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Apple Music with Dolby Atmos: How to use it

Apple Music with Dolby Atmos surround sound

Todd Hasselton CNBC

Apple released a really great new Dolby Atmos surround sound feature in Apple Music this week, which can help it attract and retain subscribers as it competes with streaming music leader Spotify.

The surround sound of Dolby Atmos feels like music surrounds you as you use headphones, instead of just trumpeting in your left and right ears. Songs with Dolby Atmos are available for free, as long as you are already an Apple Music subscriber. Dolby Atmos is also available through Amazon Music HD and TIDAL subscriptions, while Deezer uses Sony̵

7;s competing version, called 360 Reality Audio, for its Deezer HiFi service. Spotify doesn’t have a Dolby Atmos option yet.

I’m not an audiophile and I usually can’t tell the difference between some of the higher quality songs that music services have started to spread. But there is a noticeable difference between regular stereo music and these new “Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos” songs. At least most of the time. The difference is more noticeable in some songs than in others.

There are currently only thousands of songs (out of 75 million in Apple Music) with support for it, but Apple has some playlists that can show you what it’s capable of. And the new albums will continue to add support as the artists rework some older songs.

It’s probably not enough to just get people to subscribe to Apple Music – at least not yet – but it’s a nice added benefit for people who already have Apple Music to get more out of the service.

What is Dolby Atmos surround sound?

Usually when you listen to a song through headphones, you listen to stereo sound. It’s like having two speakers on the left and right of the TV. Dolby Atmos offers surround sound, so it’s similar to what you’d expect if you had a bunch of speakers in your living room. Except that instead of having a bunch of speakers in the living room all around you, it works through your headphones.

AirPods Pro will get a new surround sound experience with surround sounds.


Dolby Atmos allows musicians to create songs that specifically place vocals and instruments in specific areas of the “sound stage.” And these are the new types of songs that are already available in Apple Music.

This fall, Apple will upgrade to it with a head tracking feature for AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro Max, which is now available for things like movies and TV shows offered by Dolby Atmos. When this is turned on, it sounds as if the music is coming from the device that is playing it. So if you have headphones on and turn your head, you’ll hear the music moving in the direction of your iPhone, for example. Something like the iPhone is the scene.

What do I need to listen to surround sound?

Apple Music with Dolby Atmos surround sound

Todd Hasselton CNBC

  • An Apple Music (or trial) subscription that costs $ 4.99 per month for students, $ 9.99 per month for individuals, or $ 14.99 per month for families (up to six people).
  • AirPods
  • AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro Max (with Spatial Audio included)
  • BeatsX, Beats Solo3 Wireless, Beats Studio3, Powerbeats3 Wireless, Beats Flex, Powerbeats Pro or Beats Solo Pro
  • It also works through the built-in iPhone and iPad speakers released over the last few years (except for the iPhone SE), but I found it much more noticeable through headphones.

But you don’t need AirPods. Dolby Atmos songs work on all headphones, you just need to turn “always on” in the settings first.

To do this:

  • Open Settings on your iPhone or iPad.
  • Select Music.
  • Select “Dolby Atmos”
  • Change the setting to “Always on”.

If you listen to Apple TV, you can listen to Dolby Atmos through speakers that support the format, or through the aforementioned AirPods and Beats headphones. To turn it on, go to Settings> Applications> Music and make sure Dolby Atmos is turned on automatically. On a Mac, you’ll want to enable the Dolby Atmos download setting in the Apple Music preferences menu.

How do I listen to surround sound in Apple Music?

Apple Music with Dolby Atmos surround sound

Todd Hasselton CNBC

It’s easy to try Dolby Atmos surround sound in Apple Music.

If you open the app right now, you will see several playlists for different genres with songs created in support of Dolby Atmos. But I recommend starting with the “Hits in Spatial Audio” playlist, which provides an audio example of a stereo against Dolby Atmos.

With the release of new tracks and albums, you’ll see a small label below each song that shows “Dolby Atmos” to let you know it’s up to date.

You will need to reload your songs

Apple Music with Dolby Atmos surround sound

Todd Hasselton CNBC

You can stream Dolby Atmos anything you want. But if you want these songs to be available when you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection, you need to download them. And if you’ve already downloaded songs other than Dolby Atmos, you’ll need to delete them and download again to get it in spatial audio format.

You can make sure that future downloads always download the Dolby Atmos version by opening Settings on your iPhone and tapping Music and activating the “Download to Dolby Atmos” option.

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