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Hi-Fi Choice|September 2021
Spatial audio has been around for years, but Apple’s new interest in high-quality audio could finally bring it into the mainstream, reckons Cliff Joseph
Cliff Joseph

Well, that’s hi-res audio taken care of. With Apple finally adding support for lossless and hi-res audio to its Music streaming service, hi-fi sound quality is effectively the new standard for digital audio (let’s take a moment to roll our eyes at Spotify, which has been running trials of a ‘HI-FI’ service for years, still with no release date in sight).

Shortly before it announced lossless support for Apple Music, the company introduced a new ‘spatial audio’ technology that was available with its latest AirPod headphones, including the madly expensive AirPods Max. Initially, it seemed as though spatial audio was primarily designed for watching video, but since its launch of lossless music it’s becoming clear that Apple sees spatial audio as a key feature for its music streaming service as well. In fact, Apple seems convinced that spatial audio will be more important than lossless audio as a way of enhancing the musical experience (for grammar addicts, it seems that ‘spatial audio’ is a technology, while ‘Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos’ refers specifically to the feature on the Apple Music service).

Apple Senior Vice President, Eddy Cue, who oversees Apple Music, recently gave an interview with Billboard magazine, where he discussed the importance of this new technology. When it comes to lossless audio, Cue is firmly on the ‘no-one can really tell the difference’ side of the argument. But, in contrast, he believes that Dolby Atmos is: “a real game-changer,” because it provides a more immersive audio experience that anyone can appreciate. “It doesn’t matter if you’re eight years old or 80 years old,” he says. “Everyone can tell the difference and know that this one [track] is better than the other one.”

Dolby Atmos and surround sound speaker systems have been available for many years, of course, but Apple is taking a slightly different approach with its use of spatial audio. Instead of concentrating on Hollywood blockbusters and expensive speakers and soundbars, Apple’s focus is on using spatial audio to enhance music through your existing headphones.

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