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Somehow, we keep finding new ways to listen to music. The march of technology has, over the course of a few short decades, taken us from cassette tapes and CDs to downloads and streams. Apple Music’s new spatial audio feature isn’t quite on the level of those innovations, but it can be pretty dang cool.
Added in an update last month, spatial audio is a new feature available on select tracks with a Dolby Atmos logo on the Apple Music streaming service. Yes, you need to pay the $10 Apple Music monthly fee, and no, there is no price increase from the normal fee associated with this upgrade. All you need to do is flip a switch in your iPhone’s settings menu. Before you do that, though, you should know what exactly spatial audio does to songs and which songs work with it because that whole situation is a little weird right now.
What is spatial audio, anyway?
When Apple announced spatial audio was coming to Apple Music earlier this summer, the basic selling point was that it “enables artists to mix music so the sound comes from all around and from above” the listener. This is done using special audio mixing technology like Dolby Atmos. Having tested it out with both the Beats Studio Buds and AirPods Max headphones, I can say that’s pretty much accurate when it’s done correctly.
I’ll get into more specific analysis in a bit, but in general, the benefit of spatial audio is that a song can really sound like it’s being played all around you rather than just being blasted into your ears. Everything sounds just a tad wider and more spread out, if that makes sense. It’s as if you were standing in the middle of a studio during a recording session and could listen closely to each instrument without losing the rest.
Spatial audio isn’t exclusive to Apple Music. Amazon Music HD offers some Dolby Atmos-mixed tracks, too, for the default $10 monthly fee ($8 for Prime members), while Tidal’s HiFi subscription tier will get you spatial audio tracks for $20 per month. Spotify has a new plan for higher audio quality in the works, but it doesn’t include spatial audio as far as we know.
I was only able to try Apple Music’s selection of spatial audio tracks, but the good news is that you can do the same without much effort.
How do I hear spatial audio in Apple Music?
Again, as long as you pay for Apple Music, you can get spatial audio. Don’t worry about moving on to a more expensive service tier.
That said, activating spatial audio isn’t quite as simple as it should be under those circumstances. To enable it, go to the Settings app, scroll down to the Music section, and tap “Dolby Atmos.” There, you’ll see three options: Automatic, Always On, and Off. The first of those will automatically play music with spatial audio if you’re using any version of AirPods, Beats headphones, or the speakers on an iPhone XR or newer, with the iPhone SE being the lone exception.
For some reason, you have to select “Always On” to use spatial audio with any third-party headphones. It should work, but it’s a little odd. Regardless, once you’ve done that, you can get to listening.
What does spatial audio sound like through Apple Music?
Apple says there are “thousands” of songs with spatial audio enabled on Apple Music at the time of writing, though you’ll have to do a tiny bit of searching to find them. There are some spatial audio-only playlists on the app’s home screen, but you can also search for “spatial audio” to find a category with a lot of music to peruse. You’ll know if a song uses it if you see a little “Dolby Atmos” logo on the playback screen.
Again, the overall objective of spatial audio is to produce a sound that feels like it’s coming from all angles. Different songs are mixed by different people, though, which means different results. When spatial audio is good, it’s really good, but that’s not always the case. I’ll start with a few examples I liked:
- The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” is a bassy and synthy song with a lot going on at once, and spatial audio immerses you in its mildly chaotic energy in a way I’m really into
- Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” brings Kenny’s vocals (as well as the backup vocals) a little further to the front, and I just find it really soothing to hear that beautiful voice as if it were right next to me without muting any of the instruments
- Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” manages to space apart the vocals and instruments without compromising any of the sound, making it feel a little more like a live performance
I didn’t have time to sample every single spatial song on Apple Music, but in general, I liked what I heard from the ones I tested out. That said, there were a couple of duds in the mix. La Roux’s “Bulletproof” is a super-fun electronic song that completely flattens out the percussion with spatial audio turned on, for instance. I’d also recommend avoiding the spatial audio version of Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?” as it just makes the vocals sound unequivocally bad. Not just different, but genuinely bad.
I don’t think those sporadic failures mean spatial audio is “overrated” or anything like that, but they do demonstrate how you can’t just flip a switch and make an old song sound amazing with technology alone. A deft human touch will always be required. When a spatial mix has one of those, it’s pretty awesome to hear. Spatial audio might not revolutionize the way we listen to music, but it can at least make it more fun and engaging. Fingers crossed it winds up being a great addition to streaming services and not an overhyped gimmick.
ที่มา : Mashable