Missing those live concerts and artist performances that you otherwise would have attended had it not been for this pandemic? Well, nothing can quite replace that, but Imagine a music experience that’s on your headphones or speakers that’s so immersive that you feel the audio almost moving when you physically move. That is exactly what Apple promised at WWDC21 when it announced Apple Music Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos support. The feature was rolled out in the USA a while ago and has now made its way to India.


Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos is THE technology when it comes to surround sound and has almost become synonymous with immersive sound experience. Apple’s Spatial Audio sound technology tracks your head and position with respect to the sound and uses that to create a shift in your audio so that you “feel” the audio move when you move. When combined with Dolby Atmos, this will give you an illusion that you are in a live location or a live concert where you feel the sound shift along with you.

In short, Spatial Audio with Dolby Atoms promises to take your music experience from two dimensions to three dimensions, which basically means that you get a theatre-like audio experience where you feel like audio is coming from all around you.

What do you need to experience Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos?

If you have an Apple Music streaming service subscription, you can select songs that come with Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos audio technology, as not all songs support this function. You do not need special headphones to experience the Spatial Audio feature. It works with both wired and wireless headphones. That said, it does tend to work best with Apple devices. As of now, it works with AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods, Beats X, Beats Solo 3 Wireless, Beats Studio3, Powerbeats 3 Wireless, Beats Flex, Powerbeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro.

Do you not have headphones handy? Well, you can actually even experience it on the speakers of some iOS devices such as the 12.9-inch (3rd generation or later), iPad Pro 11-inch, iPad (6th generation or later), iPad Air (3rd generation or later), or iPad mini (5th generation). You can also listen on the built-in speakers of your Mac and with those attached to your Apple TV 4K.

How to activate Dolby Atmos on iPhone or iPad:

  1. Update to iOS/ iPad OS 14.6

    how to activate spatial audio on apple music [ios | macos | android] - step1 2

    First things first, you need to update your iPhone/ iPad to iOS/ iPadOS 14.6. If your device is not up to date, the feature will not work. To update your device, you can simply head to the Settings app, select General, then tap on Software update and download and install the latest software update. This update was released a while ago, so it is a fair chance you already have updated to it, and the service has been activated.

  2. Go to Settings and select Music

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    You then have to open the Settings app on your device and scroll all the way down to the app list, and find Music there.

  3. Tap on Dolby Atmos

    how to activate spatial audio on apple music [ios | macos | android] - step3 2
    Once you have tap-opened Music, you have to find the Dolby Atmos option from the list of options right above “Audio Quality”. The feature will be set on Automatic by default.

  4. Choose your option

    how to activate spatial audio on apple music [ios | macos | android] - step4 1
    Hit the Dolby Atmos option and you get three options to choose from:

    • Automatic
      In this mode, supported songs will always play in Dolby Atmos, provided you are using one of the Apple devices we mentioned above.
    • Always On
      In this case, Dolby Atmos will play even on headphones that are not supported. The point to note here is that the experience might not be as good as on Apple devices.
    • Off
      If you choose this option, you did not really need this tutorial, did you?

    Choose Automatic or Always on depending on what you need and the equipment you have.

How to turn on Spatial Audio on Mac

The process to turn on Spatial Audio on a Mac is a pretty simple one as well.

  1. Update your Mac:

    how to activate spatial audio on apple music [ios | macos | android] - step1 1 1
    Like on your iPhone/ iPad, you have to update your Mac and experience Spatial Audio. Make sure your Mac is updated to macOS 11.4 (again, chances are it has already been updated as this update rolled out a while ago, and the service has just been activated). To update your Mac, you simply have to open System Preferences and look for an option called Software updates. Click on it, and you will get the latest version of the software that your Mac can support, and all you have to do from there is download and install.

  2. Open Apple Music:
    how to activate spatial audio on apple music [ios | macos | android] - step2 1 1
    Once your Mac is up to date, you have to open the Apple Music App on it. You are most likely to find the app on the Dock itself. In case you cannot find the app there, just click on the tiny magnifying glass or Search icon present on the top right side of your screen and type Apple Music there. You can also ask Siri to open it for you.
  3. Select Preferences:
    how to activate spatial audio on apple music [ios | macos | android] - step3 1 1
    After opening the Apple Music app, got to Music in the menu bar and click on Preferences.
  4. Click on Playback:
    how to activate spatial audio on apple music [ios | macos | android] - step4 1 1
    When you select Preference, you will find a number of tabs on your screen. Out of these tabs, you have to tap and select Playback.
  5. Choose your Dolby Atmos option:
    how to activate spatial audio on apple music [ios | macos | android] - step5 1

    Under Playback, head to the Dolby Atmos option. It will be set on Automatic by default, but as in iOS, you will have Always-On and Off options. Pick the one that works best for you.

Note: Apple will be introducing the head tracking feature in Spatial Audio with iOS 15, which is responsible for the shift in sound with the movement of your head. This feature will not work with third-party headphones and will only work with AirPods Pro or AirPods Max as they come with gyroscopes sensors in the AirPods for movement tracking.

FAQ about Spatial Audio on Apple Music

1. How to listen to Apple Music Spatial Audio on third-party headphones?

Let us repeat what we mentioned earlier. You do NOT need any special headphones to experience the new Apple Music Spatial Audio feature. It will work on both wired and wireless headphones, even those not made by Apple. You just need to use those third-party headphones paired with/connected to a compatible Apple device like iPhone/iPad/Mac. No AirPods or Beats headphones are required.

2. How to turn off Apple Music spatial audio?

In case you don’t like the Spatial Audio feature, you can turn it off on your iOS/iPadOS/macOS device. On iOS and iPadOS, go to Settings >> Music >> Audio >> Dolby Atmos and select OFF to switch off Spatial Audio.

On macOS, open the Music app, open Preferences, and select the Playback tab. Scroll down to the Audio Quality section and look for Dolby Atmos over there. Choose ‘OFF’ to switch off the Spatial audio.

3. How do I know I’m listening to Spatial Audio on Apple Music?

The Now Playing screen beneath the album artwork has either a Dolby Atmos or Dolby Audio logo on it.

4. Does spatial audio work on speakers?

Yes, you can hear Dolby Atmos music using the built‑in speakers on a compatible iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, Macbook Air, or iMac, or by connecting your Apple TV 4K to one of the following: HomePod speakers set up as the default speakers, a Dolby Atmos compatible soundbar, a Dolby Atmos-enabled AV Receiver, or television that supports Dolby Atmos audio.

5. Will Apple Music Spatial Audio work on Android devices?

Yes, Apple has updated the Apple Music app on Android to support lossless audio and Spatial Audio on Android devices as well. While the features aren’t explicitly mentioned on the changelog, it’s confirmed that they are part of the new app update that’s rolling out (version 3.6+). It’s not clear what the “compatible devices” are that can run Spatial Audio on Android. We will update this article as and when that’s made clear.

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