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AirPods Pro now support 'spatial audio' for movies & TV series

15 Sep 2020 | Rasmus Larsen |

New firmware for AirPods Pro (and iOS 14) introduces 'spatial audio'. FlatpanelsHD has experimented with the new, impressive feature that currently works with Apple TV+, iTunes, and Disney+.

Spatial audio with AirPods Pro

At WWDC 2020, Apple announced spatial audio as a new feature for AirPods Pro. It will "bring surround sound wherever you go" by utilizing motion sensors, audio processing algorithms, and other techniques. - "With AirPods Pro, you can enjoy a theater‑like experience wherever you are. Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking puts surround sound channels in exactly the right place, even as you turn your head or move your device," said Apple.
Spatial Audio AirPods Pro
The feature is now available as part of the latest AirPods Pro firmware that also introduces automatic audio switching between iOS devices. In addition, spatial audio requires iOS/iPadOS 14 for iPhone/iPad, which will be available publicly soon. It is not possible to manually update the AirPods Pro firmware so leave them in the charger and wait for your turn. Spatial audio can be activated by holding down the AirPods Pro volume slider in the control center on iPhone/iPad. It is active if you see three pulsating audio waves around the head icon. Spatial audio also works in combination with active noise cancellation.

AirPods Pro spatial audio

Spatial audio in AirPods Pro now works with iOS 14 devices

Impressive movie sound

FlatpanelsHD has experimented with spatial audio on an iPhone running iOS 14. It is an impressive experience with more dynamic and "bigger" – more cinematic – sound in movies like Greyhound and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or TV series like Amazing Stories (try the intro). It also adjusts the surround sound stage based on your listening position, meaning that if you turn your head to the left you will hear voices distinctly coming from the right (where the screen is). If you instead move your iPhone or iPad, it will take a few seconds to recalibrate the surround sound stage to the new position of the screen. So far, it works in the Apple TV app (with Apple TV+), iTunes, and Disney+. It does not appear to work with Netflix at this time. Apple says that spatial audio is compatible with 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Our iOS 14 device did not support Atmos so we can imagine that the experience will be even better with object-based sound. Compatible iOS devices are listed in the table below. Apple has yet to comment on its plans for Apple TV (it does not work on tvOS 14) but during its WWDC presentation earlier this year the company briefly highlighted a slide depicting a man sitting in front of a TV. One could imagine that spatial audio would also bring a new dimension to gaming on iOS and tvOS.

AirPods Pro spatial audio

At WWDC 2020, this slide with a TV screen was shown briefly

Spatial audio for AirPods Pro

Requires AirPods Pro. Requires iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max or iPhone SE (2nd generation). Requires 12,9" iPad Pro (3rd generation) or later, 11" iPad Pro, iPad Air (3rd generation), iPad (6th generation) or later, or iPad mini (5th generation).

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