How to use Apple’s spatialize stereo feature to boost non-Dolby audio

Spatial audio is great, but it only works if the source material is a multi-channel audio. Thankfully, Apple’s spatialize stereo feature can place any stereo audio mix in a virtual spatial audio environment around you. Here’s how to use this feature.

How to spatialize stereo for 3D-like sound on Apple devices

Teaser graphics illustrating Apple's spatialize audio feature
Spatialize stereo boosts two-channel stereo content | Image credit: Apple

You can toggle the spatialize stereo feature on iPhone and iPad with iOS 15, as well as on your Mac powered by Apple silicon and running the macOS 12 Monterey software or later. You will also need either the AirPods Pro earbuds or the AirPods Max headphones to use the feature. Watch: AirPods Max tips and tricks

How to toggle the spatialize stereo option on iPhone and iPad

To spatialize stereo content for a richer soundscape on your iPhone or iPad, press and hold the volume control in iOS Control Center to reveal a hidden toggle.

  1. Put on your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max.
  2. Play some stereo or mono content in a supported app, like Music.
  3. Access the iOS Control Center overlay on your iPhone or iPad.
  4. Touch and hold the volume slider until options appear.
  5. Touch the “Spatialize Stereo” toggle to turn the feature on or off.

Now you can enjoy simulated 3D soundscape on your AirPods even though you’re actually listening to a two-channel stereo source.

The feature enhances stereo content for almost any app, including videos in the Photos app, songs on Spotify and so on. Native apps that bypass Apple’s standard media player such as YouTube are unsupported ( works though).

Spatialize stereo is supported across iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS 12 Monterey.

How to toggle spatialize stereo option on Mac

To spatialize stereo content for a 3D-like sound experience, press and hold the volume control in Control Center to reveal a hidden “Spatialize Stereo” toggle.

  1. Put on your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max.
  2. Play some stereo or mono audio in an app on your device, like Music.
  3. Invoke the macOS Control Center overlay on your Mac.
  4. Click the “Sound” pane in the Control Center overlay.
  5. You can now toggle “Spatialize Stereo” to turn the feature on or off.

Spatialize stereo on the Mac requires macOS 12 Monterey or later.

How Apple’s spatialize stereo feature works

Spatialize stereo was designed to enhance standard stereo or mono sound. It’s especially convenient for TV shows and movies where using this feature creates a more realistic experience by centering dialog and other spoken content.

Available with the iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS 12 Monterey updates, spatialize stereo uses computational audio to simulate three-dimensional sound.

It was specifically designed to enhance the stereo sound but isn’t perfect and can be a hit and miss at times. That said, spatialized stereo should clearly sound better to your ear than the L/R separation provided by the original stereo content.

System requirements for spatialized stereo

This feature requires an iPhone or iPod touch with iOS 15 or later, an iPad with the iPadOS 15 update or later installed or a Mac with macOS 12 Monterey update or newer. Currently unavailable on the Apple TV, spatialized stereo also requires a pair of the AirPods Pro or AirPods Max earphones.

Spatialize stereo doesn’t enrich a two-channel stereo source in all apps. For instance, it works like a charm with your shot-on-iPhone videos in the Photos app. Songs on Spotify are also supported. As a rule of thumb, spatialize stereo should be available for all native apps that use Apple’s standard media player.

Google’s YouTube app uses its own media player so the spatialize stereo option does nothing for YouTube clips. But if you visit the website in Safari, you’ll be able to enjoy spatialized stereo. Many web videos are compatible with Apple’s standard media player.

Spatialize stereo is great, but what is spatial audio?

It’s easy to confuse spatial audio with spatialized stereo.

Spatial audio is a computation audio technique that takes your multi-channel audio like Dolby Atmos and creates a multidimensional sound experience.

By applying certain audio effects, spatial audio creates a faux surround sound experience that makes you feel like you’re inside of the action. You’ll enjoy a clearer separation between the voices, music and background sound effects.

An Apple illustration showing a person sitting on the couch, wearing AirPods Max and enjoying spatial audio

You don’t need a multi-speaker Dolby 5.1 or 7.1 setup with a dedicated AV receiver and other Hi-Fi equipment to enjoy spatial audio. All you need is a pair of standard headphones like your AirPods or Beats along with spatial audio turned on Settings.

You can also enjoy spatial audio through the built-in iPhone and iPad speakers.

To perform its magic, however, Apple’s spatial audio algorithm requires source material to be encoded in one of the multi-channel audio standards, like Dolby 5.1 and Dolby Atmos, as explained in a support document found on the Apple website.