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

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As it is now, in my early teens I listened to niche music, unusual music made by small, unknown producers.

In fact, I eventually became so good at finding great, obscure talent who aren’t afraid to experiment and fuse genres (even knowing most listeners won’t like it), that I landed a job as a music curator at the world’s largest digital store for DJs.

But coming back, those hard techno tracks that I mostly listened to were mostly made by just one person, with no professional equipment. But despite the not-exactly-Hollywood-quality audio production, I loved those songs.

Things have changed these days. Electronic music is now easier than ever to produce as the tools to make it more accessible and computers have become more powerful. Plus, music is easier than ever to polish. Mastering a song requires skill, and smaller music producers often do it alone (with varying degrees of success).

What is music mastering? Basically, it’s a process a song goes through to sound its best – 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 said, especially in the early days of electronic music – the mastering was usually not done right, if not done at all.

Electronic music didn’t really have an enveloping “stereo effect” or “warmth”, with a fairly simple, probably considered poor sound design today.

But hey, we live in the future, right? At least, if you imagine yourself in the 90s or early 2000s. These days, your freakin’ headphones can spice up your music and make it all new and exciting again. In particular – a pair of AirPods with Spatial audio from Apple enabled.

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

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

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

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

Here’s how Apple itself tried to demonstrate Spatial Audio’s stereo boosting effect:

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

As you can imagine, Spatial Audio also works great on movies, especially Apple TV+ movies made with Spatial Audio in mind.

But what we’re going to focus on here are old tracks, because that’s where I feel I got the most out of Apple’s Spatial Audio experience – rediscovering my favorite, niche, older tracks and falling in love with them all over again.

It’s VR for your ears

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

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

But that same track with Spatial Audio turned on gets even bigger. Now it feels like those unidentifiable sounds envelop your whole world, much like wearing virtual reality goggles, but… instead of playing with your sight and sense of direction, this trickery is aimed at your ears. Spatial Audio is VR for your ears!

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

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

Rest in peace, Keith Flint, lead singer of this great 1996 song by The Prodigy.

Can you believe my big sister was listening to it on a tape player? A piece of tape contained this music, children.

The MTV channel was a thing back then and often played the shocking music video of this song that you shouldn’t have seen. And I’m pretty sure it’s about the first time I realized that I have a strong preference for fast, aggressive music over everything else.

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

Not only am I back in 1996, at the age of 7, realizing for the first time how important music is, but now with a few 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 pretty radically changes Spatial Audio is the stereo effect of most of the songs. You hear the different instruments more clearly, they become more distinctive, more separated from each other in the mix.

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

Turn Spatial Audio off after you get used to it, and you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time when stereo didn’t exist.

Thanks for making this little trip! Start your own and share it with us in the comments

If you actually read and enjoyed this piece, instead of just jumping in the comments to angrily call me an Apple fanboy for liking something good, well — I appreciate it. And I hope you will also go on your own journey of music rediscovery, and then share it back.

If you don’t have AirPods and don’t want to, that’s fine. You can still find your favorite, most nostalgic songs and just enjoy the time capsule that 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, go ahead and try it instead, it makes a difference too. Live in the past for a while, 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 that 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 can feel overwhelming emotions, to tears of joy. And I like that, because otherwise I can’t really cry, never, no matter what. So I’d be a bad drama actor, that’s one thing for sure.

But when it comes to music, I never act. And I appreciate having new, fun ways to relive the good old songs of my past.

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