How to Elevate Your AirPods Listening Experience With Spatial Audio

Mte Feat Airpods Spatial Audio

Whether you’re listening to music, movies, or audiovisual content from a supported app, iOS/iPadOS 15.1 and later support Spatial Audio, which offers a truly immersive listening experience when paired with compatible audio gear. This dynamically calibrated sound profile immerses you in your content by simulating a digital audio landscape that makes sounds seem like they are coming from all around you.

Need to relax and unwind? These are the best sources for calming sounds, white noise, and rain.

What Is Spatial Audio?

Spatial Audio utilizes complex computational audio algorithms to add a more dynamic range to your music and videos. While using Spatial Audio, your content will always sound like you have the best seat in the house, whether it be a concert for your favorite artist or the next Hollywood blockbuster in IMAX.

You can even level up your Spatial Audio experience with head tracking and personalized audio profiles tailored specifically to your ears. This tutorial shows you how to enable Spatial Audio on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. 

Which Earbuds Support Spatial Audio?

You can take advantage of Spatial Audio by connecting any of the following headphones to your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. You must be running iOS/iPadOS 15.1 to enjoy Spatial Audio on your iPhone or iPad with earbuds. If you wish to use Spatial Audio on Apple TV, you need an Apple TV 4K running tvOS 15 or later. Finally, if you plan on toggling Spatial Audio from your Mac, you must be running macOS Big Sur 11.4 or later.

The following headphone models support both Spatial Audio and dynamic Spatial Audio with head tracking: 

  • AirPods (3rd generation)
  • AirPods Pro (1st & 2nd generation)
  • AirPods Max
  • Beats Fit Pro

How to Test Run Spatial Audio Before Enabling It

While Spatial Audio offers a whole new take on sound for day-to-day media playback, it is not for everybody. You may want to assess the difference between stereo and Spatial Audio before you adjust the settings on your AirPods or Beats headphones by taking Spatial Audio for a test drive.

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad.
Ios Settings App
  1. Open the lid on your AirPods or Beats case with both of your AirPods/buds inside, and hold the case close to your iOS device. You will see your headphones appear above the listed items in the Settings app. Tap on your headphones.
Airpods Settings App Dark
  1. Scroll down a bit until you see the header labeled “Spatial Audio,” then tap the “See & Hear How It Works” option. 
Spatial Audio Ios See And Hear
  1. Place your AirPods or Beats in/over your ears. On the next screen, toggle between Stereo Audio and Spatial Audio by tapping the specific buttons.
Spatial Audio Stereo Vs Spatial Test
  1. Tap the “Done” button when you are finished testing Spatial Audio.
Done Button Spatial Audio

Tip: to guarantee a smooth listening experience, make sure you clean your AirPods properly before use.

How to Enable Spatial Audio

The process to activate Spatial Audio varies based on which device you are using. Thankfully, once you know where the software controls are hiding, enabling Spatial Audio is quite straightforward.

Understanding Spatial Audio Options

Fixed Spatial Audio offers a greater dynamic range for audio, while Head Tracked Spatial Audio shifts sound from one earbud to the other for an enveloping auditory soundscape. Head-tracking data is used to illustrate the impression that sound is coming from your device instead of your earbuds. Each Spatial Audio toggle will enable: 

Fixed: turns on Spatial Audio without enabling head tracking.

Head Tracked: turns on Spatial Audio and head tracking.

Off: turns off Spatial Audio and head tracking.

Enable Spatial Audio on iPhone and iPad

  1. Place your AirPods or Beats in/over your ears, then connect them to your iPhone or iPad. Your AirPods should connect automatically. If your AirPods or Beats are not connecting to your device, you may want to consider updating the firmware using your Mac or iPhone.
  1. Swipe down from the upper-right corner of the display to reveal Control Center.
Control Center Activate Iphone
  1. Tap and hold on to the volume slider with one finger. The slider will expand to reveal a set of controls for your AirPods or Beats.
Volume Slider Control Center Ios
  1. Tap on the Spatial Audio icon highlighted below. The icon will animate to reveal toggles for both Fixed Spatial Audio and Head Tracked Spatial Audio. You can switch between them while playing music to hear the difference. To disable spatial audio, tap the toggle that reads “Off.”
Spatial Audio Toggle Options Ios

Learn how to customize your Mac’s sound settings to improve your audio experience further.

Enable Spatial Audio on Mac

  1. Put your AirPods or Beats inside/over your ears to connect them to your Mac. You should see an icon in the Menu Bar depicting your headphones. Click on the icon to toggle audio options.
Macbook Airpods Toggle
Image source: Apple
  1. Underneath the header titled Spatial Audio, select “Fixed” or “Head Tracked,” depending on which audio profile you would like to enable. To turn off Spatial Audio, simply click the item labeled “Off.”
Mac Spatial Audio Options
Image source: Apple

Note: Spatial Audio with head tracking is only available on Mac computers with Apple Silicon running macOS Monterey 12.3 or later.

Enable Spatial Audio on Apple TV

  1. After turning on your Apple TV, place your AirPods or Beats in/over your ears. You should see a banner with your headphones in the upper- right corner of your television screen. 
Apple Tv Airpods Pair
  1. Push the TV button on your Apple TV’s Siri Remote to connect your AirPods or compatible Beats.
Apple Tv Remote Tv Button
  1. Press and hold the same TV button on your Siri Remote to toggle Control Center, then select your headphones from the list of controls.
Apple Tv Control Center Airpods
  1. Use the touchpad or the directional buttons on your Siri Remote to bounce between “Fixed” and “Head Tracked” Spatial Audio. You can also select “Off” to disable Spatial Audio altogether. 
Apple Tv Airpods Spatial Audio

Tip: if you’re on macOS Ventura, turn on live captions to follow the audio in your app more easily.

What Is Personalized Spatial Audio?

Personalized Spatial Audio allows you to use the TrueDepth camera array, the same set of sensors that enable Face ID on iPhone X and later, to three-dimensionally scan the outer geometries of your ear. Your iPhone then uses this data to create a unique Spatial Audio sound profile that is customized for your ears.

How to Create a Personalized Profile on iPhone

If you are running iOS 16 or later on an iPhone with Face ID, you can tune your listening experience specifically for your ears using Personalized Spatial Audio. The camera data that is used to develop your unique audio profile utilizes on-device processing and does not store any actual images of your ears on your iPhone. Follow the steps below to set it up.

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone. 
  2. Tap on your headphones that appear above the listed items in the Settings app.
Airpods Settings App Light
  1. Tap the list item labeled “Personalized Spatial Audio,” then confirm this action on the next screen by tapping the same option again to access the setup screen. 
Personalized Spatial Audio Enable Ios
  1. Tap the blue “Continue” button at the bottom of the screen, then select “Front View Capture” to perform a standard Face ID scan before you start scanning your ears. This helps the system better calibrate the precise position of your ears.
Front View Capture Airpods Spatial
  1. Scan your right ear by first tapping the “Start Right Ear Capture” button, then pivot your head from left to right with your iPhone’s front-facing camera 10 to 20 inches away from your ear to conduct a scan. 
Spatial Audio Capture Right Ear 1
  1. You will be asked to repeat these steps for your left ear. When each scan is complete, you will hear a distinct beep.
Spatial Audio Continue Button
  1. If you see a green checkmark, your ear scan is complete. and Personalized Spatial Audio has been enabled.
Personlized Spatial Audio Green Checkmark

Note: do not place your AirPods or Beats headphones in/over your ears while performing the ear scan. This will prevent the system from being able to conduct an accurate scan.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use Spatial Audio without earbuds?

Yes, but only on some Apple devices. When available, Spatial Audio is automatically enabled for your content. You do not need to push a single button. Take advantage of Spatial Audio using the built-in speakers on iPhone 7 and later. Many iPad models, including the iPad (6th generation and later), iPad Air (3rd generation and later), iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation and later), iPad Pro 11-inch, and iPad mini (5th generation and later), will support spatial audio without the need for AirPods or Beats headphones. 

Do I have to set up Personalized Spatial Audio on each device that I own?

No. Once you set up and enable Spatial Audio on your iPhone, your personal audio profile automatically syncs across all of your Apple devices, as long as you are signed in with your Apple ID. This data syncs to your devices using iCloud and end-to-end encryption, which means nobody, not even Apple, can read the data. 

How can I find my Mac-connected AirPods or Beats headphones when I cannot find the icon for them in the Menu Bar?

If you connected your AirPods or Beats to your Mac, and they are still not showing up in the Menu Bar, you can fix this by launching the System Preferences / System Settings app, then navigating to the menu item labeled “Sound -> Show Sound in menu bar.”

Discover how to customize the Menu Bar in macOS to learn more about making your favorite controls more easily accessible throughout the system.

Image credit: Unsplash. All screenshots by Brahm Shank.

Brahm Shank
Brahm Shank

Self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur and tech enthusiast Brahm Shank is captivated by the impact of consumer tech: “It’s profoundly moving when people discover that the phone in their pocket or the tiny computer on their wrist has the power to enrich their lives in ways they never imagined.” Apple, Inc. and its unique position at the intersection of technology and the creative arts, resonates deeply with Brahm and his passion for helping people unleash their potential using technology. Over the years, Brahm has held various podcasts - including famed technologist David Pogue of The New York Times on topics such as Big Tech and digital wellness.

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