I Turned Off Spatial Audio (but it’s okay if you love it)

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 1 min read

After a bit over a month with Spatial Audio in Apple Music, I turned it off on my iPhone and I’m happier for it. Some songs sounded pretty good, while others sounded terrible, but something I noticed whenever doing side-by-side comparisons was that I never, and I mean never, liked the spatial version of a song more than the stereo version.

In fact, a few times I thought I was finally hearing a really great Spatial Audio version of a song, only to look at my phone and see that it was just a really good stereo mix.

I really think Spatial Audio (aka Apple’s branding for Dolby Atmos) is very much like the 3D movies fad we had a few years ago.

  1. At a very core level it’s taking something we know and love in “2D” and converting it to 3D.
  2. There appears to be a bunch of producers converting previous art into this new format, artist’s intention be damned.
  3. As such, there are quite a few “oof, why did you do that to a classic?” questions I ask myself as I see what’s been converted.
  4. There are some good examples of the technology, but they tend to be songs originally mixed for surround sound.
  5. Much like 3D movies, Spatial Audio aims to get you to buy new hardware to experience it to its fullest (AirPods to get head tracking).

I don’t have the numbers to know if my feelings are common or not, but much like 3D movies are a fad that comes around every 20 years or so, only to fade away due to poor consumer interest and middling results, I also think this is happening with Dolby Atmos/Spatial Audio. It’s the industry scraping for something innovative and thinking, “it’s in threeeeeeee deeeeeeee” is going to get consumers all excited.

Much like how 3D movies fizzled out and then we got display tech that we actually liked and we all enjoyed much more (4K, HDR, etc.), I hope that this 3D music fad makes way for cool new audio technologies that are more objective wins.

I’ll wrap up by saying that Spatial Audio as a technology is great! I use it for watching some TV shows and movies on my iPad, and it’s pretty spectacular in that context. I’m not opposed to 3D audio in general, I just don’t dig it in my music.