How to use Spatial Audio with AirPods

AirPods 3 lying on table out of charging case
(Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Apple has dominated headlines talking about how its AirPods can use Spatial Audio to make your favorite music, movies, and TV shows sound more immersive. While some of that is marketing, there's a good kernel of truth in that statement, and you may be curious about how it works and how to use it.

Whether you have the AirPods 3 (opens in new tab), AirPods Pro, or AirPods Max, you can take advantage of Spatial Audio; you can even turn it off if you don't like the way it sounds!  

What is Spatial Audio?

Spatial Audio is 3D audio that is intended to make it sound like whatever you're listening to is coming from all directions.

In basic terms, Apple uses Spatial Audio to turn surround sound signals — like 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos — into directional audio so that your ears can hear noises from around you. So instead of just hearing things from the left or right like a stereo signal, you can hear sounds from behind or above you. That's why it's a more immersive audio format.

It can sound really cool when it's implemented well, but it can also sound a little weird to some people's ears. The good news is you can turn it on or off whenever you want.

How to turn on and off Spatial Audio

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By default, Spatial Audio should be on whenever you connect your AirPods Max (opens in new tab) (or any AirPods) to your iPhone or iPad. You can turn it off at any point via Control Center. Remember to ensure your AirPods are connected to your iPhone or iPad before you begin. 

How to turn on/off Spatial Audio via Control Center

  1. Open Control Center on your supported device.
  2. Touch and hold the volume control
  3. Tap the Spatial Audio icon to turn it on/off. When the feature is on, the icon will be blue. 

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How to turn on and off Spatial Audio head tracking

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On top of normal Spatial Audio on your AirPods Pro (opens in new tab) or other AirPods, Apple has added a head tracking feature that can be a little odd to get used to.

The idea behind head tracking is to allow the music to stay the same in the soundscape your headphones create, even if you move your head. So, if you turn your head to the right or left, the music pans accordingly, so all the sounds stay in the same place.

Neat, huh? But, if you find it more distracting than enjoyable, you can turn it off in the Accessibility settings on your iPhone. So, no more allowing your best iPhone to follow your head if you don't want to. Here's how you turn off head tracking for Spatial Audio on iPhone.

How to turn on/off Spatial Audio head tracking via settings

  1. Launch Settings from your Home screen.
  2. Tap Accessibility.

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  1. Tap AirPods.
  2. Tap the Follow iPhone On/Off Switch. The switch will turn gray when the feature is disabled.

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Voila! Now you can enjoy your Spatial Audio without head tracking. Of course, if you ever want to turn the feature back on, you can follow the same steps listed above.

How to use personalized Spatial Audio in iOS 16

In the iOS 16 (opens in new tab) beta, Apple released a new optional enhancement for Spatial Audio on AirPods called Personalized Spatial Audio. This is meant to tune the Spatial Audio experience to your specifications to maximize its effectiveness. If you have the iOS 16 beta, you can try it out yourself. If not, you just have to wait until this fall when iOS 16 releases to the public. 

How to set up Personalized Spatial Audio on iOS 16

Apple occasionally offers updates to iOSiPadOSwatchOStvOS, and macOS as closed developer previews or public betas (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)(opens in new tab). While the betas contain new features, they also contain pre-release bugs that can prevent the normal use of your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, or Mac, and are not intended for everyday use on a primary device. That's why we strongly recommend staying away from developer previews unless you need them for software development, and using the public betas with caution. If you depend on your devices, wait for the final release.

  1. Launch Settings from your Home screen with your AirPods connected to your iPhone.
  2. Tap your AirPods which should show up right under your Apple ID.
  3. Tap Personalized Spatial Audio.
  4. Tap Personalize Spatial Audio.

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From here, you'll need to follow the instructions on your iPhone's screen. It will instruct you to move your iPhone around your head in various ways so the camera can capture your ears and head.

If you do this in public, people will likely look at you a little funny — not that I would know, of course — but it only takes a minute or two and then you'll be off to the races with Personalized Spatial Audio.

Spatial Audio can improve your listening experience 

There's no doubt that Spatial Audio can be one of the best ways to improve the sound of your AirPods (opens in new tab). With Apple primed to add new features in the future — as it will with iOS 16 — it's likely only going to get better. Heck, who knows what Apple has in store for Spatial Audio when the rumored AirPods Pro 2 launch (opens in new tab)?

However, if you do not like how Spatial Audio sounds when you're listening to certain music or watching videos, remember you have the option to modify it or turn it off any time you want. 

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.