Spatial Audio is one of the most important listening features of Apple Music. It simulates audio coming from different directions, just like Dolby Atmos. The feature can even track your head movements, so the sound moves with you. Cool right?
It was first rolled out as a videos feature on Apple devices and was brought to Apple Music in 2021. With Spatial Audio enabled, you can listen to your favorite albums in a more immersive format, making it feel like the elements of a piece of music are coming at you from every angle.
Use of the feature requires a pair of AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods (3rd generation), or Beats Fit Pro and a newer iPad, iPhone, or Mac. Interestingly, some MacBooks, iPhones, and iPads support the feature through their built-in speakers, and so does the new Studio Display. You can find a full list of supported devices on Apple’s support pages.
That’s all well and good, but what can you actually listen to in Spatial Audio (aside from The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, of course)? With a number of albums mastered especially for the feature and a wide choice of playlists to watch on Apple’s streaming platform, here are ten albums we think you should hear in Apple Music’s Spatial Audio to get you started. .
1. Sour – Olivia Rodrigo
Credit: Geffen Records
Sour is Olivia Rodrigo’s first studio album. Perhaps most famous for her Disney roles, Rodrigo rose to international pop stardom in 2021. The young artist has already won awards for most of her album’s streams, and it’s not even a year out yet.
This album was mixed specifically for Spatial Audio and Apple has used the album in most of its marketing campaigns for the feature (recognize the purple album cover?). And you can tell, because this album is an example of all the benefits of technology.
Listening to the songs really envelops your ears in the sound, and some acoustic songs make you feel like you’re in the room with Rodrigo. The bass is clear and punchy, while her soft and mellow vocals flow through the soundstage with excellent presence and clarity.
Listen to non-musical sounds like footsteps in the tracks 1 step forward, 3 steps back and enough for you; these should have a clear sense of direction within the wider mix. Guitar melodies also stand out on this album, particularly under Rodrigo’s voice in the mix.
2. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? – Billie Eilish
(Image credit: Interscope)
WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is Billie Eilish’s debut studio album (we promise not all of them are like that). From producing her first album in a bedroom studio to gaining international fame as the latest James Bond themed artist, the album that started it all remains one of Eilish’s most popular.
Eilish is known for her soft, raspy vocals and Spatial Audio makes it sound like she’s whispering right in your ear. This contrasts with the signature pounding bass that accentuates most of the songs on this album, and creates a sense of texture in the 3D soundscape.
Where Spatial Audio really improves on this album is in the panning. Particularly the onset of the bad guy and during my weird addiction, the traditional technique of switching audio between the left and right channels is amplified to the point where the music really does sound like it’s coming at you convincingly from both sides of your head.
3.1 – The Beatles
Credit: EMI Records
1 is one of The Beatles’ most recognizable compilation albums. Featuring some of the band’s most beloved songs, this 2015 remaster features special stereo mixes and was recently adapted for Spatial Audio.
Spatial Audio on this album is perfect for helping you distinguish the different layers in the soundstage, rather than locating individual instruments. You hear the voices, percussion and strings all stacked on top of each other as if your ears were biting into a well-made sandwich.
Tracks like Eleanor Rigby with clear and cutting strings make the most of the sonic space offered by Spatial Audio. Listening to this album is like being in the room with John, Paul, Ringo and George.
4. Rumors – Fleetwood Mac
Credit: Warner Bros. records
Rumors is certainly a bit of a throwback. The album dominated the radio waves in the 1970s when it was released, and it is still a beloved album today. Spatial Audio just takes this classic album and gives you a new way to experience it.
As we listened to the tracks with Spatial Audio, the bass sounded excellent, with plenty of room for those lower frequencies to resonate without clouding the rest of the soundstage. You should be able to clearly identify instruments and sound effects as they move through your head, especially with the lingering voice in Dreams.
Listen to the drums in many of the songs, which have a remarkable direction behind the vocals, just as they would be in person. With this album, it’s like being in the recording booth with Fleetwood Mac, let alone just being in the room.
5. The Dream – alt J
The Dream features some of alt-J’s most popular songs; and now that it supports Spatial Audio, fans of the alternative trio can rejoice.
On most of the songs you have the feeling that the sound completely envelops you. You can pin this down to various sounds like a cymbal and snare, and the deep bassy beats moving through the mix.
Again, the elements of each track are perfectly placed to create layers, creating the effect that the music completely surrounds you – it’s a less natural sound than the Spatial Audio mix for Rumors, but it’s more immersive.
6. The Immersive Experience – London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ben Gernon
Credit: Parlophone Records Ltd
The Immersive Experience is an album that picks out some of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s most popular performances – you’ve got everything from Debussy to Berlioz – and optimizes them for Spatial Audio. It is a must for classical music fans who want to recreate the sound of a concert hall without leaving their living room.
The Dolby Atmos mix allows you to clearly distinguish individual sections of the orchestra, giving each instrument the space it needs to shine – even in complex arrangements. Not only can you identify these sections, they also have a clear direction. Listen there, the strings section is in the front left!
This virtual surround sound effect simulates a concert hall quite realistically, so you can get a taste of what it’s like to see the orchestra perform in real life.
7. Starboy – The Weeknd
(Image credit: XO/Republic)
Starboy from 2016 is one of The Weeknd’s most popular albums. It’s back before the TikTok popularity of Blinding Lights and the 2021 Superbowl Halftime Show.
Listening to this album again allows you to pick out individual sounds more clearly than in stereo (it’s almost as if Spatial Audio was made for this), with the piano coming through in the album’s title track with remarkable detail. In other songs, listen to more soft beats, which seem to have an undiscovered depth. The vocals also have a strong sense of directionality, making for a truly immersive experience.
8. A Night at the Opera – Queen
Credit: EMI / Electricity
A Night at the Opera is Queen’s fourth studio album. It features some of the band’s greatest songs, as well as some that you may not have heard before. It’s not just an album, it’s an experience.
This album also excels at panning between the left and right sides of your head. In Bohemian Rhapsody, there’s a real sense of the free-flowing structure, as the instrumental portion of the song bounces not just between your ears, but around the simulated soundscape. Especially the howling strings of guitar and violin shine here, in a kind of coordinated chaos. These are accompanied by the deep pounding bass, which seems to come from above (much like thunder and lightning).
It’s a very different way to hear the album. In the tracks with complex vocal harmonies, Spatial Audio makes it very easy to pick and direct these; almost as if you can see who was standing where. When you listen to this album, it’s like you’re in each of the songs.
9. The Blues and the Abstract Truth – Oliver Nelson
(Image credit: Impulse!)
The Blues And The Abstract Truth is a jazz album that you may have never listened to, but Oliver Nelson was an incredible artist and this album showcases his talent. Ted Lasso fans may recognize a few songs from some episodes of the show.
When you listen to the album, you can clearly recognize each of the instruments being played. Not only this, but Spatial Audio helps emphasize the leading instrument by making it sound closer before the next instrument takes over. It’s a great way to bring out the conversational (and sometimes contradictory) interactions between the different instruments. Keep an ear out (virtual) for some of the softer drum beats, which increase in volume as the conversation heats up.
10. Sometimes I May Be Introverted – Little Simz
Credit: Age 101 / AWAL
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is the fourth studio album by British rapper Little Simz. It is a fast, soulful work, juxtaposing confessional lyrics and heady beats with sweeping orchestral movements and haunting choral harmonies.
You can hear the directionality of Simz’s voice as it moves through the virtual environment, accompanied by chopped and screwed 80s beats and booming strings. Even in the busier arrangements, you can clearly pick out any instrument – and this is only enhanced by the extra space the Spatial Audio mix provides.