Apple promises that Personalized Spatial Audio, added in iOS 16 for iPhones, can help tailor your audio experience to your specific head shape. Here’s how to set it up so you can judge for yourself.
What Is Personalized Spatial Audio?
First announced at WWDC 2022, Personalized Spatial Audio arrived in the iOS 16 update for iPhones. Apple says it tailors the spatial audio listening experience to you. By scanning your face and ears, the experience of listening to spatial audio technologies like Dolby Atmos is better than the one-size-fits-all approach introduced with iOS 15.
This, of course, involves processing your biometric data with the same hardware used for Face ID. Apple says it happens on-device and any cross-device syncing of that data is end-to-end encrypted. As always, the decision to put your trust in this system is up to you.
Personalized Spatial Audio requires earphones or headphones that support spatial audio (like the AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, third-generation AirPods, or Beats Fit Pro), an iPhone with a True Depth camera (like the iPhone X or later), and spatial audio content from an app (like Dolby Atmos recordings on Apple Music).
For a quick refresher, spatial audio is a form of simulated surround sound that uses tailored on recording and mixing techniques designed for headphone and speaker setups. Software can also be used to create a virtualized spatial audio setup that takes a traditional stereo recording and spatializes it (with varying levels of success).
Perhaps the most successful spatial audio technology that uses spatial audio is Dolby Atmos. The format is commonly for video content like movies and television, but also music that has both been adapted for the format or recorded and mixed with spatial audio in mind. Apple Music, Tidal, Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, and Hulu are some of the apps you can use with spatial audio on an iPhone.
How to Set Up Personalized Spatial Audio
To set up Personalized Spatial Audio, get your AirPods (or other spatial audio headphones) out and head to Settings > [Your Device] at the top of the list above the “General” menu. You may need to open the case of your AirPods or put them into your ears to get this option to show up.
Next, tap Personalized Spatial Audio then tap on the “Personalize Spatial Audio…” button to start the process. Hit “Continue” to get started, remembering to remove your headphones or earphones before starting.
The first stage is to capture your face from all angles, just like setting up Face ID. Hit the “Start Front View Capture” button and move your face in a circle. Hit “Continue” to start scanning your ears.
Hold your iPhone at a 45-degree angle so that you can still see the screen, then while holding your phone still move your head away from the iPhone. You will feel haptic feedback taps or hear audio cues to let you know how you’re doing. If you don’t capture enough, you’ll be able to repeat the process until your iPhone is happy. Finally, hit “Continue” one more time to scan your left ear.
You’re now done. When you choose to use spatial audio in future, your iPhone will tailor the experience to you. To go back to using “stock” spatial audio settings, head back to your device then tap Personalized Spatial Audio > Stop Using Personalized Spatial Audio… to turn it off.
Or Listen to “Flat” Music Instead
Spatial audio isn’t for everyone. Head tracking can be distracting and arguably works best when paired with movies and other video content. Remember that you can always turn spatial audio off by swiping down to reveal Control Center and long-pressing the Volume slider.
To learn more, read our full review of Apple’s spatial audio implementation, and whether it improves the listening experience.