Apple’s Spatial Audio Enhances Sonic Experience
At their recent Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple repeatedly used the words ‘Spatial’ and ‘Audio’ together more than any other combination of words (except maybe ‘best’ and ‘ever’). Some people believe that spatial audio is the future of listening to music, and there is a lot of work going on to convert an old track to a new spatial sound. At BRAVAS, your local surround sound installer, we believe all this is thinking through, and it is work understanding what spatial audio is, how to listen to it and if there is a role for your Dolby Atmos system to listen to it.
What is Spatial Audio?
First, there was mono, then there was stereo, and now we have spatial. Spatial audio (like Dolby Atmos for movies) places the listener, not in a single (mono), or dual (right and left with stereo), but in a 3D space.
As part of the WWDC timeframe, it was announced that Dolby Atmos for music would be arriving on Apple Music starting in June. For those who use Apple devices and have the right source content, you will be able to hear Dolby Atmos tracks natively on Apple devices or with AirPods and other supported headphones. Yet spatial goes beyond Atmos.
Apple's implementation sits on top of Dolby Atmos and offers an even more immersive experience. Not only do you get a multitude of audio channels via Dolby Atmos, but you also get to move around inside this audio space. Does that sound like marketing speak? Well, it does, really, and it is hard to explain. The best way to understand is to hear the difference.
How do you listen to it?
Having the proper hardware is, of course, only half the story. Music, like movies that use Atmos, must be coded the right way. In spatial audio, they must be mixed to make the sound come out correctly. On the Apple Music site, they have created a large amount of content to demonstrate the approach. You may have to be an Apple Music customer to sample the tracks. An excellent place to start is the Marvin Gaye track "What's Going On." Listening to this track, you get to hear a mono, stereo, and spatial mix.
You can find other playlists of tunes mixed for spatial, including classical, hip-hop, and pop. While the sound is more enjoyable on some tracks than others, some fun ones to listen to are:
- The Doors – Riders On The Storm
- Beatles – Here Comes the Sun
- Planets – Jupiter
- Kenny Roger – The Gambler
There are other sources for this content on your Apple devices (more than Apple Music) but these are mostly Atmos: Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Paramount+, some TIDAL songs, and many more. Interestingly, some apps do not support this new model, including Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video.
Can you use your home theater?
For those of us who have invested in amazing home theaters, the question is, can we get these effects on our speakers as well as our headphones?
There is no doubt that Apple has designed the experience to support its headphones, if you use an AppleTV (with tvOS 14.6) and can get a Dolby signal out of it and into your Atmos receiver, you should get most if not all the benefit. Of course, with so many types of receivers, amplifiers, and speaker combinations, all this is too new to know what works and what doesn’t for sure.
We will be trying it at BRAVAS and maybe you can try it too. If you find a winning combination, let us know.