A few weeks ago, Apple made an abrupt announcement that Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos were coming to Apple Music. I think the significance of Spatial Audio was lost on most people for a variety of reasons. However, any of us who own the company’s AirPods Max headphones and have watched a movie with Atmos and already experienced Spatial Audio audio could tell you that it was potentially a big deal for music, as well.
The unfortunate thing is that Apple also decided to bring up lossless audio in the same announcement as Spatial Audio without giving everyone the full details of how it works and what hardware it takes to listen. The confusion and frustration over Lossless and its lack of compatibility with Apple’s mobile devices and the AirPods Max ended up burying the lede to some degree.
I was disappointed in Apple for doing a less than stellar job of rolling these new audio features out. I was also quite surprised that they designed their new high-end headphones without a way to take advantage of one of these new features. However, these frustrations fell away once I started listening to the initial tracks that Apple released that are compatible with Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio. Hearing really is believing.
It’s a bit difficult to put Spatial Audio into words. The effect isn’t as extreme as what you get in movies recorded in Dolby Atmos. That is a full on, simulated surround sound experience. Listening to music with Spatial Audio is less like a movie in surround and more like sitting in a concert hall with good acoustics and no crowd noise.
When you turn on Noise Cancellation and listen to one of these tracks with the AirPods Max, it really does immerse you in the sound. That’s the best way I can put it. This is especially the case with Classical and Jazz, with all of the space, subtlety, and nuance that are inherent in those styles. Even if you aren’t a big fan of either, I highly recommend taking a listen to a couple of tracks that are in Apple’s Spatial Audio playlists to get a feel for just how well it compliments them. If you love Star Wars, don’t miss The Imperial March. It really shows off Spatial Audio well.
While Apple’s AirPods Pro earbuds are a little less immersive than the Max, they still do a really good job of delivering Spatial Audio to a wider audience. What’s really interesting is that Apple is now rolling out the feature to the AirPods and other similar Beats headphones and earbuds, even if they don’t have an H1 chip and all of the accompanying features. That’s a smart move on their part, as some people are going to upgrade to the next step up in buds or phones after they get hooked.
I’m already a big fan of Spatial Audio for music, but from what I gather reading a bit on Twitter, I still haven’t gotten the full experience yet. Head tracking for Spatial Audio with Apple Music evidently hasn’t been enabled yet outside of the iOS 15 and iPadOS betas. Unfortunately, I am not in a position where I can run them right off the bat this year. There’s just too much going on at work for me to risk the instability. However, even with this piece of Spatial Audio for Apple Music missing, I’m already sold.
Like I said at the outset, I was very disappointed that I couldn’t get the full effect of Lossless audio files with my AirPods Max when all of this was announced. However, after listening to many of the tracks that are currently compatible with Spatial Audio this week, I’m not bothered by it anymore. I knew this was the real focus of Apple’s new music push, but it really doesn’t hit you until you try it. I also know this- Spatial Audio for music is going to sell the AirPods Max more than anything else.
Also, while I was critical of Apple’s original announcement of their new features, I have to compliment them on the actual rollout. Their collections and playlists that span a variety of styles are really well put together and have something for everyone. If you have a set of compatible buds or headphones, I highly recommend you check them out.