How to enable spatial audio for Apple Music on iPhone, iPad and Mac

By

How to enable spatial audio
Any old headphones will do.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

You’ll need some special equipment to enjoy high-resolution lossless audio tracks inside Apple Music. But spatial audio with Dolby Atmos is available to everyone who has a set of decent headphones.

Here’s how to enable it on your iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV.

Spatial audio offers a multidimensional experience that makes supported tracks and albums more immersive than ever before. It makes your music “feel like you’re inside of it,” Apple says — much like surround sound.

What’s great about spatial audio is that, unlike lossless audio, it requires no fancy equipment. You don’t even need Apple headphones. Any headphones or even the built-in speakers on your Apple devices will do.

What you do need, however, is to activate spatial audio for Apple Music.

How to enable spatial audio for Apple Music

First, ensure you are running iOS 14.6 or later on your iPhone, iPadOS 14.6 or later on your iPad, and macOS 11.4 or later on your Mac. Then follow the steps below.

On iPhone and iPad

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Music.
  3. Tap Dolby Atmos, then select Automatic or Always On.
How to enable spatial audio on iPhone and iPad
Select automatic or always on.
Screenshots: Cult of Mac

On Mac

  1. Open the Music app.
  2. Click Music in your Mac’s menu bar, then click Preferences…
  3. Click the Playback tap.
  4. Select the drop-down box next to Dolby Atmos, then select Automatic or Always On.
How to enable spatial audio on Mac
Select automatic or always on.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

Automatic or always on?

Choosing automatic will play tracks in Dolby Atmos (where available) when you’re listening with the following:

  • AirPods, AirPods Pro, or AirPods Max
  • BeatsX, Beats Solo3 Wireless, Beats Studio3, Powerbeats3 Wireless, Beats Flex, Powerbeats Pro, or Beats Solo Pro
  • The built-in speakers on a MacBook Pro (2018 model or later), MacBook Air (2018 model or later), or iMac (2021 model)

You should choose always on if you’re using third-party headphones that do not support automatic switching.

On Apple TV

Spatial audio is also available for Apple Music on Apple TV when running tvOS 14.6 or later.

To enjoy it, you’ll need HomePod speakers set up in stereo mode, a Dolby Atmos compatible sound bar, or TV with Atmos compatible speakers, of one of the above-mentioned AirPods or Beats.

To enable spatial audio on Apple TV, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Select Apps, then select Music.
  3. Select Dolby Atmos, then choose Automatic.

Later this fall, spatial audio on Apple TV will also support dynamic head tracking if you’re using AirPods Pro or AirPods Max.

Where to find spatial audio

Now that you’re set up to experience spatial audio, what should you listen to? Apple Music put together several playlists built around the format, including “Made for Spatial Audio.” The six-hour playlist starts with a Marvin Gaye song mixed in mono, stereo and spatial audio that really shows off the differences in the mixes.

“Music really is about to change forever,” says Apple Music exec and radio host Zane Lowe, who walks you through the brief demo.

The playlist currently contains 120 songs, from chart-toppers like Lady Gaga and The Weeknd to vintage tracks from bands like The Doors and Lynyrd Skynyrd. It even contains several classical works, so you can see what spatial audio means for symphonies.