Apple Music with Dolby Atmos: how to listen to Spatial Audio tracks?

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Apple Music with Dolby Atmos: how to listen to Spatial Audio mastered tracks?
Apple just launched the Dolby Atmos (or Spatial Audio) feature for Apple Music and you are now able to enjoy a number of Dolby Atmos tracks already up on the music platform.

Now, you may have some questions:

What is Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos on Apple Music?

To put it in simple terms, by utilizing modern digital technologies, mastering engineers are now able to create a virtual soundstage where different instruments, reverbs, and voicings are positioned more accurately within the stereo spectrum. Essentially, Spatial Audio “tricks” your brain to feel like the band is right around you, with different sounds pinpointed in exact locations on the soundstage. That’s why the effect works best when you are wearing headphones.

To have Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio available, tracks need do be specifically mastered for the new technology. That's why not all songs in Apple Music support it. In fact, currently, the selection is a bit limited. This is the same problem that Sony's 360 Reality Audio is facing, but considering how popular Apple devices are, this might quickly change.

Which headphones support Dolby Atmos in Apple Music?

Basically, any AirPods you have (even the non-Pros) or a select assortment of Beats headphones.

Dolby Atmos compatible headphones:

Can I listen to Spatial Audio tracks on my phone’s speakers?

Yes, you can still have Spatial Audio Dolby Atmos effects on and listen on the speakers of your iPhone or iPad. Supported devices are as follows:

How to find Dolby Atmos tracks in Apple Music?

Apple has conveniently compiled a number of playlists dedicated to Spatial Audio. Just go into your Apple Music app, choose the “Browse” tab and see “Playlists Made for Spatial Audio”. That’s pretty much it.

Now, of course, it’s possible to just encounter a Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio song in your regular favorites playlist.

How do I know if a song in Apple Music is mastered for Spatial Audio?

Simple — if you look at the song playback page, you should see a Dolby Atmos logo, right underneath the song timebar. If there’s no logo present, the song hasn’t been mastered for the new Spatial Audio standard.

Alternatively, if you tap and hold on the volume bar in your Control Center, there will be an Apple Music icon there, letting you know if Dolby Atmos is available (only iOS 15+).

Similarly, if you see this logo on an album’s page, this means all the songs on that album have Spatial Audio enabled.

How to disable Dolby Atmos (Spatial Audio) in Apple Music

Maybe you want to listen to an original master, maybe you want to compare, or maybe you just don’t like how Spatial Audio sounds coming from your device’s speakers (it’s a bit echo-ey if you don’t have headphones on). Well, you can easily disable it.

First, go to Settings -> Music -> Dolby Atmos

You will notice there are 3 options here. “Always On” will always try to push Dolby Atmos to your headphones, regardless of their type — you may get mixed results here. “Automatic” will only enable Dolby Atmos if you are listening through a recognized device that supports Dolby Atmos (read: AirPods or Beats).

And, of course, “off” is off. Who would’ve guessed?

OK, so one way to turn Dolby Atmos off and on is to just do it through settings. Another way is — this one works for AirPods Pro and AirPods Max — go into the Control Center, tap and hold on the volume bar, and turn Spatial Audio off and on as you will.

This will allow you to A/B test the effect and decide if you like it for yourself.

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