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Spatial Audio – how it will transform music

We’ve had a lot to take in this week, with WWDC kicking off on Monday with a whirlwind tour of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, macOS Monterey, and much more.

One thing which threatened to slip through the cracks was the launch of Spatial Audio on Apple Music, an announcement that was made in a separate press release just after the big WWDC keynote.

We reported last month that Apple was bringing Spatial Audio (and Lossless Audio) to its Music streaming service, but Apple then threw a spanner in the works by delaying the rollout – and what does Spatial Audio even mean, anyway?

Well, thanks to radio DJ and Apple Music exec Zane Lowe, we have both answers.

When is Spatial Audio available? Immediately. It went live on Apple Music on June 8, as did Lossless Audio.

And what actually is Spatial Audio? This one’s a little harder to answer. It’s essentially three-dimensional immersive music. Listen to a Spatial Audio track and you’ll be able to sense the thumping bassline behind you, the tinny tambourine to the side, or even the full orchestra pit surrounding you from all angles. The good news is you don’t even need fancy tech to try it – Apple says you can listen with any headphones. It also works with supported iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Zane Lowe likens the technology to the transition from mono to stereo many years back, or the transition from standard to high definition TV. It’s the kind of thing you might be used to hearing in an action movie at the cinema, but not in your favorite song on a pair of AirPods.

Here’s Zane in his own words:

“Music in modern times has often been all about innovation. From multichannel recordings, to electric guitars, mics, and synthesizers, to tape echo and samplers, to MIDI and iPod — so many technologies have been invented to play, capture, record, mix, and share music. With Spatial Audio musicians, engineers, and producers have this amazing new tool to bring a new 3D experience to millions of people. It all starts from one new tool for artists to experiment with and then eventually you end up with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; you end up with “Pet Sounds.”

I’m fascinated to know how I might be emotionally moved by my favorite songs in a different way with Spatial Audio. Because it’s all going through my ears and triggering something, right? That’s what dawned on me when I was listening to these songs in Spatial: I was listening to these songs that I knew really well, but I was feeling something different. So, it’s not even just about the way it’s going to end up sounding, it’s very much how songs are going to feel.”

Of course, the vast majority of songs aren’t set up for Spatial Audio and never will be. But to check out some of the biggest tracks that use the technology already – including many remastered tracks from days gone by – listen to the “Made for Spatial Audio” playlist on Apple Music. And keep an ear out for more immersive music in the future…