iOS 15 brings next-level spatial audio to Apple Music – but there's a catch

Spatial audio
(Image credit: Apple)

Great news for Apple Music subscribers: the latest iOS 15 update brings an extra-immersive audio treat, namely dynamic head tracking for Apple's 3D audio tech, spatial audio. As teased at the Cupertino giant's WWDC conference on 7th June, iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 users can now enjoy dynamic head tracking for spatial audio in Apple Music, whereby instruments and vocals have a fixed (virtual) place and, should you turn your head, that sonic element will remain in place, just as if you're at a live gig. 

Ready to get into it? Well, there is a catch. You'll need a pair of Apple's most expensive headphones, namely the AirPods Pro or AirPods Max

You don't need Apple's flagship AirPods if you're content with 'normal' spatial audio, remember. Your Apple AirPods or Beats headphones will play spatial audio content with Dolby Atmos automatically. Your third-party headphones will play it too, you just need to enable it in your phone's settings.

Apple's levelled-up spatial audio experience, introduced with iOS 15, is a clear indication that Apple really does want you to invest in its most premium AirPods – despite the fact that these wireless models won't play Apple's Lossless or Hi-Res Lossless streams to their fullest potential (for Lossless quality, you'll currently need wired headphones, and for Hi-Res Lossless you'll also need a third party DAC, although Qualcomm says that's all about to change). 

Then again, from our (admittedly limited) time listening to the AirPods Max, Apple's immersive audio experience is impressive... 


See our pick of 11 of the best spatial audio tracks in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music

Own a pair of Apple's flagship over-ears? Read Apple AirPods Max tips, tricks and features

Thinking of investing? See where to get the best AirPods deals: cheapest UK AirPods prices (September 2021)

Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds. 

  • Sliced Bread
    I wouldn’t really call it a catch. The lower priced units just don’t have that capability.

    It’s like saying you can now drive at 150 mph in the latest merc, but there’s a catch; the entry engines won’t do it.