As an alternative to Apple's spatial audio with AirPods, Netflix is rolling out its own spatial audio system in collaboration with Sennheiser. It works with select titles such as Stranger Things.
Netflix said that its spatial audio is compatible with all devices with standard stereo speakers including TVs, soundbars and headphones. It works by taking a surround sound or object-based (such as Atmos) audio track and turning it into enhanced stereo audio.
- "Spatial audio will roll out across our catalog beginning today, and you can hear it for yourself by typing “spatial audio” into the search bar and selecting a show or film that supports it in the search results. This magical combination of sight and sound will bring viewers closer to the story, and we’re excited to add this capability to other features we support like 4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos, and Netflix Calibrated Mode," the company announced.
It was confirmed that the spatial audio is now "the default stream for any two-channel usage" (no user changes required), but it only works with select titles. If you have a surround sound speaker system, you will still get the regular 5.1 or Dolby Atmos track.
FAQ: Spatial audio on Netflix
Enhanced stereo audio for all devices (Sennheiser AMBEO)
Netflix uses Sennheiser AMBEO technology to enhance stereo audio with an immersive surround sound experience that is compatible with all devices, all streaming plans, and does not require surround sound speakers or home theater equipment.
If you do not have surround sound speakers, spatial audio is enabled automatically when watching a compatible TV show or movie using stereo audio.
If you have surround sound speakers, watching TV shows and movies in 5.1 surround sound or Dolby Atmos is recommended.
NOTE: Some televisions default to a 5.1 audio output setting which will disable spatial audio. If your equipment does not have surround sound speakers, it is recommended to change your device's settings to stereo audio. If you need help updating this setting, contact your device manufacturer.
Stranger Things in spatial audio
One of the first titles to be offered in the new spatial audio – or enhanced stereo – system is Stranger Things, which is one of Netflix's most popular shows ever following the release of season 4.
- "I’m a huge fan of AMBEO. I experimented with it a lot on the ‘Fear Street’ movies and was impressed with how the surround channel information was represented. I’m always looking for ways to get that Cinematic sound at home and on ‘The Adam Project’ I was able to make the mix sound really immersive on everything from high end soundbars to iPhones which I believe helps the audience connect more emotionally. It’s been a perfect format on ‘Stranger Things’. In the Atmos mix, Vecna’s voice wraps around you which is an important part of making him scary and larger than life. The fact that AMBEO is able to help recreate that in stereo is very impressive to me." said Mark Paterson, Re-Recording Mixer.
Other compatible titles include Red Notice, The Adam Project, The Witcher, Interceptor, Kate, Raising Dion, Locke & Key, Castlevania, The Unforgivable, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and The Order.
An alternative to Apple's spatial audio
Netflix added support for Apple's spatial audio in August 2021. Apple's system works only with AirPods Pro, AirPods Max and AirPods 3 on Apple TV 4K, Mac, iPad and iPhone, but on the other it works with any title in 5.1, 7.1 or Dolby Atmos as the audio processing is done on-device. Netflix will continue to use Apple's system on Apple devices.
Also read: Spatial audio on Apple TV 4K: What it is, how it works & supported apps/games
Netflix and Sennheiser are taking a different approach by producing a dedicated audio track in spatial audio with the help of Sennheiser's AMBEO 2-Channel Spatial Audio technology, although it is not a separate mix.
- "What sets Sennheiser apart from other solutions is that the AMBEO rendering respects the original mix, tonal balance and dialog integrity, which is exactly what the re-recording mixer is looking for," explains Dr Renato Pellegrini of Sennheiser’s AMBEO team.
Sennheiser added that its "renderer translates original immersive mixes into 2-channel audio with a spatial experience far beyond stereo". It is seen as "a drop-in replacement for stereo". Sennheiser has worked with Netflix and other industry partners to fine-tune the system, and Netflix is the first streaming platform to launch it.
- "We feel AMBEO Spatial Audio offers a meaningful improvement for Netflix members. Re-recording mixers often tell me that it better translates their detailed immersive mix work to stereo. Crucially, this process preserves the original sound mix and respects creative intent with a remarkably clean sound," said Scott Kramer, Manager for Sound Technology at Netflix.
The preview tool of the AMBEO 2-Channel Spatial Audio rendering software. The Object Viewer window at the bottom right shows fixed loudspeaker positions at the edges and individual renderings as blue dots. Pale dots are elevated sound sources. Photo: Sennheiser