Spatial Audio for iPhone 11 and AirPods Pro

Since the iPhone 7, the iPhone has stereo speakers: one speaker is at the bottom right, the other above the screen in the ear speaker. If you hold your iPhone in landscape mode, you will hear the sound coming from both the left and right. But with spatial audio on the iPhone and AirPods Pro, it sounds even fuller and (as the name says) more spacious.

What is Spatial Audio?

There are all kinds of standards for creating good sound quality. For televisions and speakers, for example, there is Dolby Atmos. The Apple TV 4K supports Dolby Atmos, but the iPhones can also play such content. Such standards create surround sound, without having to place speakers all around you. Spatial audio on the iPhone and AirPods works much the same. It seems as if all kinds of sounds come from behind, above, below, left and right, while you only have two speakers. You are therefore right in the middle of the action, which can come in handy especially with films. Another term that is often used is 3D audio.

Which Apple devices support spatial audio?

Spatial audio is available on a number of devices:
iPhone 11
iPhone 11 Pro
iPhone 11 Pro Max
AirPods Pro (from iOS 14 in combination with iPhone 7 or newer)

From 2019, Apple has added spatial audio to the iPhone and from iOS 14 and the corresponding AirPods firmware update, we also find this function on the AirPods Pro. Because you only have one speaker per ear with the AirPods Pro, Apple has made all kinds of algorithms that mimic the surround sound. Apple has also applied a special technology for the AirPods Pro. Because you move your head regularly, the sound turns with the AirPods. Apple uses the accelerometer and gyroscope to register movement with your head and thus link the sound to the position of your device. This means that the sound coming from the left will always be heard from the left. Even if you turn your head to the left or right.

Spatial audio works with content encoded with 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos audio.

What are the benefits of spatial audio?

The biggest advantage is that it seems as if the sound comes from all sides, without having to use multiple speakers. Films and documentaries therefore sound more realistic. Think of an action movie, in which a car comes tearing from the left back to the right front of the image. The sound then corresponds much more to the image.

Spatial audio has already proven itself on the iPhone. In a nature documentary on Netflix you really hear the jungle sounds around you, as if you are standing in the middle of a rainforest. Chirping birds, creaking branches and more sound a lot more realistic. The largest application is therefore with films and a lot less with music via streaming services.

How to turn on spatial audio with your AirPods Pro

  1. Go to Settings > Bluetooth.
  2. Find your AirPods Pro in the list (for example, “John’s AirPods”). 
  3. Tap the info button  next to your AirPods.
  4. Turn on Spatial Audio.

To listen to a demonstration of spatial audio, tap See & Hear How It Works. You can switch from stereo audio to spatial audio to hear the difference between them. You can also play the movie below to experience spatial audio.

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