How AirPods + Spatial Audio made me fall in love with my favorite songs all over again

Just like it is now, back in my early teens I used to listen to niche, unusual music made by small, unknown producers.

In fact, I eventually got so good at finding awesome, obscure talent that isn’t afraid of experimenting and fusing genres (even knowing most listeners won’t like it), that I got a job as a music curator at the world’s biggest digital store for DJs.

But going back – those hard techno songs I mainly listened to were usually made by just one person, without any professional equipment. Yet despite the not-exactly-Hollywood-grade audio production, I loved those songs.

Things have changed these days. Electronic music is now easier to produce than ever, as the tools to make it have become more accessible, and computers – more powerful. Along with all that, music is easier than ever to polish. Mastering a song takes skill, and smaller music producers often do it on their own (with varying success).

What’s music mastering? Basically, it’s a process that a song goes through, in order to sound as best as possible – warm, clean, with no distortion, no muffled instruments fighting for headroom in the mix. It’s an important process that can drastically change how a song “feels” to listen to, and as I mentioned, especially in the early days of electronic music – mastering usually wasn’t well done, or even done at all.

Electronic music didn’t have much of an enveloping “stereo effect” or “warmth” to it, with a rather simple, nowadays likely to be considered poor sound design.

But hey, we live in the future, right? At least if you imagine yourself back in the 90s or early 2000s. Nowadays your freakin’ headphones can spice up your music and make it feel new and exciting all over again. Particularly – a pair of AirPods with Apple‘s Spatial Audio enabled.

Spatial Audio makes old music sound new again, and it’s beautiful

As lovely as nostalgia can be, being able to turn the old into new with the tap of a button is quite something. Apple’s Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, as the full name goes, is indeed a feature you can turn on and off at any time, so long as you’re listening to your music with a pair of modern AirPods.

Technically, the best results are with Apple Music and tracks that have been specifically mixed for Spatial Audio, but you have an option to “Spatialize” any music from any source.

What does Spatial Audio do to your music, exactly? It’s hard to explain, but through a series of clever stereo separation tricks, and what I’d wager is dynamic equalization, it makes most songs, new or old, sound wider, warmer, and just… well, more spatial.

Here’s how Apple itself tried to showcase Spatial Audio’s stereo enhancing effect:

For an in-depth explanation, as well as a guide on how to enable Spatial Audio, we’ve got you covered here:

As you can imagine, Spatial Audio works great on movies too, especially Apple TV+ ones that have been made with Spatial Audio in mind.

But what we’ll focus on here is old songs, because that’s where I feel like I gained the most from Apple’s Spatial Audio experience – re-discovering my favorite, niche, older songs, and falling in love with them all over again.

It’s VR for your ears

Here’s one that will tell you everything you need to know about what kind of music I listened to as a teen (and still do):

As you can hear from the song above, this favorite genre of mine, called hardstyle, is defined by surreal, electronic sounds and hard, pounding kicks. It all already sounds pretty epic and spatial as it is, right?

But that same song with Spatial Audio enabled becomes even more grand. Now it feels like those unidentifiable sounds envelop your entire world, the same way wearing virtual reality glasses do, but… instead of toying around with your sight and sense of direction, this trickery is targeting your ears. Spatial Audio is VR for your ears!

And boy does it feel cathartic, among many other things, to hear this older song that I liked so much in my teens, in a way that makes it sound like a modern remaster.

Let’s get even further back in time with something more mainstream, music you’re statistically more likely to know and remember…

Rest in peace, Keith Flint, vocalist of this awesome 1996 song by The Prodigy.

Can you believe my big sis used to listen to it on a cassette player? A piece of tape contained this music, kids.

The MTV channel was a thing back then, quite often playing this song’s shocking, shouldn’t-have-been-seen-by-a-kid music video. And I’m pretty sure it’s about the first time I realized that I strongly prefer fast, aggressive music over anything else.

And like most great songs, this one holds up with time. It was on tape, now it’s digital, and getting to hear it over an extra layer of “modernization” (Spatial Audio) is once again pretty surreal.

Not only am I back in 1996, at age 7, realizing for the first time how much of a huge deal music is, but now with a pair of AirPods Max headphones and Spatial Audio enabled, I’m pretty sure I’m hearing this song clearer than ever. Every detail stands out.

As mentioned before, what Spatial Audio changes quite radically is the stereo effect of most songs. You get to hear the different instruments more clearly, they become more distinctive, more separate from each other in the mix.

Suddenly you feel like you’re standing live in front of a drummer. The kicks are fairly centered, but the higher bass is surprisingly wide, and you hear the little sounds added for flair far to the sides. Almost like they’re coming from behind you.

Turn Spatial Audio off after you’ve become accustomed to it, and it feels like going so far back in time, stereo didn’t exist yet.

Thanks for going on this little journey! Start your own and share it with us in the comments

If you actually read and enjoyed this piece, as opposed to just jumping into the comments to angrily call me an Apple fanboy for liking a good thing, well – I appreciate it. And I hope you’ll also go on your own journey of music rediscovery, then share it back.

If you don’t have, and don’t want AirPods – that’s fine. You can still go ahead and find your favorite, most nostalgic songs, and simply enjoy the time capsule that those can be.

Many Android tablets and phones have an alternative to Apple’s Spatial Audio, which is Dolby Atmos. If you have that feature at your disposal – then go ahead and try it instead, it makes a difference too. Live in the past for a moment, while bringing a piece of the future back to those older songs.

I know – people say you shouldn’t live in the past, and that’s true if doing so hurts you. But hearing nostalgic music in a new way is anything but a bad experience for me. In fact, it’s the only way I get to feel overwhelming emotions, to the point of tears of joy. And I like that, because I can’t actually tear up otherwise, ever, no matter what. So I’d make a bad drama actor, that’s one thing for sure.

But when it comes to music – I ain’t acting, ever. And I appreciate having new, fun ways to relive the good old songs of my past.

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