Dolby Atmos vs Spatial Audio- An Objective Analysis

The primary purpose of surround sound is to create a three-dimensional soundscape that places the listener in the middle of an interactive audio environment, where sounds come from different points in space. Unlike traditional stereo sound, which creates a left-right audio field, 3D surround sound creates a sense of depth, height, and space.

There are several surround sound technologies that have been developed to enhance the audio experience. Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio are undeniably two of the most popular immersive sound technologies of our time. The idea behind both technologies is to enhance the listening experience by adding a sense of dimension and space to the sound.

But, how does Dolby Atmos vs Spatial Audio differ, and how exactly does each format work? This beginner explainer will provide answers to all your questions and everything you need to know about the two audio technologies. Stay tuned!!

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Dolby Atmos Explained

Dolby Atmos is a surround sound technology developed by Dolby Laboratories that was first introduced in movie theaters and later adapted for use in home theaters, gaming, and mobile devices. It uses a combination of audio channels and object-based audio to create a 3D soundscape, allowing sounds to be placed and moved anywhere in the room, including above the listener.

How Dolby Atmos Works

Traditional surround sound systems use channel-based audio, which involves playing sound through specific speakers placed around the room. These channels are typically limited to front, center, and surround speakers.

However, Dolby Atmos takes a different approach, using object-based audio. This means that sounds are treated as individual objects that can be placed anywhere in a 3D space, including above the listener. It also adds height channels to the traditional channel-based audio, allowing sound effects to be placed in the vertical dimension.

This interaction helps to create a more immersive experience, as sounds seem to come from above, as well as all around. To take advantage of Dolby Atmos, you’ll need a compatible speaker setup. This typically involves a combination of traditional surround sound speakers and additional height speakers. The number of height speakers needed depends on the size of the room and the desired Atmos setup.

You may also need to invest in content that’s specifically encoded for the technology. This can include movies, games, and music tracks that have been mixed in Dolby Atmos. And when all the elements are in place, you’ll be able to experience the sound in a more immersive and three-dimensional soundscape.

What Devices Support Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is becoming increasingly popular and more widely adopted, and it is supported by nearly all devices and sound systems. However, to enjoy the benefits of Dolby Atmos, you’ll need a device that is specifically designed to support it. Some of the devices and systems that are compatible with Dolby Atmos include;

  • Home theaters- most modern home theaters support Dolby Atmos and can be used to play Atmos content from Blu-ray discs or streaming services.
  • Sound bars- some sound bars are also equipped with Dolby Atmos technology meaning they can provide an Atmos experience for home theaters or gaming setups.
  • Gaming consoles- the Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S support Dolby Atmos, as well as the PlayStation 5. This allows for an immersive audio experience while playing games.
  • Streaming applications- some streaming devices, such as the Apple TV 4K and the Nvidia Shield TV, support Dolby Atmos and allow you to enjoy Atmos content from streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and Apple TV+.
  • Mobile devices- apart from home audio applications, most smartphones and tablets also support Dolby Atmos. That way, users can play Atmos content through headphones or connected speakers.

Note: By simply having a device that supports Dolby Atmos doesn’t guarantee that all content will be in Atmos. You’ll need to make sure you have Atmos-encoded content, such as a movie or game that specifically supports the format. To ensure compatibility, it’s always best to check the specifications of your device and the content you plan to play.

What is Spatial Audio?

Spatial Audio is a surround sound audio technology that helps provides a 3D experience on compatible Apple devices. This technology is a testament to Apple’s commitment to delivering cutting-edge audio technology to its users.

It uses advanced algorithms to dynamically place sounds in a virtual surround sound environment, simulating a theater-like audio experience. With Spatial Audio, users can enjoy a more immersive audio experience when watching movies, playing games, or listening to music on their Apple devices.

The goal of Spatial Audio is to mimic the way sound behaves in the real world, where sound sources can be located at different positions and distances from the listener. This creates a more convincing illusion of sound coming from specific directions and locations, allowing listeners to feel like they’re in the middle of the action.

How Spatial Audio Works

Apple Spatial Audio works by using head-tracking technology to track the user’s head movements in real time. As the user moves their head, the sound field is adjusted to create a more immersive and realistic experience. The technology is integrated with Apple’s audio codecs, allowing for low latency and high-quality audio playback.

When Apple Spatial Audio is used with Dolby Atmos content, it allows the sound to be placed and moved around the listener in a three-dimensional space, thereby creating an even more immersive and engaging audio experience. However, this combination does not offer head tracking, and as such, you don’t require Apple headphones to experience this feature.

Apple Spatial Audio is available on AirPods Pro and AirPods Max when used with an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV running the latest version of iOS or iPadOS. You can experience Spatial Audio through headphones, speakers, or other audio devices, and is often used in virtual reality, gaming, and other multimedia content.

What Devices Support Spatial Audio?

When Apple launched Spatial Audio in 2020, it established that the technology will work together with Dolby Atmos to give its users the option to listen to Spatial Audio on Dolby-enabled devices. To use Apple Spatial Audio, you will need to have an Apple device running the latest version of iOS, iPadOS, or tvOS, and a pair of AirPods Pro or AirPods Max.

When using Apple Spatial Audio, all you need is to pair your AirPods or AirPods Max with your Apple device. The feature will automatically be enabled provided that you play compatible content. That said, Spatial Audio is currently supported on the following apps and iOS devices;

  • AirPods Pro / AirPods Max
  • AirPods Pro 2
  • AirPods (3rd gen)
  • iPhone 7 or later
  • Beats Fit Pro
  • iPad Pro 11‑inch
  • iPad Pro 12.9‑inch (3rd generation) and later
  • iPad Air 3rd generation and later
  • iPad mini 5th generation and later
  • iPad (6th generation) and later
  • iOS or iPadOS 15.1 or later
  • Apple TV 4K with tvOS 15
  • Audiovisual content from a supported app
  • Mac with Apple Silicon

Apple Spatial Audio is also supported by several streaming services, including:

  • Apple Music – Spatial Audio is available for all Apple Music subscribers, and it works with both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones.
  • Disney+ – The Disney+ streaming service offers Spatial Audio for selected titles. Similarly, it works with both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones.
  • Hulu – Like Disney+ Hulu is a renowned streaming service, and it also supports Spatial Audio.
  • Amazon Prime Video – Amazon Prime Video also supports Spatial Audio, plus it is compatible with the AirPods Pro headphones.
Dolby Atmos vs Spatial Audio

Spatial Audio vs Dolby Atmos-Different or Same?

Apple Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos are notable surround sound technologies, and they have received both positive and negative reviews from users and experts. Some people like the fact that they provide a noticeable improvement in the sound quality and overall audio experience, especially when watching movies or playing games.

However, like with other audio technologies, the quality of the experience depends on a variety of factors, including the quality of the headphones or earbuds being used, the type of content being played, and individual preferences. That said, here are some notable differences between the two.

Platform support

Dolby Atmos is available on a wide range of devices, including home theaters, sound bars, gaming consoles, streaming devices, and mobile devices. Apple Spatial Audio, on the other hand, is only available on Apple devices such as Apple iPhones, iPads, and Mac.

Speaker setup

Dolby Atmos typically requires a speaker setup that includes traditional surround sound speakers and additional height speakers. Apple Spatial Audio, on the other hand, uses advanced algorithms to simulate the experience of being in a room with Dolby Atmos speakers. However, Apple Spatial can only be used with Apple headphones or earbuds.

Audio environment

Dolby Atmos provides a full surround sound experience with height channels, allowing audio to come from above and all around you. Apple Spatial Audio, while similar, is designed specifically to track the user’s head movement use and is optimized for the unique characteristics of this type of audio playback.

Content compatibility

To enjoy Dolby Atmos, you’ll need content that’s specifically encoded for the technology. This includes movies, games, and music tracks that have been mixed in Dolby Atmos. Apple Spatial Audio, on the other hand, is compatible with any audio content, including traditional stereo and surround sound.

Overall, both Dolby Atmos and Apple Spatial Audio are designed to provide a more immersive audio experience. The choice between the two will largely depend on the device you’re using and the type of audio playback you prefer. If you’re an Apple user, Apple Spatial Audio may be the more convenient option, while those with a more traditional home theater setup may prefer Dolby Atmos.


Apple’s implementation of Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos provides a surround sound experience that is optimized for the listener’s head movement and orientation. When listening to content that is encoded with Dolby Atmos, the Spatial Audio technology will use the Dolby Atmos data to create an immersive audio experience.

Overall, Spatial Audio is considered to be a high-quality surround sound technology that provides an immersive audio experience. If you’re an Apple user and looking forward for an improved audio experience, it’s definitely worth trying out Apple Spatial Audio to see if it meets your needs and preferences.

Avatar for Jamie K. Martin

Jamie K. Martin holds a degree in Audio engineering from Husson University, Bangor. Martin spends most of his time testing and trying the technology he writes about to ensure that he provides first-hand information to our customers from all walks of life.

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