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Way back in the day, there was no place like the cinema for true surround sound. The booming speakers lined the walls around you, immersing you in the movie no matter which direction you turned your head and no matter where you sat. Since then, home surround sound systems have evolved significantly, with a speaker in every direction, but headphone quality has too, and the next logical step in this progression is spatial audio capability. This latest tech paints a 3D audio landscape all around you, allowing you to hear sound from media just as you would in real life, where it changes with your movement and head placement using dynamic head-tracking, recreating a cinema-like experience.
What Is Spatial Audio?
“Spatial audio” is a term that you’ll find primarily refers to Apple’s premium headwear products, like AirPods, EarPods, and Beats, though for other brands it can sometimes be seen as “Spatial Stereo,” “360 Reality Audio,” or something similar. Either way, these play non-Dolby Atmos media and turn it into an immersive world of sound, usually with no extra subscription service needed. Think of it like strapping on VR goggles and being able to look around, but instead of visually, it’s all audio.
The biggest difference between Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio is that, while Dolby still provides an all-around enveloping soundscape, Spatial Audio is what keeps the sound centered and tracks your head (or device) movements, making it sound even more realistic.
Listening: When it comes to streaming services, some can’t handle the level of quality that these headphones can deliver. A few, like Tidal and Deezer, are specifically made for high-end listening that Spotify can’t quite handle. For movies and shows, the good news is that major channels like Netflix and Disney+ have been making it easier than ever to find content (like Stranger Things) that works with these ever-growing and amazing audio capabilities.
How to Activate it on iOS: Once you’ve got a pair of these, and if you’re on an Apple device, go into Settings, scroll down until you reach Music, and make sure it’s on.
The Best Headphones With Spatial Audio
From Apple to Sony, these top-rated wireless headphones deliver big on immersive spatial audio.
Apple AirPods Max Spatial Audio
For visual media, like movies, shows, and games, Apple’s Spatial Audio brings a whole new level to sound immersion. These are best for when your focus is ultimately in one spot, like a screen, since the sound will still be “coming from” in front of you no matter where you turn your head. The build quality of the headphones themselves are strong and the cushions are comfortable to wear for long stretches.
Sony WH1000XM4 Headphones
Sony’s answer to Apple’s Spatial Audio is its own, aptly named 360 Reality Audio. The mix is what really shines through here, with precise instrument and frequency separation, and that there’s often no need to move your head around since you can already hear everything as how, and where, it’s supposed to be. Before you start listening with these, you’ll need to download the app and take a photo of both your left ear and right ear. It then scans the photos and optimizes the headphones to deliver the best possible sound for your ears’ shape. It’s an incredible step in technology that was previously only done for major recording artists and those who could shell out wads of cash for customized ‘phones. But it’s not just a gimmick, and you’ll hear the results right away.
HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless Spatial Audio Gaming Headset
A 20-hour battery is just the beginning with this mic’d up headset. The 2.4GHz wireless proved to be reliable and fast with little lag in our testing, and Hyper X’s spatial audio creates a 3D soundscape all around you – perfect for perking up your senses during gaming. The noise-cancelling mic is detachable, and the aluminum frame is built to last.
Razer Kraken Ultimate RGB USB Gaming Headset
Gamers will instantly recognize the Razer brand, as the company has been cranking out tons of gaming gear for years now. These over-the-ear headphones are filled with gel-infused cushioning, preventing uncomfortable overheating through long sessions. Plus, they feature the ability to personalize the soundscape you want, with 7.1THX surround sound that provides precise spatial audio all around.
Corsair HS80 RGB Wireless Premium Gaming Headset With Spatial Audio
Corsair’s spatial audio headset can handle a wide range of audio frequencies – from 20Hz to 40,000Hz, enough to amplify even a small sound effect off in the distance, and rock your head during an action sequence. And that’s just wirelessly. When connected with a USB cable, you’ll get high-fidelity 24bit/96kHz sound with extremely low latency. The omni-directional mic carries your voice loud and clear, plus they’re versatile and work with Macs, PCs, PS4, and PS5.