are used.
When this sound combination reaches your ears and is processed by your brain, the application of the effect is complete. This technique is known as binaural rendering. Thanks to sensors such as accelerometer and gyroscope, your head movements are monitored by software, which guarantees the correct delivery of intensity within the “virtual sound bubble” that forms around you.
How to listen to music with Spatial Audio?
Apple claims that only AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones are the perfect devices for you to have the best video experience with the technology. In addition to them, the recently launched Beats Studio Buds also shares the same technology. Major video streaming services offer Spatial Audio compatibility.
As for songs with Spatial Audio, the spectrum of headphones is broader. In addition to the three models above, you can also use Apple AirPods or Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, in addition to the speakers of the latest versions of iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.
What about the content offering? As Spatial Audio is compatible with Dolby Atmos technology, any content available in this format can be heard that way. The Apple Music streaming service also offers thousands of compatible songs and specific playlists for those who want to enjoy audio with this quality.
If you’re using third-party headphones that support Dolby Atmos technology, simply leave this option checked “Always On” in Apple Music.
Finally, if you want to listen to Spatial Audio directly from the device’s speakers, you will need one of the following devices:
- iPhone XS or later (except iPhone SE);
- 3rd generation iPad Pro 12.9 inches or later;
- iPad Pro 11 1st generation or later;
- 4th generation iPad Air.
The list of devices that support Spatial Audio on video is wider. Your Apple device must still be at least on iOS 14.3 version.
- iPhone 7 or later;
- 6th generation iPad or later;
- iPad Air 3rd generation or later;
- 5th generation iPad mini;
- iPad Pro 12.9 inches 3rd generation or later;
- 1st generation iPad Pro 11-inch or later.
When it comes to streaming video services, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Disney+ and, more recently, Netflix offers some content on Dolby Atmos.
- Make sure the audio/video source is playing in Dolby Atmos;
- Have a tech-compatible headset – or a mobile device like smartphones and tablets.
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