Apple Music now has "thousands" of spatial audio tracks, but which ones showcase the technology at its best with compatible headphones and speakers?
As we said in our feature detailing everything you need to know about spatial audio when using the Apple AirPods Max, Apple’s spatial audio technology for movies and TV shows is "superb". "The whole presentation is very open, spacious and convincing, and the tracking is amazingly smooth and accurate as you move your head," we continued.
And although spatial audio for movies and TV is still an Apple device exclusive, the firm's Apple Music proposition is definitely not limited to its AirPods or Beats headphones. Apple Music's Dolby Atmos-powered spatial audio technology for music works with any headphones, streaming from both Android and iPhone devices. There's also now compatibility with the HomePod 2 and HomePod mini smart speakers and Sonos's new dedicated Era 300 spatial audio wireless speaker.
So, the spatial audio music party is in full flow and you're invited. But what should you stream? Have a gander at our selection, read why we chose them (or just scroll to the end for the playlist, we won't be offended) and enjoy.
- What is Apple spatial audio? And how do you get it?
- Which devices will (and won't) play lossless and Spatial Audio
- Read our five-star Sonos Era 300 review
Weaver of Dreams by Freddie Hubbard (1961)
At its core, jazz is the interplay between musicians – the way the players and instruments weave around each other in direct reaction to what is being served. Here, Hubbard's iconic trumpet continually toys with our left ear while drum strokes underpin everything he's got to say in our right. Expect Blue Note saxophones plus keys behind you and a melancholy bass over by the kit; you're right in the middle of the action here. Want to close your eyes and pretend you're onstage at Birdland in the mid-70s? Go right ahead. You'll have to sort your own Manhattan though.
Haule Haule by Sukhwinder Singh (2008)
As this slinky, tango-meets-Hindi Geet track evolves, voices, strings and an accordion surround you. If it feels like you're being carried into the dance break of a raucous street party in a joyous Bollywood flick, good, because you are – the Hindi language song is part of the soundtrack to the Indian romantic comedy movie, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, composed by Salim–Sulaiman.
The message is uplifting (be patient, wait for love and good things will come), the time signatures are challenging, and for danceability as well as immersion, it's a stone-cold 10.
Drive by R.E.M. (1992)
The lead single from R.E.M.'s eighth studio album Automatic For The People was apparently the first song Michael Stipe wrote on a computer, and it gets an emphatic new lease of life here.
The guitar in our left ear, the bass above our heads, Stipe wandering pensively around the studio and likely throwing a shape or two as the harmonica bursts in on our right; it's a sad soundscape that now smacks even more of both David Essex's Rock On and Queen's musical stylings – both of which have been cited by the band as inspirations behind the song.
Back in 2017, we visited Dolby Europe and had a word with Michael Stipe after he first heard the album in Dolby Atmos. Stipe said the effect was "breathtaking" – and we still agree.
Fancy by Amaarae (2020)
If Amaarae's tracks were paintings, they'd be abstract. The Ghanaian-American vocalist continues to paint whatever she likes here, bending the sonic format in a marvellous sugar-sweet creation.
As one of the pioneers of alté (the alternative new African music genre hailing from Nigeria) the track is underpinned by a DIY, lo-fi feel, but join CKay, Moliy and others and sit up in the star's big fat caddy. Now, nod along to the trap beat and enjoy the incredibly immersive ride.
Unholy by Sam Smith and Kim Petras (2023)
The ominous choral intro is what hits you first like a wall of sound. From a spatial audio-toting speaker like the Sonos Era 300, the amount of height channel you get is astonishing. The sound goes far beyond the confines of the speaker unit: it’s tall and wide and all-consuming. Then the sultry beat kicks in, slinking its way alongside Smith and Petras’ sumptuous vocals, with the large-scale, immersive effect making you feel very much like you’re in the hippest night club in town.
Flight from the City by Jóhann Jóhansson (2016)
Using Orpheus (the ancient Greek hero endowed with superhuman musical skills) as his muse, award-winning Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhansson takes us on a minimal, serene, but dynamically delightful flight that sees us aim for greatness and soar above the dystopian distortion below us, continually looking for the light.
As close as you can get to flying without leaving the ground, CGI visuals or hallucinogens.
About Damn Time by Lizzo (2022)
It can be easy to get distracted by Dolby Atmos tracks that focus more on the ‘spatial’ effect. But what’s more impressive is when a mix delivers on its immersive effect while still keeping the musical integrity intact. Lizzo’s sparkly energy, the groovy beat and her playful lyrics on About Damn Time is a great example. That tight, rhythmic cohesion that makes the song fun should never be sacrificed for some gimmicky effect without reason. And it isn’t here.
Blessings (feat. Drake) by Big Sean (2015)
Crisp, honest, raw vocals delivered right to your face. Stream it and the effect is as forceful as if you are Michelle Pfeiffer, and Big Sean is Coolio, sitting across the table eyeballing you and spitting lyrics just like in the video for Gangster's Paradise.
When you keep company with Kanye West and Drake, you have to know how to make yourself heard, and Big Sean is very much in his element here.
Ocean Eyes by Billie Eilish (2017)
It's nigh on impossible to believe that when Eilish first recorded this track from her bedroom, she was just 14. The vocal in this, her debut song (written and produced by her then 17-year-old brother) is mature, assured and yet ethereal in this re-recorded version.
It's almost unnerving as extra, layered voices come at you from all directions. Then, as the track progresses and vocal stylings surround you, a percussion loop joins in on your right side, almost within touching distance – but always just beyond reach as it, too, starts to circle.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds by The Beatles (1967)
A controversial one, this – you may hate it. The opening synth snakes between our ears in this remix, grazing our cerebellum en route. The rhythm guitar is more impactful on our left and the mix right before the chorus is altogether... different. The thing is, that's just one of the beauties of spatial audio: extra pieces of information present themselves. Perhaps not all of them will be welcome, but it's an eye-opener to learn that they were even there in the first place. Along with copious amounts of LSD.
Clash by Dave and Stormzy (2021)
This London hip-hop track in immersive spatial audio is tough to top, in all honesty. The intro alone drops you several storeys down into the thumping heart of a brooding Brixton-meets-Croydon scene – and into the domain of two leviathans of UK music. Step inside their world: key samples, beat loops, treatments and most of all, their considered annunciation. It's important.
Die Walküre, Act III Ride of the Walkyries by Wagner (1851)
Want to pretend you're Ben Gernon, conducting the London Philharmonic at Abbey Road Studios? Here you go. Turn your head to the left and direct the strings. Then, face forward for the omnipresent horns. Flutes and oboes are in front of them, closest to you, and off to the right you need the double basses to hold everything in check. And cutting through this intense wall of sound there's a triangle – don't forget that or the whole thing will be ruined. Spatial audio gets it so very right here. Glorious.
You Ain't the Problem by Michael Kiwanuka (2019)
Kiwanuka told Apple Music, “‘You Ain’t the Problem is a celebration, me loving humans. We forget how amazing we are. Social media’s part of this – all these filters hiding things that we think people won't like, things we think don't quite fit in... I wanted to write a song saying, ‘You’re not the problem. You just have to continue being you more, go deeper within yourself.’ That’s where the magic comes – as opposed to cutting things away and trying to erode what really makes you.”
And remember, this is the man who was asked to join Kanye West’s Yeezus sessions but snuck out silently, suffering from a nasty bout of impostor syndrome. Here, the track is opened out to expose Kiwanuka's very soul. There's space between the crowd and "la la la la la" hook to give the vocal extra room to shine, and the effect is remarkable.
Ready to stream the entire playlist? Outstanding.
If you've got an Apple Music subscription, see the link below, or simply click the following text: What Hi-Fi?'s spatial audio on Apple Music playlist.
See our playlist of the best tracks for testing dynamics, rhythm and timing
Not fussed about spatial audio? Here are the best-produced recordings of all time to test your stereo speakers
Alternatively, here's our pick of the best British rock songs to test your hi-fi system