Apple Music’s spatial audio is great, but will it affect the industry?

Following yesterday’s announcement that it was now available, Apple Music’s new Dolby Atmos-powered Spatial Audio feature in Apple Music is rolling out to a majority of subscribers. The feature upgrades the listening experience of music by essentially boosting the quality of the mix of each song so it feels like a setup of stereo speakers firing from every direction.

The Dolby Atmos version of Logic’s “No Pressure” on Apple Music.

It took a little while to roll out to everyone, and it eventually got to my iPhone and iPad after I left them alone overnight. Since then, I’ve been listening to some albums that have added Dolby Atmos streaming, and I’ve been pretty impressed with how it sounds.

I paired my Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones to my iPhone and fired up No Pressure by Logic, one of the few albums to debut with support for spatial audio. I’ve listened to that album dozens of times so I know how each song sounds without Apple’s enhancements, and let me tell you, it’s a world of difference.

Samples on songs like “5 Hooks” and “Hit My Line” are much wider across the sound stage, and you can hear greater depth like bass lines in the background as if they were coming from behind you. I’ve also been listening to Dangerous by Morgan Wallet with Dolby Atmos, and everything from piano chords to guitar strings sound as if you’re sitting in the middle of a jam session with Morgan and his band because of their multi-directional qualities.

The effects are quite impressive, as they should be given Apple’s investment into making them a huge part of Apple Music’s appeal. But the question now becomes how the rest of the industry will change because of the feature.

We saw lossless audio go mainstream thanks to Tidal, a streaming service that capitalizes on providing the highest-quality streaming experience for audiophiles. The platform struggles to compete with more popular alternatives for a number of reasons, but for years it’s been the place you go if you want to stream music in the highest definition possible.

Of course, this will change in the near future. Apple Music has already rolled out lossless audio for its subscribers, and Spotify plans to do the same later this year. But if it weren’t for Tidal’s innovation, for their dedication to providing lossless audio quality to subscribers, Apple and Spotify might’ve never added the feature.

My point? Someone has to be first to see how people respond. Obviously, enough people want lossless audio for Apple and Spotify to justify adding it to their platforms, and it looks like there might be a chance that happens to Dolby Atmos.

Eddy Cue, one of Apple’s senior executives, says spatial audio for music will do what HD did to television. “Today, where can you watch television that’s not in HD?” That’s a huge claim to make, not just because it sheds light on Apple’s dedication to support it, but because it may offer a glimpse at where the industry is going.

At this point, it’s easy for any major corporation to create a streaming service. You cut a few licensing deals, build a few apps, and charge people $10 a month. It’s a process that’s been repeated numerous times, often without success because of how stiff competition is in the industry. But if there’s gonna be fiercer competition in the future, new innovations and – most importantly – new experiences will need to be created.

As I type this article, I’m listening to a rattle shake in front of me while I listen to Morgan Wallen’s “865.” It sounds stupendous, and it’s all the more reason for me to stick with Apple Music. I’m actually at the point where Spotify’s gonna have to try hard for me to come back to them for all my personal listening. Apple Music just sounds better now.

Will Spotify respond to spatial audio? Will the industry take a turn toward new listening experiences instead of who has the latest exclusive album? Will other streaming platforms like Pandora or Deezer try to mimic spatial audio and potentially make it better? Or will Apple simply offer proprietary standards and have a slight edge over competitors?

That all remains to be seen, but it’s likely some sort of alternative will show up eventually. Things are just getting started for new ways to listen to your music.

Subscribe to get columns like these three times a week, along with roundups of the most important consumer technology news.

Subscription received!

Please check your email to confirm your newsletter subscription.