Apple’s New Spatial Audio

When it comes to jazz music and listening to jazz music, I have opinions. That’s why when Apple first announced spatial audio and their intent to apply the spatial audio algorithm to existing music, I decided to wait and listen before commenting.

I had some concerns with how much Apple would mess with existing recorded material and whether or not they would be able to add perceived depth while not detracting from the original recording.

Spatial audio is a very Apple-y sounding word for Dolby Atmos. Dolby Atmos is a way to add 3D audio through encoding for headphones (or speakers). Apple has been working with studios to include this data in their existing music and high-definition versions of movies. Apple’s application of Dolby Atmos comes via building “sound assets” into their products.

When I first heard about this, my fear was that it would be gimmicky, and Apple would go overboard, making it feel like the hi-hat was 3 inches from my left ear or the trumpet was in the next room. Thankfully, spatial audio is nothing like that. It comes through as different, and it is most definitely noticeable. However, it is also subtle, and in the case of some of my favorite older jazz tunes, it feels like a really good remaster. Luckily, everything came through sounding like it did before but in 3D instead of 2D. In short, I’m sold, and I want more.

A few playlists I would recommend if you want to give this a try are Apple’s Jazz in Spatial Audio playlist. Art Blakey’s “Hipsippy Blues” feels like one of the most improved tracks. I expect that’s because so many of Art Blakey’s albums were recorded live in clubs that this treatment feels natural. Another album worth checking out is the L.A. Philharmonic’s Celebrating John Williams album, which also got the Dolby Atmos treatment.