Apple promises that custom spatial audio, added in iOS 16 for iPhones, can help tailor your audio experience to your specific head shape. Here’s how to set it up so you can judge for yourself.
What is custom spatial sound?
First announced at WWDC 2022, custom spatial audio has arrived in the iOS 16 update for iPhones. Apple says it tailors the spatial audio listening experience for you. By scanning your face and ears, the experience of listening to spatial audio technologies like Dolby Atmos is better than the one-size-fits-all approach introduced with iOS 15.
This, of course, includes processing your biometric data with the same devices used for Face ID. apple Says It happens on the device and any cross-device syncing of that data is end-to-end encrypted. As always, the decision to place your trust in this system is up to you.
Custom spatial audio requires earphones or headphones that support spatial audio (such as AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, AirPods 3rd generation, or Beats Fit Pro), an iPhone with a True Depth camera (such as iPhone X or later), and spatial audio content from an app ( Like Dolby Atmos recordings on Apple Music).
For a quick refresher, spatial audio is a form of simulated surround sound that is specifically used for recording and mixing techniques designed for headphone and speaker setups. The software can also be used to create a virtual spatial sound setup that takes a traditional stereo recording and customizes it (with varying levels of success).
Perhaps the most successful spatial sound technology that uses spatial sound is Dolby Atmos. The format is popular for video content such as movies and television, but also for music that has been adapted to the format or recorded and mixed with spatial audio in mind. Apple Music, Tidal, Netflix, Disney +, + Apple TVand Hulu are some of the apps you can use with spatial audio on your iPhone.
How to set up custom spatial sound
To set up custom spatial audio, take out your AirPods (or other spatial audio headphones) and head to Settings > [Your Device] At the top of the list is the “General” menu. You may need to open your AirPods case or put it in your ears for this option to appear.
Next, click on “Custom Spatial Audio” and then click on the “Customize Spatial Audio…” button to start the process. Press Continue to begin, and remember to remove your headphones or earbuds before starting.
The first stage is to capture your face from all angles, just like setting up Face ID. Press the “Start Front View Capture” button and move your face in a circle. Press “Continue” to start scanning your ears.
Hold the iPhone at a 45-degree angle so you can see the screen, then while holding your phone, you can still move your head away from the iPhone. You’ll feel haptic clicks or hear beeps to let you know what you’re doing. If you don’t pick up enough, you will be able to repeat the process until your iPhone is happy. Finally, press Continue again to examine your left ear.
You are now finished. When you choose to use spatial audio in the future, your iPhone will personalize the experience for you. To go back to using the “stock” spatial sound settings, go back to your device and tap Custom spatial sound > Turn off using custom spatial sound… to turn it off.
Or listen to “Flat” music instead
Spatial audio is not for everyone. Head tracking can be distracting and arguably works best when paired with movies and other video content. Remember that you can always turn off spatial audio by scrolling down to reveal Control Center and pressing and holding the volume slider.
To learn more, read our full review of Apple’s Spatial Audio implementation, and whether it improves your listening experience.
Related: What is Apple’s spatial audio, and how does head tracking improve it?
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