What is it and how to enable Spatial Audio head tracking on AirPods

Definitely one of the great highlights of AirPods Pro and Max is the Spatial Audio feature. Available — for now — only for these two versions of Apple headphones, the functionality allows you to transform stereo audios into space, and a head-tracking system can be activated (Dynamic Head Tracking), which maps your movements with the headphones in your ear.

What is Space Audio

First of all, do you know what Spatial Audio is? Unlike Stereo Audio — which works bilaterally, coming from the left and right sides — Space Audio works by dynamically tracking your head movements when using AirPods in your ears.

That is, even if you move your head to the side when watching a video, the sounds from the playback environment will follow your movement, causing the audio to come from all directions. The speech sounds of people will remain located on the screen or, if applicable, on the side of the action where they happen in the video.

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Although it is not a resource for listening to music, but for watching movies, series, and videos in general — after all, the sounds of the environment around you will be coming from all directions around you — it is possible to transform audios stereos in space and testing them, as we’ll see next.

What is Spatial Audio head tracking

When enabling Spatial Audio, you have two usage modes: “Fixed” or “Tracked Head”. But how do they work? Basically, you can choose whether you want to fix the direction the sound is coming from — that is, towards the screen of the device that’s playing the audio — or enable tracking of your head movements as you move with the AirPods on your ears.

In other words, in “Fixed” mode, Spatial Audio will fix the sound so that it always comes out in the same direction, regardless of the fact that you move your head and, consequently, the AirPods in your ears. In “Head Tracked” mode, Spatial Audio will identify and track when you move your head and headphones, so the sound adapts and always comes in the right directions in your surroundings.

To better understand how all this works, check out below what it is and how to turn on head tracking (Dynamic Head Tracking) of the Spatial Audio feature, available on AirPods Pro and Max.

How to Test and Enable Spatial Audio Head Tracking on AirPods

Step 1: with the AirPods properly connected to your iPhone, go to Settings, then “Bluetooth”.

Go to Settings > Bluetooth. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 2: in the list of available devices, find the name of your AirPods and click the info icon next to “Connected”.

Click on the AirPods info icon. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 3: on the next screen, locate the “Space Audio” section. As you’ll notice, to enable it, you’ll need to access the Control Center — but before that, let’s get a better understanding of how the feature works. Click on it.

Click on the AirPods Spatial Audio feature. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 4: a window will open on the screen, displaying an animation of both stereo and spatial audio types. In the “Stereo Audio” tab, the animation shows how bilateral audio works, with the sound coming from its left and right sides.

Stereo Audio from AirPods. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 5: in the “Spatial Audio” tab, the animation shows how the audio coming from all the space around it works, with the sound coming from all directions. You can switch between the two tabs to hear and better compare the difference between the two sound modes.

Space Audio from AirPods. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 6: access the iOS Control Center on your device by dragging the top right of the screen down, and then click on the volume control bar.

Press click on the volume control bar. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 7: locate the Spatial Audio icon. Click on it to open it and transform stereo audio into spatial.

Click on the Spatial Audio icon. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 8: the different modes of Spatial Audio will open, namely: off (Stereo Audio), Fixed and Head Tracked.

As mentioned, in “Fixed” mode, Spatial Audio will fix the sound so that it always comes out in the same direction, regardless of whether you move your head and therefore the AirPods in your ears.

In “Head Tracked” mode, Spatial Audio will identify and track when you move your head and headphones, so the sound adapts and always comes in the right directions in your surroundings.

Check out the different modes of Spatial Audio. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 9: try AirPods Fixed Space Audio.

Fixed Space Audio from AirPods. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 10: try the AirPods Head Tracked Space Audio.

Head Tracked Space Audio from AirPods. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

Step 11: set the Spatial Audio mode you prefer to listen to on your AirPods and return to the volume control bar.

Head Tracked Space Audio is enabled on your AirPods. Screenshot: Lucas Wetten (Canaltech)

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