Netflix enables Spatial Audio surround sound on Apple devices

Mike Wheatley

Netflix has finally enabled Spatial Audio surround sound through its iPhone and iPad apps, giving Apple device owners the chance to enjoy more realistic and immersive audio when watching with headphones. The feature is also being tested on Apple TVs, and should become available on them soon.


Spatial Audio is Apple’s proprietary take on surround sound technology. It’s similar in some ways to Dolby Atmos, which of course, supports a much wider range of devices. But the technologies are not identical.

Spatial Audio applies directional audio filters to 5.1 and 7.1 channel content, effectively putting the sound into a 3D sphere that creates an illusion of surround sound, just as Dolby Atmos does. However, it goes a step further too by using the built in accelerometer and gyroscope in Apple’s earbuds or headphones to track the position of the user’s head relative to where their device is.

What that means is that when a user is watching a film on their iPhone or iPad, the sound will always appear to emanate from the correct place, based on the on-screen action. So if the user turns his or her head, thereby shifting the position of the device, doing so won’t interrupt the immersive feel of the audio.

It’s necessary to note Spatial Audio only works with Apple’s AirPods Pro wireless earbuds and AirPods Max wireless over-ears. An iPhone with iOS14 of higher, or an iPad with iPadOS14 or higher is also required.

Netflix enabled Spatial Audio on the iOS Netflix app via an update, which was first revealed on Reddit before being confirmed by the company in a statement to 9to5Mac. To switch it on just head to the Control Center, open the volume settings and there it’s possible to toggle the feature on or off.

As for Apple TV users, they'll have to wait a little longer. FlatPanelsHD reported that it is definitely coming and has already been enabled in the latest tvOS 15 beta 6 software. It noted the effect is "very impressive", so hopefully that means it won't be too long until it's enabled for everyone else.

Netflix was first reported to be testing Spatial Audio support way back in January so it has been a long time coming. It may well have been that Netflix was debating whether or not too bother with it, because a company spokesperson categorically told MacRumors that it was not working on adding support for the feature. Instead, Netflix said it was testing “multi-channel support for built-in speakers” in order to offer all of its users new experiences and improve its offering.

So it’s not clear what happened. Maybe Netflix decided that there was no way to offer multi-channel support that would work with Apple’s earbuds, or maybe it just bowed to pressure from Apple itself or its good amount of users. Either way, iPhone and iPad device owners will surely welcome the update.

The update makes sense for Netflix anyway, what with the competition between video streaming services becoming more and more intense, features like Spatial Audio could well make the difference for anyone who can only afford to subscribe to one or two services.