When it’s used well, spatial audio can lend extra immersion and depth to music, movies, and TV shows. Apple has offered the feature across its iPhone, iPad, Mac, AirPods, and Beats products since 2020 for videos, and last year, the company brought spatial audio to Apple Music. Spatial audio is intended to make content sound more multidimensional compared to traditional stereo and leave you feeling like sound is coming at you from all directions.
With the release of iOS 16, Apple rolled out a new tool for making the experience even better: personalized spatial audio. This process calibrates the sound profile based on your own specific ears and head, which can enhance the 360-degree sensation and lead to more convincing instrument and vocal placement in the sound field.
The procedure involves pointing your iPhone’s front-facing camera at your ears to capture data on their shape and contours. This isn’t the most “Apple-like” feature in terms of simplicity; getting it right can be tricky and take a few tries. But the end result is a spatial audio experience that’s customized just for you. In a support document on its website, Apple explains that the feature changes “how audio is rendered” for each individual person “to better match how you personally hear sound.” After that, you can decide whether you prefer the more immersive Dolby Atmos songs on Apple Music — or if you’re equally happy sticking with stereo.
You’ll also need an iPhone running iOS 16 or later that’s equipped with a TrueDepth / Face ID camera.
To capture a view of your right ear, hold your iPhone with your right hand. Move your right arm 45 degrees to your right, then turn your head slowly to the left. To capture a view of your left ear, switch your iPhone to your left hand. Move your left arm 45 degrees to your left, then turn your head slowly to the right. Audio and visual cues will help you finish setup.
Trying to point your phone in just the right way without being able to look at it isn’t the easiest thing, so don’t get discouraged if you encounter error messages or failed attempts. Give it a few tries, and you should be fine. Good lighting definitely helps when capturing the side shots, and you’ll hear some audio tones and cues to help guide you along.
According to Apple, the data captured by the TrueDepth camera is processed entirely on-device, and images aren’t stored on the company’s servers. Further, although your personalized spatial audio profile is synced across your Apple devices via iCloud for convenience, the profile is end-to-end encrypted and can’t be read by Apple.
If you want to erase your personalized spatial audio profile for any reason, just return to the Personalized Spatial Audio menu in your iOS settings and select Stop Using Personalized Spatial Audio. Disabling the feature will delete your profile from all of your Apple devices, so you’ll have to go through the process again to reenable it in the future.