4 min read
13 Dec

The ability of spatial audio to transform music astounded Apple Music's Zane Lowe when he first sampled it on his AirPods. Apple's new spatial audio, powered by Dolby Atmos, provides listeners with an immersive audio experience. Apple Music subscribers will be treated to "the biggest advancement ever in sound quality," according to Apple Music and Beats Vice President Oliver Schusser. But what exactly is spatial audio, and how does it differ from stereo?

Spatial Audio: The Next Big Thing in Audio

Spatial audio has the potential to alter our perceptions of music and other things. It immerses listeners in the audio, transporting them to the source of the sound. You'll feel as if you're in the audience, listening to your favorite singer perform live. To fully appreciate the potential of spatial audio, we must first consider the implications of immersive technology. By utilizing a 360 degree space, immersive technology extends reality or creates a new reality. Users can enjoy a holistic experience where they encounter content from all directions because it uses a 360-degree space. The 360-degree technique is used in spatial audio to simulate reality. As a result, you can hear the audio from all sides, which makes it more realistic. When you listen to spatial audio, you'll get the impression that the sound is coming from all directions. Following mono and stereo, spatial promises to be the next evolutionary step in audio advancement.

What is spatial audio and how does it work?

The spatial audio experience comprises two major components: how the sound is recorded and produced, and how the software processes it. When sound engineers record music or movies, they mix and optimize the audio to create an immersive experience. It is usually done with a surround sound experience in mind for films or television shows. They adjust the recorded audio to match the source and direction on purpose.

For example, if a gunshot is fired from the left, the sound is mixed to appear louder on the left before gradually diminishing to the right. This aids in the formation of a genuine sense of direction. Sound engineers use a binaural setup, which captures audio from two microphones to make the sound more realistic. It gives the audio a 3D effect. Binaural recordings help to replicate the sounds we hear in our environment. However, recording sound in 3D is not enough, just as it is not enough to record video in 4K. Supported software and devices are required to enjoy the spatial sound effect. Apple recently made headlines for all the right reasons, thanks to its partnership with Dolby Atmos to bring spatial audio to their audience.

The Apple - Atmos Partnership

In September 2020, as part of iOS 14, the spatial audio feature was first introduced for movies and television shows. Following that, on June 7, as part of the 2021 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, it was rolled out across Apple Music. The company also announced a partnership with Dolby Atmos in the same month. Apple Music's launch of spatial audio, during which they listed the devices that support this unique feature, created a positive buzz in the industry. AirPods Pro, AirPods (3rd gen), AirPods Max, Beats Fit Pro, and MacBook Pro 2021 are all included. If your Android device supports Dolby Atmos, you can subscribe to Apple Music and listen to spatial audio. Other Apple devices with spatial audio support include:

  • iPhone 7 or newer models
  • iPad Pro (3rd gen) or later models
  • iPad Air (3rd gen) or later models
  • iPad (6th gen) or later models
  • iPad mini (5th gen) or later models
  • iOS or iPadOS 14 or later models
  • Apple TV 4K with tvOS 15 models

While Dolby Atmos has been available on Amazon Music and Tidal for over a year, Apple's announcement adds an additional dimension to the format. Dolby focused on inducing sounds from surround home speakers to deliver a more visceral simulation of movie theater sound effects when they created Atmos. You could hear the plane whizzing by as if you were right next to the runway, and raindrops pelting the window sill with greater force. What makes Apple's spatial audio supported by Atmos so unique?

When it comes to movie soundtracks, the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max uses accelerometers and gyroscopes to provide virtualized surround and Atmos sound while tracking the listener's head movement. The additional feature aids in the accurate positioning of the sound. It also tracks the device's position so that sound can be positioned in relation to the screen. If you turn your head or move your device while watching a movie on your iPad or iPhone, the dialogue will be anchored to the character on the screen. Dolby has shifted its focus away from movies and toward music production.

Dolby Atmos plans to launch special tracks and a unique set of playlists in collaboration with Apple Music to help listeners re-experience their favorite music. Users will listen to music in lossless quality thanks to Dolby Atmos' spatial audio, which will accurately mimic a real-world audio experience. There are millions of devices that support Atmos today, as well as a growing catalog of content on streaming platforms–the intersection of Atmos and spatial audio should provide you with the perfect "sweet spot."

Is This the End of Audio?

Giles Martin believes that advances in spatial audio and the Apple-Atmos partnership will allow musicians and producers to take music fans inside the music and curate an immersive experience. The Grammy-winning composer, producer, and songwriter also stated that the listening experience will now be transformative, and that the creator's options will be limitless. He described it as a "quantum leap in technology" in an Apple press release. Martin explained how spatial audio allows for a one-of-a-kind experience in which creators can fully immerse themselves in familiar music in a new and exciting way.

Manny Marroquin, a mixing engineer, agrees that spatial audio gives music a new identity. In a press release, he stated flatly, "The future has arrived." It certainly opens up a lot of possibilities for players, such as gaming companies being able to use innovative sound design to give their users a fully immersive experience. It will also change how content creators design their work, as the possibilities are now endless.

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