'Spatialize Stereo' Feature in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey Simulates Spatial Audio for Non-Dolby Content

In iOS 15 and macOS Monterey betas, Apple has quietly included a new audio feature called "Spatialize Stereo" that takes any non-Dolby stereo mix and creates a virtual spatial audio environment out of it.

spatialize stereo 1
The addition was first discovered by a Reddit user, who had this to say about it:

I assumed that if they ever did this it would warrant at the very least a mention in a Keynote, but unless I completely missed it today I don't think they said anything about it!

The greatest thing about this is that it supports EVERY audio track. Sure I'd pick Atmos Spatial Audio mixes over Spatialized Stereo every time, but for the moment there are only a dozen or so options for Atmos available on Apple Music, so this is such an amazing feature to have!

It's worth reiterating that Spatialize Stereo is different from Spatial Audio, which Apple brought to ‌Apple Music‌ subscribers earlier this week. Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos creates a three-dimensional experience by moving sound all around you.

Spatialize Stereo meanwhile appears to be Apple's attempt to simulate the effect of having sound coming at you from different directions in a virtual environment. It doesn't utilize Dolby Atmos, but on the other hand it works with basically any content, although you do need AirPods Pro or AirPods Max headphones to access it. Here's how it works in the latest ‌iOS 15‌ beta:

  1. Connect your ‌AirPods Pro‌ or ‌AirPods Max‌ to your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Play some non-Dolby audio content on your iOS device.
  3. Bring up the Control Center.
  4. Long press on the volume slider.
  5. Tap the Spatialize Stereo button to enable it.

spatialize stereo
The same option can be found in ‌macOS Monterey‌ in the Control Center's Sound pane. In terms of sound quality, your mileage may vary, but it at least allows users to enjoy some of the benefits of spatialized sound on anything they listen to, and not just content that officially supports Spatial Audio. If you've been able to compare the two different modes, let us know what you think in the comments.

Related Roundups: iOS 15, iPadOS 15
Related Forum: iOS 15

Top Rated Comments

ElliotF Avatar
2 weeks ago
Am I the only one who finds that stereo sounds better than spatial audio? I played a song, then went into the music settings and switched it between “off” and “always on” as the track was playing and found stereo to be so much better. I’m using AirPods Pro btw.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
xalea Avatar
2 weeks ago
As a music producer who spends a lot of time and effort mixing to get just the right stereo sound field and 'wall of sound,' putting this kind of crap on top of one of my tracks would make me cry. lol. Please don't dishonor the work of many audio engineers and technicians, mastering experts, etc. by applying this junk to their tracks.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
haruhiko Avatar
2 weeks ago
My 1997 Winamp memory is coming back.
That surround sound plug-in turned every MP3 into broken surround music ?

“Winamp… it really whips the llama’s ass”
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
IceStormNG Avatar
2 weeks ago

Am I the only one who finds that stereo sounds better than spatial audio? I played a song, then went into the music settings and switched it between “off” and “always on” as the track was playing and found stereo to be so much better. I’m using AirPods Pro btw.
You're not alone. The thing is: Those headphones don't do real surround even if the the track is a native surround file. You just have left and right. What they do are audio effects that try to mimic the timing difference depending on the sound origin relative to your head.
For that purpose, a "reference head" is taken and measurements are based on that. The more your head differs from that, the worse it works. Our ears are all slightly different and our brain is used to our own ears.

In the end, Spatial Audio is just a fancy name for "virtual surround" which exists since many years. It will and can never be on the same level as true surround with speakers in a room. It will always cause some distortion to the track.
Also: Some headphones are better than others to playback virtual surround.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ian87w Avatar
2 weeks ago
Err... Why? Putting on fake effects on regular audio files never sound good to me.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Kylo83 Avatar
2 weeks ago
I’ll keep stereo special audio ruins music
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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